I’m back from a delightful mini-break in Desert Hot Springs — a wonderful, private getaway we retreat to as often as humanly possible (which is unfortunately not at all frequently enough) — where I had an encounter that was perfect material for this week’s column. As I relaxed in a tub of 102-degree water fed directly from the mineral hot springs, feeling a thousand miles away from Los Angeles, a lovely older woman lowered herself into the hottub with me, and we started chatting. As my wonderful husband mentioned the best part of this particular location being how quiet it is (while still offering the convenience of wi-fi, so we could check in and find out — as happens every time we go — that his manager had secured an audition for him that would cut our trip a wee bit short), my new friend’s eyebrow went up and she asked what we do.
We each told her a bit about Team Cricket Feet and all that it has become in just under nine years. Talked about casting, producing, script doctoring, distributing online content, developing series, assembling a sketch comedy troupe, creating distance learning models, publishing books, and working with actors around the world to get them at their best level from the business side of their pursuit. Of course, what flowed naturally was a reciprocal question about her line of work. Welp, turns out she had left it behind years ago, but she was once a near-famous actor.
I say “near-famous” because you might not recognize her name today, but make no mistake; she was a recognizable, working actor of note — especially in New York — in the 1970s.
Why is this column-worthy?
Because no matter how sure I am things have changed about the pursuit of an acting career (even since I was first pursuing acting in a minor market in the ’70s and ’80s, not to mention my attempts here in Los Angeles in the early ’90s and then again in the late ’90s), there is nothing that drives that truth home more than spending several hours talking about what “the pursuit” was like back then, and what it’s like today. To have that chat with someone who found success “the old way” was incredibly eye-opening.
When did things change? When did actors get so much power to self-produce, create and promote their own brand, get known before signing with a major agent? When did actors get a direct line to the buyers? When did actors start being taken seriously because of their hyphenate status, rather than being seen as unfocused for doing more than “just acting”?
Well, certainly, the shift has been happening for a long time. No doubt. Evolution is a slow process and there are always outliers who get there first and show us what can be done. And then folks who wouldn’t have tried it see that it can be done and decide to try it for themselves. And then someone hits and everyone starts doing it.
First, self-taped auditions look like a horrible idea (and generate hate mail when simply talked about, for cryin’ out loud), then everyone is doing them and someone is actually booking — booking high-profile, super-legit, awesome projects — by having made that first tape. (Which, of course, isn’t actually tape, anymore.)
First, self-produced work looks like a bunch of vanity projects for talentless actors who can’t get hired otherwise, then everyone is doing them and some of them are actually getting distributed — internationally, online, at film festivals, getting turned into network series, winning awards — by having told that story as a means to get seen.
When I told my new friend about first reads shot on cell phone cameras and how Fox’s pilot season testing process had gone from the tedious and tortuous bunch of auditions in front of different sets of suits to a screen test, she was in shock. She realized how very different the pursuit is today and how many advantages actors have, today, if they’re not afraid of them.
I told her how I had called this era the new Wild West in August of 2009 during a Film Method podcast episode I did. The changes are coming so fast that we’re still figuring out what works and how to make it work for us. But if we look at all that and feel frozen into a state of inaction because it’s so intimidating and confusing, the only thing that is certain is that we will be passed by, by those who ride the wave, try the “new thing” out, and lead the field.
Back in her day, there was no such animal as a talent manager. Now most actors seem to have one! There were no self-taped auditions. Now more and more actors are being asked to do them! There was no chance of being taken seriously, producing your own content and bypassing the buyers in favor of cultivating a fanbase. Now everyone sees the value — even if they don’t go so far as to create their own content, yet — in having loyal fans before popping on the radar of the buyers.
We talked about her old agent — who is still very much here, but who is seen as a dinosaur for lack of interest in evolving from the “two martini lunch” business model to the electronic age — and how he was, in her day, one of “the bigs.” We talked about what the process of getting seen was like, for her, and how things like the Internet and reality TV programming and mobisodes and multi-platform content has changed the game for actors today.
I came away from our time together reminded that we must respect how quickly this business is changing, even though we may not see it, being right up in it day to day. That we’re able to roll with it and still find a way to excel is something we should truly congratulate ourselves for doing. When we’re exhausted by it all, we need to stop and take a breath, remember that we’re trailblazers, here. And while, at our core, we’re all storytellers — whether we were considered “namey” in the ’70s or “up-and-coming” in 2010 — to remember how young our business is actually helps (helps me, anyway — hopefully you too) get why it is that we’re still figuring out how this machine WORKS.
I’d say, considering how fast it’s all changing and how well we’re doing, navigating without the benefit of much “career GPS” on these uncharted waters, taking a big look back and gaining a bit of perspective feels like a nice pat on the back.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001261.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.