If you knew, from the beginning, that it was going to take thousands of hours of effort on your part before you would begin to see a return on your investment into yourself as an actor, would you still choose to be an actor? Most actors would. We’ve all read advice from veteran actors about the hard road they’ve taken: “If you can be happy doing anything else, do it.” Of course, most actors know better. They are actors. There is nothing else.
But there is a process of career investment for actors that is dissimilar to that which is required by those in every other occupation. The number of hours, the amount of money, the emotional expense — the true cost of a career as an actor is impossible to accurately calculate. And so what if you could calculate it? Would it make you feel better to quantify the hours, the dollars, and the emotions you invest in something that, most years, leaves you needing a survival job in order to afford rent?
Of course not. So, this isn’t about quantifying the investment, it’s about developing perspective. Consider that, at the beginning of your career, you are putting in one thousand units of effort for every one unit of reward. That’s when you feel as though you are mailing headshots out into an abyss and occasionally getting one line on a student film. There will be a time when you are putting in one unit of effort for every one unit of reward. That’s when you get called in from your well-earned reputation and book pretty regularly. Perhaps most exciting, there will be a time when you are putting in one unit of effort for every one thousand units of reward. That’s when you no longer audition. That’s when your rep fields offers on your behalf.
Because, unless lightning strikes, it takes going through the 1000:1 ratio before you make it to the 1:1 ratio or come anywhere close to the 1:1000 ratio, you have to find a way to feel rewarded by something other than that one measly unit of reward you get, after expending one thousand units of effort. Keeping score is not only a waste of energy, it’s truly depressing.
I tried to come up with a career other than acting that has a similar return on investment, especially at the earliest stages. The closest parallel I found was the career path of a doctor. In the beginning, there’s the residency: hours upon hours of scutwork on very little sleep and for very little money. On top of that crazy schedule, the doctor faces a mountain of student loans, earned up during those years of prep just to become a doctor who gets no sleep and works for very little money. Then someday, there’s the doctor on the golf course four days a week, earning an obscene amount of money in that one day in the office, seeing patients. Of course, there’s no linear progression to the actor’s career advancement. There’s no guideline that a certain number of hours of pursuit yields a booking at a particular rate of pay. That’s where the fact that this is, after all, an artistic career path, comes into play. So many factors that are not predictable influence an actor’s career that it would be silly to generalize.
What was it I was told by a dear friend in the industry? A group of masterminds from Wharton came to Hollywood to study the business model, figuring they could analyze and demystify it. They applied every “rule” of business to what they witnessed in agents’ offices, pitch meetings, casting sessions, producer lunches, and studio huddles only to leave Hollywood scratching their collective business head. There is no science to the entertainment industry. That is why it’s so important to remember that your path is unique. Reading about others’ experiences is of value, commiserating with other actors is also of value, but none of it provides a recipe for your success. You will learn how many units of effort yield how many units of reward in your life as an actor as you go. I discourage you from trying to quantify it at all. Much better to simply enjoy “those crazy days” in which you have to do one thousand things to make one thing happen. If you don’t enjoy those days, how will you feel that you can rightfully enjoy the 1:1000 days that come to you in the future? Let the investment be the reward.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000205.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.