I encounter a lot of actors who are mired in what I call “actor busy work.” It’s stuff that, on the surface, looks like it will help move their careers along, but when it’s really examined, it’s just nonsense that keeps most actors from focusing on what really matters. You’ve seen it: sending endless postcards, “doing” social networking, pumping up credits, hitting every workshop, asking for clicks to boost StarMeter rankings, and on and on and on.
Humans love busy work because the urge to complete tasks, to fill in blanks, to check off items on to-do lists is strong. Being able to say, “I hit three workshops this week,” or, “I just submitted to 200 managers,” somehow feels like having accomplished something. The problem is, if the work isn’t *targeted* it’s not JUST busy work, it’s potentially dream-crushing.
Here’s why: Because at the end of a year when an actor looks at all the “work” she did and feels as though she’s no higher up the tier map than she was a year ago, yet she did all this *stuff*, she feels as if SHE has failed. And I hate that. Because honey, it’s not YOU who has failed when you’ve chosen “actor busy work” over doing the work of targeting and research and investing in meaningful storytelling experiences… it’s the method you’ve chosen. It’s a flawed system that feels good in the short term, but that gets you very little leverage overall.
I know it’s easier to pull through the McDonald’s drivethru than to shop, follow a recipe, and create a healthful meal. But you don’t make a life out of doing the convenient thing. You pepper it into a lifetime of really solid — less convenient — choices that you know are better for the results you actually want out of life.
One of the reasons I hear that actors feel they *must* engage in the “actor busy work” is this: “What if it works?!?” Oh man, this form of FOMO (fear of missing out) is really scary, because if you have a lifetime of acting stretched out ahead of you, you could be running ’round like a chicken with its head cut off, always trying this thing and that thing, in case THAT’s the thing that’s missing. Meanwhile, what you’re missing is your life. You’re missing the journey. And worse — for those of us on the buying side of it all — we’re missing out on YOU because you’re so busy running all over the place, trying everything.
If this sounds like you, here’s a fix. I use it regularly. I *know* I’m going to miss some things in life. I just KNOW it. Even though I sleep fewer hours than anyone else on the planet, I can’t possibly experience everything that I want to try, and that’s gotta be okay. I budget my time as well as I can, I compartmentalize so that I’m fully present for each thing I am experiencing, and I trust I *am* gonna miss something… and still live a brilliantly fulfilling life.
Are you following thousands of people on Twitter and trying to keep up with all of them? You cannot. I follow 53 people and I still miss stuff. But I trust that — of the 53 people I follow — one of them will RT something exciting that’s “out there” that maybe I could’ve bumped into 10 minutes earlier if I followed more people, but I eventually got to see it anyway, and I don’t have a tumultuous relationship with social media, because it’s not NOISE to me. Is it NOISE to you, but you do it anyway? Why? Because someone told you that you have to? Bee Ess.
Especially if it is NOISE in your life, it’s better if you don’t do it. That goes for Facebook, for CD workshops, for untargeted mailed submissions, for going FiCore to “keep your options open,” for stealing access to the breakdowns, for changing your name to be “less ethnic,” or for anything else, really.
Trust that there’s not some “big secret” to success (or worse, to happiness) that you’re missing if you don’t try something. Trust that you’re gonna see exactly what you’re meant to see when you’re meant to see it, always. Sometimes that’s not BECAUSE of all the hustling you’re doing… it’s in spite of it. And if it’s gonna reveal itself anyway, maybe try just letting it unfold? Yeah. That’s nice. And it’s something that sits better, when you check with your gut… pretty much every time, too.
If you have an overdeveloped muscle for this hustle, shift your focus to your role in the storytelling process. Rather than thinking about your long odds as an actor every time you submit, rather than looking around the waiting room and resenting that you’re seeing way too many actors at prereads, think about the writer who is getting his first script produced. Maybe he sits in at auditions because it’s so exciting to him to see how this process works. He’s pinching himself over the fact that 10,000 people submitted to say his words. He’s in auditions watching a hundred actors a day bring his subtext to life. Rather than thinking about long odds or long wait times, think about what you’re doing in support of that guy’s dream.
When you walk in the room — whether you eventually book the role or not — you’ve helped his dream come true. Your focus on that fact alone is enough to make him want to help you with your dream too. We’re human that way. We love the “yes, and…” of it all and THAT is busy work worth getting behind. It’s work that matters.
I always think about the big picture, the big dream, and that we’re constantly making this industry a better place with our every choice. One of my policies in casting is to let everyone who made it to callbacks know that they were not chosen, but that they did great, or that they were our second choice, or that they really booked the room, or that they just looked too much like the lead to book it, whatever the case may be. I let them know they matter to my process. Because they do.
When I first started making these calls, I was met with GASPS about how shocking it was to *hear* right away that they were released and could let it all go, rather than waiting forever to see the project’s cast list on IMDb. Now that I’ve been doing these calls for years and people have heard that I do this, I’m met with, “This is why people love you, Bon. You’re making a better industry for us all.” And that’s exactly why I do it: to matter.
I think we CAN have a kinder industry. It’s ridiculous that people who invest so much energy into preparing for a preread and then a callback aren’t regularly given the respect of a phone call to let them know the role is not theirs this time. So, it’s an extra hour of my life on every project I cast. Big deal. It’s totally worth it. As much fun as it is to call the actors (and agents and managers representing those actors) who booked, it’s also a part of my job — I believe — to let those know who came close that they were awesome, but not quite right on *this* one.
This brings me back to the point of this week’s column: Matter. Find a way to do something meaningful. Find a way to give back to this industry you love so much, and to the colleagues with whom you share this journey. Rather than complaining about what’s unfair, rather than hustling to try and angle your way into a tier too far ahead, rather than engaging in actor busy work and being “me, me, me” about your pursuit, decide today that you’re going to matter.
Matter in someone else’s life by helping make their dreams come true. Matter in your own pursuit by asking yourself the tough questions and doing the hard work rather than choosing the drive-thru for every single meal. Matter to yourself by trusting that you’re enough and really believing that… because it’s true.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001890.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.