Category Archives: actor 101

This, this, all the this!

If you are a creative, this video will sounds very familiar – but it’s a universal message. Lord knows I’ve been down this road a few times. Determination, persistence and touch of naivete is usually enough to win the day – it’s just the “day” in question usually lasts for years.

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Day 430 Operation: Television’s Curtis Andersen – Phase 2 & Your Headshots

Happy New Year!

If you didn’t see my last video, I was able to achieve the primary goal of booking a job on TV at the end of the year! In case you missed it, here it is:

The show is a new show that has an NDA the length of my arm so I can’t say a bloody thing about it, but I promise I won’t shut up about it once I can. So now that I can unironically call myself “Television’s Curtis Andersen” again it’s time to move on to Phase 2 – getting on a genre show! What’s a genre show? Watch the new video to find out.

Also, to add a little actual advice to this blog after a long stretch of just me talking about myself and auditions, I talk a little bit about the importance of getting a good headshot – because I’ve seen a lot of BAD headshots lately.

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Actor 101 – Get the Suck Out

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There is a phrase that is a big part of my personal philosophy:

Get the suck out.

I stand by it, I practice it, and I throw it around freely regardless of situation or the people involved. It’s a relatively simple principal – if you are doing something allow yourself the time and space to get the suck out before you expect to be good at it. There’s an older phrase that essentially means the same thing, practice makes perfect, but get the suck out is more immediate.

I tried to make a video about it:

I’m still actually having trouble articulating exactly why this is so important – so maybe I’ll try to do a follow-up?

Still, my advice remains the same – give yourself permission to get the suck out. It doesn’t hurt to have to try something more than once.

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Actor 101: A Problem Solving Exercise for You

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Yesterday I posted this video for Operation: Television’s Curtis Andersen:

Today I would like to present the exercise I mentioned in that video to you as a way to help tackle any hurdles you might be facing in your career. You can use this technique for anything, not just entertainment. Sometimes everyone needs a way to find a solution.

The idea is based on the thought that we are able to find solutions to other people’s problems easier than we can for our own. There are a few different reasons for this, but I find that there’s a lot less at stake for me when I’m giving advice to someone. It’s a simple equation of A+B=Result. We know that for ourselves, but often times allow our insecurities and fear to get in the way of actually implementing the things required to achieve the result. So here’s an exercise designed to help bridge that gap:

  1. Write down your problem, in detail.
  2. Write down the things that you predict will interfere with achieving the desired result.
  3. Hand this to a trusted friend or family member.
  4. Have them read back the problem as if it is their own.
  5. Offer solutions and have them write them down.

Deep down you probably know exactly what you need to do to get what you want, so use this trick to access the part of your brain that has the information.

Tell me in the comments if you give it a try and how it goes.

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Actor 101: The Monkee’s Effect

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TL;DR? No problem, watch this video:


One of the hyphenates that I place in my CV is that of consultant. Usually this takes form as an acting coach for my students, but on occasion I also do career and marketing consulting. No matter the topic I like to drive home the principal of the Authenticity Economy. If you are honest about yourself and your intentions people are attracted to that and are more inclined to want to work with you or buy from you. I like to say that people will buy you a lot quicker than they’ll buy what you’re selling.

This is not a new concept, people like Gary Vaynerchuk and Jeffrey Gitomer have been selling books and producing videos and live events based around this idea for years. It’s a simple idea, but one that people don’t necessarily come to on their own. In my experience people try very hard to please others. They look for expectations and then follow them to what they hope will be success. This can work, if it didn’t people wouldn’t do it, but it isn’t what sets people apart. Giving people what they want seems like a good idea, but here’s a fun fact: people (read: your audience) rarely know what they actually want. They have expectations, but rarely know what they truly desire. When you try to deliver “what the people want” you don’t necessarily share you or what you’re good at. There are times that these crossover, but that is rare – otherwise you’d see nothing but superstar office workers in every workplace. Shockingly people tend to be very nervous about sharing themselves, even though that is typically a powerful source of success.

