A Plan of Attack for the New LA Actor

The Cast of "Fools"
The Cast of “Fools”

As summer continues to sizzle on, new graduates from colleges all over the nation are flocking to the world’s largest cities hoping to pursue a working career in acting.  Oftentimes, this is a terrible transition (kind of like middle school) from academia into actual. real. life.   Mind you, a lot of these individuals have been only out of their parents’ wings for only a few brief months and it’s easy to feel completely lost.  I remember looking at my brother Nate after our parents left for the airport that first August afternoon and the most I could say is… “what do we do now?”

(What a great question: what do you do now?)

It’s probably so great because it really doesn’t have an answer.  This is your life now, and you can do whatever you want with it.

Life aside, maybe the field specified question is “How do I make this acting thing work?”  It’s a logical question: one proposed by an individual who has usually spent a ton of money on education and wants to make their investment pay-off; by a person who has no stable source of income, and has no choice; or by those who have been dying to make their art their job since they came into existence (or all of the above). This question too, I’m afraid, does not have an answer.  If there was a clear cut way into this industry, everyone would be taking the same path.  What you can do however, is have a plan of attack.

When people ask what I’d do differently with my career, I honestly say “nothing.”  Mostly because I believe in whatever higher powers that may be, and I throw it all up to faith.  Sometimes, like acting, we need to treat our life more with abandon to get anything out of it.   If I moved out today would my plan of attack have changed?… Most definitely, but the industry has changed, it’s not the same beast as six years ago, and in six more it’ll be something completely different as well.

Clay Bunker and Carrie Schroeder in "Look Back in Anger"
Clay Bunker and Carrie Schroeder in “Look Back in Anger”

If I moved out today, if I was a newbee, what would be my plan of attack?   If you are from NYC, or Chicago or wherever, this may not be the plan I’d consider.  This is tailor made for my own personal interests in the Los Angeles acting market.  Take and choose what you will, and leave the rest.  I’m not offended easily.    If you want to refer to any of the companies I mention in the plan of attack they are all listed on the Actor’s Link part of the website.

NUMBER ONE RULE TO STARTING OUT IN LA (Always refer to this rule!!!)

As in any business: do not invest your efforts into things that will not potentially return the investment; otherwise it is an expense, not an investment.  I will refer to this rule often in the plan of attack so make it your friend.

Before you move to Los Angeles

  • You already need to be on the websites ActorsAccess, and LACasting. All the major casting directors, agents, and managers use a variation of these two systems. If you aren’t on at least one of them (or both), and you are an actor in LA, you aren’t trying hard enough. The End. There is a monthly fee to be on them, but these websites will allow you to apply for work- so it will make you money [potentially]- therefore, refer to RULE NUMBER ONE.
  • If you don’t have headshots, you won’t find work (period). Get some. They don’t have to be expensive, but they DO have to be good.   A good headshot photographer will capture a variety of looks that will market you across a vast array of characters- all while staying true and honest to who you actually are. It’s a fine, fine, line. Check out “Actor’s Link” for an assortment of well-respected photographers in the LA area. Vanie Poyey did mine, I think she’s fantastic, but it’s up to you.
  • Fix your resume. Even if you think it’s perfect… it’s probably not. Fix it. Your resume is a work of art that constantly needs to be tweaked showcasing you and why you’d be a great person for them to call in. Figure out your weaknesses and strengthen them. If you don’t have a lot of training- get into acting class, if you don’t have a lot of experience- find some friends producing a web-series and get yourself on camera.
  • You need to start learning who the casting directors are. They are the ones who call you in. I’m not saying to stalk them- but you need to figure out how to get in front of them. Casting About is a great website for this. I used to live across the hall from one of the developers when I first moved out- it’s been fun to watch his site turn into such a valuable tool. If you do this research before you move to the city, you are ahead of the game.

[Side note: you are never better than anyone.  Put your ego at the door, because honestly, LA doesn’t care or need it.  You will only roadblock your career with ideas of jealousy and egomania.  It’s a waste of time and energy.]

You’ve moved to Los Angeles, Congratulations!

