Category Archives: auditions

Actor 101 – The Hollywood Survival Guide for Actors

Actor 101 LogoHollywood Survival Guide Cover

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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Actor 101 – The Audition

Auditions: they are the key to employment as an actor in the entertainment industry. You want an agent so you can get auditions. You subscribe to LA Casting and Actors Access so you can get auditions. It’s the mantra of the struggling actor, “I just need an audition!”

Auditions are literally the job interviews of the acting world. Just getting an audition is an accomplishment in and of itself (that’s a story for another time), but what we all really want is the job at the other end of that audition! There are some key things to remember you go into an audition and many of them might not be what you think.

When I talk to the actors in my class about auditioning I ask them what they feel they need to do to succeed in that audition room. The common answers have to do with their technique:

  • Bring strong choices into the room.
  • Take direction and apply it to the best of my ability.
  • Connect with the reader to make the emotional reaction stronger.
These are all great but they all have to do with your talent. Yes, your talent has a lot to do with why you are in the room, but  it’s kind of expected that you have the ability. Casting directors are purposely looking for good people. Nobody really wants to be in the the business of grooming talent (although finding the next great talent isn’t bad) so when you get the audition there’s already an expectation that you are good or at least good enough. So that may not be the final decision maker. You need to have a good interview.
It’s easy to forget about the interview aspect of the audition. You’ve done so much work on the character and scene, you’ve been memorizing as much as you can, maybe you’ve picked out the perfect audition outfit, so there’s already a lot going on in your head and now we need to add another level to it.
  • It’s an interview with the casting director not just this show. 
Casting directors don’t stay in one place forever, they get new jobs too. And when they move on they know who they liked and who they didn’t so it’s a good idea to treat every audition like a general meeting (General Meeting: A meet-and-greet with a casting director or casting decision maker without a specific project in mind.). Don’t be afraid to have a small conversation, be personable and, it should go without saying but….
  • Be Polite!
I really wish I didn’t need to make this a bullet point, but it’s shocking how many actors will forget the general courtesy of being polite. C’mon, your parents should have taught you better than that.
  • “Own the room.”
There’s an old saying that I remember from my earliest days of auditioning, “Go in and own the room!” Translated into specifics it means to go in confident and prepared. Be friendly and ready to meet people. It DOES NOT mean be annoying or obnoxious. For some folks this can be a tough line to walk. If you aren’t sure whether you’re bubbly or obnoxious ask a good friend – the kind of good friend who will tell you if you’re being an ass. 
  • Take away the reasons to say “no.”
When you walk into an audition there are already 1000 reasons why they can say no. You could be the wrong height, wrong body type, wrong hair, you may not match the family that has already been cast, casting could be having a bad session, the person ahead of you was kind of a jerk and it has everyone on edge… lots of things you have zero control over. It’s your responsibility as the professional actor to bring in as few reasons for them to say no as possible that includes all the things bullet pointed above, including the talent based ones, and also being sensitive to the energy in the room. Don’t walk in all loud and boisterous if they are trying to have a small private meeting before you begin. Don’t be the depressed guy if they’re all laughing and joking. Be aware and be appropriate.
There’s so much more that can be talked about when it comes to auditions but these are a few things that are good to start with. Do you have specific audition questions? Post here in the comments. Also, come check out our scene study and audition courses at Studio 105.
See you next time!

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