This is where The Monkees come in. Just in case you didn’t know, The Monkees was a very popular television show in the 60’s that was designed to be an American version of the Beatles – something the network figured the audience wanted. They made the show, played it, and it FAILED! According to a documentary about the show, it was one of the lowest testing shows of all time. Normally this would spell the end of a television show, but the producers and network really felt they had something special. They had a great deal of confidence in the talent they had cast and felt that if the audience knew them as well as the production team knew them that they’d warm up to the show. All four Monkees were featured in screen tests that showcased their personalities, you can still see these on YouTube. These were played before the pilot for a new test audience and the change was immediate – the show was a success! People were ready to connect to these guys who they felt they knew as opposed to some mad capped actors that were being put upon them.

Connection is a major goal for actors. We need to connect to our audiences and to our fellow actors. In an esoteric way we need to connect to the the characters that we play. Connection cannot be made by “faking it” it needs to be genuine. It’s the difference between being just an actor and being a good actor.

The posts that I’m making on YouTube, my Operation: Television’s Curtis Andersen vlogs, are part of my effort to make a genuine connection to my audience. It’s the secret to YouTuber success that networks and old model entertainment professionals fail to recognize. Audiences are created and drawn to YouTubers because they connect to their authenticity, and likewise turn on those YouTubers that lie to them, even if it’s just the appearance of a lie.

I’ve watched a lot of people in Hollywood do their best to try and “give them what they want,” I’ve done it myself, and it never gets you where you want to be. I see this way too often with starlets who think their way into the industry is bikini photos and playing “the sexy baby” (30 Rock did a great episode on that). Can it work? Sure, but the shelf life is very short and the chance of you being able to leverage that into a different career is small.

That doesn’t mean authenticity is a golden ticket to success, people might not connect with you at all. Not much you can do about that. But if they do then it is much easier to maintain.

Do you have questions about The Monkees Effect? Ask them in the comments.

See you next time!

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Actor 101 – The Hollywood Survival Guide for Actors

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The following is a review of the book The Hollywood Survival Guide for Actors by Kym Jackson. It is billed as, “Your handbook for becoming a working actor in L.A.”

Here’s the TL;DR version: If you are an actor in Los Angeles or coming to Los Angeles you should own this book and read this book. In the 30+ years that I have been working in this business, this is, truly, one of the best books on being an actor in the modern entertainment industry I have ever read. I cannot give it a higher recommendation, it is brilliant!

Here’s the full review: When I started working professionally in the entertainment industry in 1985 things were very different from how they are now. First and foremost I was a child who was plucky, had done some amateur acting and wasn’t shy. I had a very supportive family and parents who were willing to do the leg work and driving. My dad was able to locate a reputable child manager who helped me get really good headshots and also referred me to one of the top agencies for children at the time. I had a charmed start to my professional career. I went on my first audition, to be the voice of Schroeder (the piano playing kid in the Peanuts cartoons) and booked it. Because I was small for my age, I was older to play younger for a long time, eventually playing a sixteen year old until I was well into my twenties. Because there were very few bumps on my road to early success I’m not sure that I had a real sense of just how tough this industry can be… until 2005.

In 2005 I was told, very plainly and without any malice, “I just can’t see you as a virgin anymore” by a casting director when I was auditioning to be what I had hoped would be another in a line of geeky teens that, until that moment, had been my bread and butter. In 2005 I went from “regularly working actor” to  “barely auditioning actor” and my relationship to the industry changed. I’ll be really open about this, I don’t think I was capable of appreciating how good I had it. I look back now on those first twenty years and they really were amazing! I don’t wanna’ rest on the laurels of an old resume, but I’m still very proud of what’s on my IMDb page even if most of it is over a decade old. But I took it for granted. Mistakes were made. It’s easy to slip into the old refrain of, “if I knew then what I know now…” but regrets never got anyone anywhere and the past is a terrible place to live. Since I didn’t have to struggle when I got started I was horribly ill equipped to get my acting career back on track.

Enter the producing years!