  • Find a place to live. Rent is expensive, don’t freak yourself out. You will probably need a roommate… or two… or three- but that’s ok. It’s only temporary (hopefully). It’s best to stick in the areas that have the most action: Sherman Oaks, Studio City, North Hollywood, Hollywood, West Hollywood. There are quite a few auditions in Santa Monica as well if you want to fork over some extra cash and live by the beach.
  • Get a job. Any job is fine. It’s ok if it is disposable or something that you don’t want to do- because it’ll make you fight only that much harder. If you are having a hard time finding a job, sign up for Central Casting and Sande Alessi Casting to start doing background work. Background work is fine as long as you don’t get caught too long in it. That TV show “Extras” is a very real thing.  There are some valuable lessons to be learned however such as how a set works, and humility.
  • Start acting. This is the tricky part. And this is where I feel a lot of young artists get sidetracked. If you aren’t acting, you aren’t an actor- so start doing it. Even if that means making your own work. There are so many outlets in this city it is crazy.
      1. Theatre. LA is the land of 99-seat plan theatre. There are a lot of terrible shows, but there are a lot of good ones too.   Be careful, a lot of companies in this town want to charge you money to be a part of their company: always remember RULE NUMBER ONE. What are you getting out of it? If it’s not going to possibly make you money… don’t invest in it. There is a list of credible 99- seat plan theatres as well as LA area regional theatres in the Actor’s Link. For my article on the importance of 99-seat plan theatre, click here.
      2. Submissions on LACasting and ActorsAccess (Breakdown Services). Remember when I told you to sign up for these sites? Now it’s time to start submitting. If you are non-union the possibilities are going to be endless. If you don’t get auditions right away, don’t freak out, just keep submitting. If a couple months go by without any auditions, you need to evaluate: are my headshots the best they could be? Does my resume sell me? Am I submitting for appropriate roles that I am suitable for? Once you think you’ve found the cancer, cut it out. Remember, every audition is an acting opportunity. Also- don’t rule out student films- who knows what train may be leaving the station, maybe it’s one that you want to be on.
      3. Acting Class is a great opportunity to get you acting, as long as it’s going somewhere in the end. You are not going to get any opportunities only acting in a classroom, you need to find a teacher who believes in you and will mentor you. Beware of teachers that create actor dependency. You should be learning how to practice the process on your own. A good teacher will not just direct the scene you are working on, they will teach you how to explore the scene. If they are directing the scene- you are wasting your money. Get out.
      4. Casting Director Workshops. Be careful with this one in particular- a lot of them are scammy and you’ll end up paying $200 to get in front of an agent’s “assistant” who actually turns out to be their next door neighbor (I’m serious). Do your research.  It’s good to know that when you do these the agents, managers, or casting directors actually may not be looking for anyone (the workshop company is paying them to be there) so if you don’t get an audition out of it don’t freak out. People do however get called in sometimes from them, and it has launched the careers of several people I know- so they are at least worth the glance. The average workshop I’ve run across ranges from $30-$55. ActorsKey in my opinion is one of the best.
  • Join the Unions (Eventually)If you are ready, like really really ready, start looking into joining SAG-AFTRA or AEA. Nowadays under the SAG New Media contract it’s easier than ever to get a Taft-Hartley. A Taft Hartley is when you are grandfathered into the union after working on a union project. Commercials are also well known for Taft-Hartley(ing) people.  Most agents won’t consider taking you on unless you are in a union- but once you join- you’ll be cutting your job prospects in half. And if that resume hasn’t been built up, it’s like shooting yourself in the foot. You’ll also on occasion hear of mysterious people who can get you into the union if you pay them- these people are swarmy and preying on desperation. Stay away.
  • Get an Agent and/or Manager: Unless you come from one of the juggernaut acting programs, chances are you are not going to end up with an agent or manager post-graduation. This means that the grind might be harder for you- but that’s ok. Keep your head high and keep trucking. A good agent takes 10% of your acting work. A good manager takes 10% as well- but I’ve heard of some stretching to 15%. Stay away from anyone who wants more. They aren’t real.Stay away from any agent or manager who requires that you only go through one person for acting classes and headshots. These people are in cahoots with eachother and prey off of desperation. If they seem too good to be true… they are. Commercial Agents should be your first target. They take on more people and are willing to take on less experienced clients. Commercials have the potential to make a lot of money (like a year’s worth in one day of work) so they are the best investments you can make. Don’t get hung up on saying “I don’t do commercials,” nobody says that anymore, and you’ll only look stupid. And nobody likes being stupid. Getting an agent/manager is tricky. If you don’t have a strong resume, workshops are the best way to get in front of them. Another way is just getting out and meeting people in general: agents and managers are people just like actors. Don’t spend copious amounts of energy with mass submissions, most of them get thrown away by the receptionist and don’t even make it to the actual agents (or assistants). If you are going to do submissions, research and make a list of the top agents you think you are realistically suited for and send them your headshot/resume/cover-letter every six months or so. Nothing more is needed. You don’t need to wait outside their office at wee hours of the morning, you don’t need to call them every half hour, your don’t need to show up at their office. Some people have been successful e-mailing agents and managers their info:  if you choose to do that, just be conscious that some of them do not like this, and you are gambling.
  • Read and Write: As an actor you are a storyteller. Spend your free time reading and writing, it’ll help you learn how stories are constructed, exercise your creativity, and make you a smarter actor.
  • Keep acting. Wait… I already did this one… well it’s worth saying again. You aren’t an actor if you aren’t acting. End. Of. Story.

In general: Always remember to surround yourself with fellow artists who are encouraging and will keep you motivated.  Los Angeles is a sprawling mass, and it’s easy to get lost without someone to help root you.  Do not strive for fortune or fame: strive to create.  If you look too far into the future you’ll get stuck up there, and you’ll be so full of anxiety it’ll be too hard to get back.  Same goes for thinking about the past, have no regrets, it’s only depressing.  Stay present, stay smart, and enjoy the ride.

Go get ’em.

Alex Burkart- Vice President/Founder

Copyright Alex Burkart 2014