The third and final column in the series about the 21 May 2005 CD and talent agent panel produced by the ATAS (links to event details and panelist information here) will cover “magic” and DIY filmmaking. What became clear after spending just an hour or so with these industry leaders is that there are no rules anymore. Certainly, there is Hollywood architecture within which we operate, but the opportunities for actors to create their own magic are growing every day.

Chris Barrett may have said it best when he told the hundreds of actors in attendance at the CBS Studio Center that what they do for us (when they audition, when they book the job, when they embody a character and breathe life into words on a page) is magic, plain and simple. “You are always making magic at some level as an actor. And if you’re not making magic, go to your second career choice. Don’t waste your time. Don’t waste our time. We’re looking for world class in everything, here.” This echoed Ellie Kanner’s audition-day advice: “Don’t come if you don’t want to be here!” And Sonia Nikore comforted those who worry about not making it by a certain age. “The magic may not happen for you at age 25. Keep honing your skills. You’ll make magic when it’s your time to do so.”

Very similar to the sentiments expressed by the actor panelist I wrote about in the column But I’m an Artiste! were the words of wisdom from CSA president Richard Hicks. “The source of Hollywood power is that people want to spend money to see an actor work.” Think about that! Outside of professional athletes and entertainers, who else has a job that people pay to see them do? Knowledge of that fact should be empowering to actors. Richard cautioned, though, that actors (since their work is the source of Hollywood power) are responsible for doing great work. Not good work. Not “fine” work. GREAT work. “Great work is your responsibility,” he concluded.

So, if you’re certain you are doing great work, but aren’t getting seen, what can you do about that? Quite a few things, according to the panelists. “Figure out what your strengths are,” Sonia began. “Know that we keep a look out for new talent all the time,” April Webster added, explaining that being aware of what actors are doing is a major part of our job.

And how do we stay aware of actors? Local theatre, showcases, film festivals, Actor Slates, the trades, and just keeping the TV on all the time. “Reality shows actually allow us to preview potential actors’ work now,” Jeff Witjas admitted. “There are no rules! We find actors everywhere.” That said, it certainly seems more competitive to get a foot in the door these days. “We’ve moved away from volume,” Glenn Salners contributed. “We’re now strategic in assembling our roster.” Jeff concurred: “Yes. And we also submit strategically. The stakes are higher. Our sales begin before the breakdown even goes out. We’re already pitching.” So, everyone engages in targeted marketing, it seems.

How can you stay competitive in this kind of environment, where the stakes are high, globalization of the talent pool brings more competition to LA than ever, and the willingness to take risks on unknown commodities is dwindling?

One idea came from Chris, who shared a story he had heard on the radio on the way to the panel event that morning. Seems that the authors of a humor book weren’t satisfied with their sales, so they took promotional efforts into their own hands. They created a vidlit, put a link to their self-produced vidlit in the signature line of every email they sent, got the clever vidlit out in every conceivable way. And their book? It’s now a best-seller. Chris insisted that actors could similarly take control of their career promotional efforts. “Be your own distributor! Don’t wait for someone to see the work you did. Get it out there! Hire your own booking agent and tour the country to be seen in every market if you have to. Be your own director, be your own producer. Find a way to do great work and get a reel developed. Do student films, do indies, tape yourself doing scenes or monologues if you have to. Don’t EVER say, ‘I don’t have any tape.’ If you’re an actor, you can have tape. Do it yourself! No excuses!”

Jane Jenkins advised actors to be sure to get a “reasonable close-up” when going on tape. “We have to be able to see you,” she said. “The quality of the demo tape you create is more important than what you put on it,” she insisted. Meaning, you absolutely can include self-produced material, but if the sound is bad, the lighting is off, or you aren’t framed well, you’d better re-think having that be your promotional representation.

No matter what tools you have in your self-promotion arsenal, make sure that they’re top-notch; that they’re updated regularly to reflect changes in your abilities, type, or physical look; and that you use them persistently. And remember the closing words Chemin Bernard shared with the actors that day: “If the role is yours, nothing you do wrong can keep you from it. And, likewise, if the role is not yours, there is nothing you could do right to get it.” There’s no science to it. Just a lot of hard work, patience with a sometimes-baffling process, and magic.

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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