What does every actor want to do after they’ve been acting a while? The correct answer is “direct” but I never really connected to that so I decided to be a producer. The original goal was to make things that I could be in, after all why not cast yourself in the movies you make? For the first project I wanted to just focus on one job, so I did not cast myself (a decision I’m still 50/50 on). There was plenty of work to do as a producer, especially on our small independent project. The budget was tight, down to the last dollar, so I was constantly managing something. This trend continued for the next several projects over the next several years. While my intentions to cast myself were good, a combination of workload and no appropriate parts conspired to take me, essentially, out of the acting world. I still do the occasional commercial here and there and do parts in friend’s projects, but no major theatrical work whether it be my projects or anyone else’s. What I was doing, though, was seeing the job of being an actor from a whole new perspective. In setting up casting sessions I saw that you’d probably only see about 60-75% of the people you scheduled for your audition – especially if it was non-union. That everyone is hustling for that “next gig” even agents and studio heads. The whole town essentially runs on moxie and bravado as opposed to contracts and handshakes (although those are important too). I learned more about the crew than I did in twenty years of working with them including how they are hired, how they are paid, and what it means when talent is late. I learned how the sales process of different projects works, including films, documentaries and television shows. Doing the hands-on work and being a part of every facet of the production process became a better education than proper film school. After a decade of fighting tooth and claw to get things made I came to the conclusion that producing was not the right thing for me and it was time to get back to what I really loved.

Back in the saddle.

At the end of 2014 I was just coming off a very successful turn as a board member of the Big Bear Film Festival and the first year of Fun Size Horror but I was ready to be done. Producing was lots of work and satisfying on a business level, but I really missed being an actor.  After a decade of being committed to making things people had forgotten that I used to be in front of the camera and that kinda’ sucked. I didn’t like the idea of being the guy who “used to be an actor,” being one has always been part of my identity. So in 2015 I decided it was time to rejoin the ranks completely and get back to being a full time working actor…

…turns out that’s a lot harder than it used to be.

No longer the adorable eight-year-old, it has not been as simple to just “jump back in.” Now-a-days you are required to have a demo reel to be considered for even the smallest parts. Agents won’t even look at you without a strong referral or a good list of credits. Booking the jobs I used to get is a lot harder now since much bigger actors are now taking smaller parts in films and T.V. shows.

What I’m getting at with all this preamble is that I have had a very full and complete experience in the Entertainment Industry School of Hard Knocks. I’ve been up and I’ve been down and I’ve seen some shit. It’s taken me thirty years to learn all of this.

You can get it all in one book.

The Hollywood Survival Guide for Actors

Kym Jackson has succinctly and efficiently placed all of the knowledge that a new actor in Los Angeles needs in one very easy to read book that covers everything from moving to L.A. to booking the job. I have often run into people that are ready to tell you “how it is” in Hollywood but never have I read something that I both agreed with and was able to learn something new from.

This isn’t a book you just read and put down, it is a resource. The chapters are laid out in an easy flow that makes sense as you go along. I found myself trying to come up with questions rookies might ask as I went through it. Each time it felt like the next chapter was answer to at least one of those questions with the remainder not far behind.

The best part about this book is that it is CURRENT. When I first started acting in the 80’s this business was very different and I’ve seen more change in the last five years than in the last thirty combined! All of the information in this book is up to date and looks to remain relevant for years to come.

It is a book I recommend to my acting students and one that I would recommend to any one even thinking of giving L.A. a try as an actor.

Get it, read it. You’ll be happy you did.

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Entertainment 101 on August 2nd

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The Entertainment 101 Seminar coming to Studio 105 on Sunday August 2nd from 2pm-4pm.

Lead by instructor Curtis Andersen (that’s me), this seminar covers all the how-to’s of getting started in the entertainment industry. It’s 30 years of information crammed into 2 hours!
Perfect for the new actor and parents of child actors, we cover:
  • On-Set expectations & responsibilities.
  • Common vocabulary.
  • People and positions to know on set.
  • The audition process.
  • And for parents – requirements & laws for young actors!
This is one of our most popular seminars – Call or email the studio to reserve your spot!
 
$50 for current students $75 for the public

 

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Actor 101: From the Trenches

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I recently had a conversation in the comments of my post Actor 101: The Actor, The Art & Advertising where the question came up about actors in a show who were asked to make changes in their performance that they were, for personal reasons, uncomfortable with. While you can see the full conversation at the link above, I wanted to post my initial response as a post because 1) this may happen to a new actor and it’s important that you maintain your personal integrity and 2) when collaborating it is essential that everyone is on the same page.

