Last week, I spoke to a wonderful group of actors in Brad Lemack’s The Business of Acting class at the LA campus of Boston’s Emerson College. Brad and I both have books out on approaching the business side of a career in acting, and both feel very strongly about the power that comes from demystifying the industry. The last question Brad asked me during my visit was, “What is the number one biggest mistake actors make when coming out of a program, moving to LA, and pursuing a career here?”

Considering that the class started with us going around the conference table, having the actors introduce themselves, tell me their college majors, and where they were interning while here in LA, I knew they’d already avoided the number one biggest mistake actors tend to make. What’s that mistake? Not getting an accurate view of what the industry is really like, day to day. How were they avoiding that? Interning.

So many people launch an acting career with only headshots and a few credits. Sorry, that should read “headshots, a few credits, and a dream.” Believe me, I’m a big fan of the dream. Often, it’s the na├»veté about what sort of chances you have to “make it” that drives you forward until you learn how to navigate the industry skillfully. So, there is value in that! Even so, I would say that it’s the lack of “getting” how the industry works that is at the root of most big mistakes actors make, starting out.

Actors take on survival jobs that won’t allow them the flexibility of getting to auditions or performing in plays. They attempt to gain access to studio lots to drop off headshots in offices of the moguls they hear about on Access Hollywood. Some pay advance fees to people willing to “represent” them, since they believe that some type of agent is better than no agent at all. Others will fall prey to all-in-one package scams, paying one person or company for photos, classes, and “submission services.” By interning in the offices of legitimate agencies, management companies, casting directors, publicists, production personnel, and many other industry folks, you can soak up more about the business in a day than you could read about in a year!

College programs encourage and even require their students to take advantage of the internships offered in entertainment industry offices. But you don’t have to be a full-time student in order to offer your services as an intern! What do you have to do? Offer your time. Do so with professionalism and politeness. Build on any relationships you already have (ask for a referral from someone who knows you and the person with whom you’d like to intern). Outline what you can bring to the experience and what you hope to learn during your time in the office.

If you’ve already helped out a casting director, opening mounds of headshot envelopes or signing in actors at prereads, perhaps you should look to assist an agent next, so that you can hear pitch calls or see how the agent determines who to submit for which roles. If you’ve been a PA on a set during production, maybe the next step would be to intern in a post-production facility, so that you begin to better understand the editing process. No time to intern during the day? Okay, how about ushering at theatres on evenings and weekends? You’ll see a lot of plays, help out with the flow of patrons, and build relationships with those in the company. Some actors intern with acting coaches, helping them set up for class, copying material that will be used in class, or even locking up the facility after class each night. Any chance to get involved in a part of the industry you might otherwise not encounter is worth looking into!

Talk to people who have interned in entertainment industry offices. They begin to approach auditions differently. Not getting cast is never personal, once you know how very many people come close and miss out on the gig for reasons that have nothing to do with them. Actors who have interned begin to make more confident choices. Their callback ratios improve. They know how small this town is, and they begin to build relationships with that in mind. And that is far more valuable than keeping those few hours a week to yourself, when you think about it. Offer up some of your time to invest in your career enrichment. And if you’re already at a point in your career where you could use an intern, by all means, take one on! Mentor a new-to-town actor looking to learn about the industry.

Interning puts demystifying the entertainment industry in your hands. What a rush!

So, have you interned? Have you convinced yourself that you don’t need to intern? I wanna talk about this with y’all! Pop your thoughts into the comment box below. Woo!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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