Let’s travel back in time for a moment; all the way back to when you booked an LA plane ticket with a travel agent (a what?), found a place to live in a newspaper with a name like the Post, sans the Huffington, and met your first network connection through your Dad’s friend named Craig, sans the list.
You get a crappy restaurant job, your first new headshots, and you desperately ask around town for someone to hook you up with an Agent.
You wake up every morning to the blaring ring of your landline and rush to the phone bleary eyed, only to hear your mother’s shrill voice instead of your first big break. So you continue to wait, twisting the telephone cord, which feels more umbilical every time she calls to lay the guilt on.
The 2013 Actor
A mere sixteen years later, things haven’t changed that much. Los Angeles, “they” say, is tougher than ever. It’s a big bad wolf that will eat you up and spit you out.
Or is it?
This particular actor hasn’t broken into the big leagues and I can’t say with absolute certainty that I ever will, but I do know for certain that it would take a lot of convincing to make me take a spin in that time-machine, even to circa 1997.
In that golden age of Clintonesque misbehavior, you were either in or you were out. There were the studios and there was nothing. Now, thanks to all our lovely technology (the Web, DSLR Cameras, etc.) there is an “in-between”, a pleasant purgatory between the heaven of the working actor and the hell of the unemployed one.
What it takes however, is a willingness to stand out professionally from the rest, a steady dose of targeted persistence, and an understanding of who the people giving you these “in-between” jobs are.
(Note: These “in-between” and scantly paid jobs are obviously non-union. I in no way support those who can afford union rates to bilk talent of their just desserts. I firmly believe the majority of these jobs are given by people who aren’t laughing their way to the bank, and are therefore making some cuts – regrettably –in the talent department. I wish it weren’t the case, but that, as they say, is life.)
How to make money as an “In-Betweener”
So here are the goods. Here’s how I’ve made money being an actor every month since I’ve been in LA, at least since I started taking things a little more seriously.
The biggest “secret” I know: Voiceover and Craigslist.
Most of the money I’ve made as an actor has been made doing voiceover (VO) work. I landed a national French commercial through the Craigslist in San Francisco before I moved. Subsequently, I’ve booked VO gigs through Craigslist on a monthly basis. Granted, a large chunk of them are in French (My other native tongue), but a fair number are in English.
Requirements: A computer, sound editing software such as Audacity (free), Garageband for Mac, a USB Microphone (I started with a Blue Snowball – $60 used online), and a “plosive guard.”
Major Advantages: Fluency in another language. Voice talent. Sound-editing knowledge.
Besides the above requirements, you will need one thing: a reel. This is a larger topic of course, but my story could be stated simply: I made my first home-made crappy reel and it was good enough to get me my first few jobs and much needed experience. I then made my next slightly better reel, and this started getting me paying jobs. Rinse and repeat. These in-between jobs may not pay much (usually between $50 – $200), but they’re way less of a hassle to be involved in than an on-camera gig, and your audition is just an email click away.
*Additional note: You should check Craigslist multiple times a day for a period of time (2 to 4 weeks) before you start seeing results. Be sure to search in the appropriate categories using the key-words: “Voice,” “VO,” and “Voiceover.” If you have a home-studio, you can also search in any city in the United States.
Student Projects and Specs: Help the little guy. That’s you as well.
God bless the schools and up and coming filmmakers that pay their actors (shout out to Art Center College in Pasadena), but as for the others – approach from the perspective of gaining experience and the opportunity to create a relationship, even though you may or may not get paid, and you may or may not get the footage for your reel. Try not to fixate your mind on these unfortunate, yet frequent occurrences. Act professionally for little to no money and they will think of you first when they’re hiring the next time with pay.
Requirements: A positive and patient mind-set.
Major Advantages: An extremely positive and patient mind-set.
*Additional note: I strongly encourage up and coming performers to work for free/cheap when the project seems worthy. Worthiness should be liberally allowed – students and nice people who can’t afford anything and just want to get ahead should be enough for you. You never know where that person will land someday and could end up returning the “favor.”
Your next job is with your last job: Networking is everything.
Here’s what you do: whether it’s a Word document or an actual journal, keep a list of every professional contact you’ve ever worked with. When you’ve given it an appropriate amount of time, contact these people to say a kind hello. This works just like “zed cards” to casting agents. You need to remind those who have given you work that you are there and haven’t moved on to bigger and better things. Even if you have, maybe they have too! It also helps to frame your previous experience positively, so they remember it that way as well (even if it wasn’t).
Of course, nothing works better than some face-to-face time. Filmmakers, especially up and coming ones, typically abhor the casting process (which is a shame, but that’s another topic.) What they do love more than anything is casting someone that they just got back in touch with. Even if it’s a quick email or a quick conversation at a gathering; you never know where people are in their lives until you ask.
Requirements: A journal.
Major Advantages: A healthy social life.
Being a big fish in the many itty bitty ponds
You too can be a big fish in all the little atolls that lie within the “show-biz” ocean that is Los Angeles. What you need to stand out is a sense of discipline and professionalism, without an inflated ego or status over others.
Audition for every job like you’re auditioning for a network. Research the parties involved (whether it be IMDB pro or a simple Facebook search to see if you have friends in common.)
Make sure your headshots and reels are as good as they can be. If nothing else, think of every “small” audition as practice for the “big” ones. You may have graduated from drama school, even have an MFA – but these auditions are your true MFA. You’ll have truly graduated when you are making a living as an actor. In the meantime – those morning chats with Mom will be a whole lot sweeter when you’ve got something to talk about, instead of wandering aimlessly in the vast blue show-biz ocean, feeling like a smaller and smaller fish each and every passing day.