I actually cover this a lot in my acting class because if we, as actors, are going to do good work then integrity must lie at the center of that. It’s the kernel that a good performance sprouts from. There are a few things that must be considered in this answer:

1) The show itself: Tone and final objective for the audience is the biggest factor to consider here. Are they supposed to enjoy themselves? Should they have a visceral reaction for or against? Should they be shocked? Assuming that you are doing a standard version of South Pacific it’s a pretty solid romantic musical. The audience should be happy when the relationships culminate. However, if this is an avant garde take then perhaps another goal is trying to be reached?

2) The director: They are in command of the overall vision of the show, which can include adjusting the tone of the show as a whole. While actors see individual “strokes,” the director is responsible for the completed “painting.” Based on your description it sounds like he is trying to put his own stamp on the show? Maybe making it grittier? My default reaction is to have trust in the vision, but it’s also his duty to make you, as performers, understand what that vision is and what part you play in that vision. Based solely on your description it sounds like this may not be very clear.

3) The actor: You have a responsibility to deliver the character that you have been hired to play that matches the tone of the show and the vision of the director. To that end it is entirely possible that there will be 11th hour changes that may need to be integrated into a performance, but these changes, whatever they are, need to be applied as they would work for the character. They need to be defensible if you are asked where they came from. There needs to be a motivation behind them. There’s a reason why the phrase, “what’s my motivation” exists – it’s a legitimate thing for an actor, it just sounds really pretentious. If the actors being asked to change behaviors that don’t match their personal beliefs then the performance may come off either contrived or poorly done – neither is good for the show. But the people are not their characters so if the character displays different behaviors then the actor that is something the actor should be prepared for. I don’t like the phrase, ” to be a good actor you must be willing and able to substitute your moral upbringing…that’s acting 101″ I disagree with that, but characters do things that actors as people would never do and sometimes the most powerful performances are the ones that challenge the actor to really think and maybe even question why they feel the way they do about something.

I’m not sure how vulgar they are asked to be, but in my opinion the best solution is a director/actor meeting where each side comes open minded and the reasoning for this change is discussed. That way a compromise can be made that follows character and place in show versus “I say do this!” “But I don’t want to do this!”

I hope that helps and that you guys have a great show!

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have a story about being asked to do something you were uncomfortable with? Let me know in the comments.

See you next time!

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Actor 101 – Marketing: 5 Best Practices

 

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Back when I first started Actor 101 I posted an article about basic marketing for the actor. In fact it was called…

The Actor and Marketing

It is really basic, truly a 101 as far as marketing goes. If you are just getting started with how to market yourself in the entertainment industry I highly suggest giving that post a look before you continue with this post.

I was a guest speaker at a friends acting class the other night and we did a short Q&A about the changes in the industry and ways that an actor, especially a new actor, can market themselves. The conversation started with social media, websites, and online presence in general. Everybody had the accounts they need, but when it came to content it was all blank stares and mouths agape. That was a pretty big clue that it might be a good idea to cover some best practices specific to the new actor. The things I talk about in this article are best practices, which is to say that, all things being equal, these are things everyone should be doing. That being said all things are not equal so use what works for you.

  • Don’t Post Just To Post: Let’s start with a biggie – NO POST SPAM! Some people, especially when they are starting out, will post non-stop to their social media. This is how we get things like pictures of food and the “I’m bored, talk to me” posts. These posts are the kinds of things that get made fun of and do not help your social media presence at all. As an actor or other creative storyteller your goal is to connect with an audience through the telling of a story and a good story has a point which is why it’s worth telling. That’s how you should think of your marketing posts, they need to have a point. It could be as on the nose as “I have a new video up!” or as open as “Does anyone ever feel like Meisner technique makes them feel too vulnerable?” but it should be relevant and poignant to your intended audience. So if you go a day or two or a week without posting anything don’t panic. Likewise if you have a bunch to say that’s OK too, but you may want to consider scheduling some of those posts to spread the wealth.
  • Let Technology Help You: While I’m thinking about scheduling, there is some great technology out there to help you schedule where and what you posts to different social media sites. While most social networks have good cross posting abilities, you may not want to same message going out across all of your platforms. What you post to your private Facebook page may be very different than what you post on your LinkedIn page. Here are two solutions that I like. I have no affiliation with either of these companies, they just happen to be solutions I have used and like and they work well for entertainment professionals. Remember that regular posting helps build an audience.
    • Hootsuite: This is a personal favorite and the solution that I use daily. While they really push the idea of signing up for their paid services, most folks doing DIY social marketing will only need their free service. It allows you to set-up for five social networks and those can be changed at any time. My favorite part about Hootsuite is that you can either schedule your posts manually or allow it to auto schedule. I use the auto schedule option the most and it has increased my audience engagement dramatically. They also have a web extension call Hootlet that allows you to broadcast web content across your networks as you find it with the click of a button. They’ve recently added a YouTube feature that, admittedly, I haven’t played with yet but that addition is another reason why my gut instinct is to recommend this platform. There is also an easy to use smart phone/tablet app.
    • Buffer: I was first introduced to Buffer three years ago when a director at a touring show company we were working with showed it to me. The service has changed a bit since then and for the better. Buffer operates primarily as a web browser extension and app. With it you write a bunch of posts in advance and let the system space them out at appropriate times or time you select. Like Hootsuite they are looking for users to sign up for their paid service (their’s has the fun name “The Awesome Plan”) but their individual plan is still available. It covers Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, App.net, and Google+. It is a bit more structured about what social networks you can add and how many of each, but since most people only have one of each network I doubt you’ll miss any functionality.
  • Share Your Personality: The mechanics of regular posting are fundamental, but just like we want our posts to have a point they should also share your personality with your audience. Social media is an electronic medium, but people don’t want to read posts from robots, they still prefer to talk to people (even if that means that sometimes there’s a computer screen between them). Identity is important, I mean you’re an actor after all, and if you’re using your social media to market yourself then you need people to get to know you. Define and refine your online voice. Unlike the financial advisors I speak to during the day, actors are allowed to have opinions no matter how unpopular. To be clear: this does not give you carte blanche to be an asshole but don’t be afraid to state your opinion. Did you recently discovered a film that you think people should see? Talk about it and why you liked it. Are you excited about The Razzie Awards? Name your picks! That being said, remember performer rule #1 – KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE! You want them to enjoy your posts and follow you, not turn on you. Ideally you’ll engage with a community that will interact with you which will increase your reach online and the farther you reach the better you’re doing.
  • Interact: Just like you want to have people engaged with your posts, other people want you to engage with their posts too. Social media is “social” by definition and the only way a community works is if people participate. If you are a performer marketing yourself on social media then participation in the community is a requirement. Think of it as joining in the conversation at a party – it’s just that this party is, literally, hundreds of millions of active people large all the time and everyone has something to say. Remember the first rule, though, NO POST SPAM! Don’t interact with a post unless you have something to contribute. Always go for quality over quantity when it comes to engagement. Going back to our party metaphor, no one wants to be the guy that clears the area around the punch bowl with his bad Christopher Walken impression. If you’re going to say something make sure it’s worth saying.
  • Make Sure Your Posts Benefit You: As an actor in this town, with all the changes that are happening to the business and with all of the competition, your primary goal is to use all of the tools at your disposal to benefit yourself. The goal of all the bullet points above are to get people to pay attention to what you have to say and, ideally, help you build a brand that might get your signal recognized above the noise. That means that you need to always remember the basics we discussed – know your audience, be relevant to your audience,  and be conscience of how you are perceived in your chosen community.

Do you have thoughts on this list? Feel like I missed something? Let me know in the comments – engage in my community ;).

See you next time!

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Actor 101: The Actor, The Art & Advertising

Being a working actor can be tough. You willingly jump into a world where only a very small percentage  of people in your field know where their next paycheck is coming from. It is a world where you constantly put your talent on display and are regularly told “no.” Those without thick skins are harried by doubt and even those who have the mental fortitude have moments where they wonder if it’s all worth it.

So it’s easy to see why, when the actor is working, they take a great deal of joy in being a part of whatever production they are a part of. But what I want to remind you of today, especially given the current shift in how media works, is that the actor, no matter what media they perform in, is a sales person and as much as we want to use our art to effect people we are being hired to sell things to them. 
You may be saying to yourself, “Whoa, dude, I’m an artist! I’m not some shill!”
I have bad news for you, you are totally a shill. 
Here’s the good news, these things DO NOT need to be mutually exclusive. 
Note One: television exists because of and for commercials, not the other way around. 
If it wasn’t for the products that need to be sold there would be nothing on television. It would be a dead platform. Ever heard of soap operas? They got their name because they were paid for by the soap companies that wanted to be seen by mothers who were home during the day. Ever wonder why network television doesn’t push boundaries very often? They need to sell ad space and, as anyone whose ever heard the word “boycott” before knows, the networks are very nervous about alienating their audiences. Ever wonder how HBO manages to create shows like “Game of Thrones?” One word: subscribers. All television is paid for by the audience, whether indirectly by buying products or directly by paying subscriptions. 
Note Two: Performing in commercials is an art all on its own. 
As I just mentioned, the reason “Breaking Bad” is on TV is to create a space of sixty minutes where 13-18 minutes can be filled with ad space to sell to the companies that want you, the “Breaking Bad” audience member, to see their products. Advertisers know that the double edged sword of this relationship is that most of the audience doesn’t care how essential these commercials are and they would rather not see any commercials so they work VERY hard to create little 30-second stories that sell a product and try to be as entertaining as possible. We, as the commercial actors, are then required to bring life to these stories so that sales are made which then translates into revenue that can be budgeted to be spent on more ad buys. There’s a reason that whole classes are dedicated to commercial acting and it’s because it has a very different feel and goal than what you would learn in your standard on-camera Stanaslovsky based classes. The basic techniques are the same, but execution is very different. 
(Author note: I will probably do a whole different entry about the differences in acting styles. They are very different and understanding them can be the difference between booking and not booking. – CA)
Note Three: Selling something is not the same as “selling out.”
For the actor as an artist, “selling out” can be one of the worst things you can be accused of. Music artists are accused of this all the time and it usually comes when the artist in question starts making a whole buncha’ money and becomes more well known. When the original fan base feels marginalized they lash out, but actual selling out is different. Selling out, by definition, is accepting money or other compensation for compromising your principals and/or integrity. Integrity – that’s the name of the game. So, by that definition, a militant vegan actor doing a commercial for zucchini? No problem, sell away. Same militant vegan selling sausage? Well, that isn’t looking great for your integrity. And things like this are considered even by the talent agencies. Each time I have signed with a commercial agent they have always provided me with a data sheet that asks if there are any products or companies that I am not willing to endorse or work for. And they pay attention to that. You should too. Even in this economy, where it can feel like heresy to decline any kind of work, if you can’t maintain your personal integrity you may not be in the right field. Paychecks are great, for sure, but are they worth the regret and resentment that it may come later? Only you can answer that. 
Note Four: Media is changing so fast that we are doing sales more than ever. 
Let’s just ignore the traditional sales aspects of the job for a second. As any actor has noticed the whole internet thing seems to have caught on and it has changed our career completely. Instead of hard copy head shots being delivered by messengers we now just sign up for a few different casting sites and get our info emailed. Instead of just the networks and cable there’s now internet commercials, web series, webisodes to supplement network shows, personal YouTube channels and a host of things that can hire you that didn’t even exist three years ago. There’s also about 1000 times the competition for those jobs. There has always been a “personal branding” aspect to the business and to some extent a need to sell yourself, but now you need to get yourself above a growing amount of noise from up and comers who may have a better knowledge of After Effects than you do (I’m not saying that your acting reel should have light sabers in every scene, but it can’t hurt, right? But seriously, don’t do that.). Now marketing yourself is as important as technique because you could be the most amazing actor in the world, but it doesn’t mean a thing if people don’t know who you are. I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that this blog is part of a bigger strategy to help sell myself! Social media, the right pictures, websites and, when appropriate, public relations professionals are all important components to a personal marketing strategy. 
Sales and selling can feel like bad words sometimes. It carries a connotation of lying or being disingenuous, but in the end what it really does is let tell people about a product or service. In the case of the actor it advertises you and your talents. It’s important that you not ignore this aspect of the career. Remember if you maintain your personal integrity and remain authentic to what you are then you have no reason to feel bad about what you put out. 
Do you have opinions about selling, whether it be of yourself or products? Tell me in the comments. 
See you soon. 

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