I Know What I’m Doing – Not Likely

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David W. King How are things in Sunny CA, Joey?

Joey Harlow David W. King Just got back last week. Will be hanging around here until next jaunt to LA. Its the same out there always. Sunny and a lot of people stuck on themselves. Ready at a moment’s notice to rip off your script or anything else of value .. nice place

David W. King I know that too well. I often caution people thinking of going out there about that very thing.

Joey Harlow David W. King 3,500 new peeps a month move there expecting their dreams to come true .. Most wind up returning home …


David W. King Joey Harlow No doubt. Truth is success comes to you if you are truly prepared. Most people don’t want to give that time and dedication in preparation of success.

By Erik Sean McGiven

Probably the biggest mistake is assuming entry into the union will put one on easy street. Statistics by unions discount this assumption in a brutal way. Of the 165,000 actors in the SAG-AFTRA only 20% are estimated to be working at any one time. Scott Frank’s mid 2012 article “How Many Actors Are in L.A,?” calculated the number to be 108,640 union actors. One has to rise above this competition. And that figure does not include the many non-union and student actors looking for work. SAG-AFTRA does not release earning figures of its membership.

Most young people entering the entertainment industry have a myopic view about the paths to success. These preconceive notions are often laden with misinformation and false assumptions. Such thinking limits opportunities, narrows the possibilities to learn ones craft, connect with industry people, and promote one’s self. So convince they know the way, they attempt the same approach repeatedly and the result is a stagnating career

It’s almost a religious belief that their way is the only way and no one is going to change their minds. Their undying faith is testament to their confidence and determination; however, when their thinking is erroneous bad things happen. Let me give you a few examples:

One assumption is that graduating from a leading acting or writing school provides special entry into the industry. The huge numbers of well-educated artists that fail to get a foothold in this industry demonstrates such thinking is faulty. They end up subsisting on low paying jobs while waiting for their big break. The same applies to studying with prominent drama and writing instructors.

Another assumption is that getting representation is the key to being successful. This too is a fallacy, as having an agent or manager does not guarantee jobs. Emerging actors and writers spend huge amounts of time and money trying to attract recognition from reps only to be disappointed with the results.

A great promotional package is another assumption. Thinking that great pictures and a classy resume are the answers can likewise lead to a dead end. Attracting recognition this way is faulty because it sidesteps the key question, can you do the job? Approaching your career in this way can not only be disappointing but also extremely expensive.

Probably the biggest mistake is assuming entry into the union will put one on easy street. Statistics by unions discount this assumption in a brutal way. Of the 165,000 actors in the SAG-AFTRA only 20% are estimated to be working at any one time. Scott Frank’s mid 2012 article “How Many Actors Are in L.A,?” calculated the number to be 108,640 union actors. One has to rise above this competition. And that figure does not include the many non-union and student actors looking for work. SAG-AFTRA does not release earning figures of its membership.

The Writer’s Guild is no better. Of its 8500 plus Guild members, only 55% worked in 2012, according to the most recent study. However, median earnings for all employed writers were quite high, around $120,000, employed being the operative work. When you take away the huge salaries of top earners, likely in the millions, the figures for emerging writers become less encouraging.

Another fallacy is thinking that social media exposure will attract industry recognition. Being on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn has little to do with your artistic abilities. In addition, the decision-makers are not likely to follow you on these sites. So your promotional efforts don’t reach the people who would interview and possibly hire you. While having thousands of followers may tip the scales in your favor, it’s not the ultimate hiring factor.

Newcomers to the industry have a linear mindset, certain that if they their plan, do this and this and then this, they will have a successful career. While such thinking is comforting, it doesn’t always provide results. If, however, they accepted the fact they might be completely ignorant about what is best for their career, it would open up their curiosity into the unknown. If you want to open doors, you first need to open the windows of enlightenment -a lot of windows. You need to recognize the limits of a structured education and come to appreciate that questions often deserve as much attention as answers.

People tend to think that not knowing is a bad thing, that ignorance is the absence of knowledge. Ignorance can be a good thing, especially when accepted. It creates a state of mind focusing on uncertainties and this fosters exploration and discovery. We then enter a world where questions are just as important as answers. We discover our inadequacies that we do not understand nearly as much about our craft as we first thought. Instead of emphasizing the clarity of knowledge we enter a world of intriguing ambiguities, one where curiosity and discovery flourish.

In such an environment, what is the ultimate question, the one you should be asking? That question would be, “What do I need to know and do to work in this industry? What are the crafts, techniques, and abilities that will make you a successful entity?” These answers can come from anywhere.

Most entries into the industry were spoon fed knowledge and seldom had to fend for their own training. Writers and actors, to be truly successful in the long run, have to rely on a do-it-yourself education. It’s not enough to take classes and workshops; one has to pursue ones craft as a life-long opportunity to continue improvement. Likewise, the styles and demands of writing and acting change and one has to be ready to adapt. Self-education is the most efficient way to stay up to date.

The first step in this DIY education is to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers, that you are too myopic to see the opportunities available. The next step is to seek out the knowledge you need and locate it. It could be in libraries, books, periodicals, movies, plays, DVDs, scripts, TV shows, Internet, classes and workshops.

But most important will be the guidance and input by industry professionals. For actors, these professionals could be agents, managers, casting directors, producers, screenwriters, directors and accomplished actors. For screenwriters, these professionals could be agents, managers, directors, script readers, story editors, producers, screenwriters and directors. There are numerous organizations that provide entrée to these professionals, some of which are free, others require payment. Television series such as Inside the Actor’s Studio and Variety’s Actors on Actors provide additional insights into this profession.

For writers, there’s the Screenwriter’s Foundation Meet and Greet, an event put on by the Writer’s Guild. There are also teaser classes put on by various writing schools and instructors and most of these are listed on InfoList.com to which you should subscribe. I also find that the extras on DVDs likewise provide a wealth of information on the arts. A membership to Netflix.com is a worthy investment.

Parents, teachers, and fellow students influence those entering this industry; however this group tends to be conservative thinkers. Their platitudes of hard work, stick at it, and get a good education often lead newcomers in the wrong direction. It condones busy repetitive activity instead of a proactive focus on one’s craft. It leads to a rigid approach rather than omnibus one, one exploring multiple pathways.

How one approaches career decisions is indicative of the success/failure ratio. Many take the path of least resistance, following the herd, doing just enough to get by. They fulfill class assignments, do their scenes, and subsist on meager accolades and shallow critiques. They go through the motions learning little in a small safe environment. They avoid venturing out seeking learning opportunities. In essence, they are caught up in the ruts of a well-traveled roadway, prodding along never uncovering their true potential.

One’s attitude is also relevant. An ego driven approach usually results in failure as the focus is on self rather than on serving the needs of a project or company. Here the inner mantra is “Hey, look at me, look at me,” rather than, “How we can make this work.” A more successful inner voice might be “How can I help you, or what can I do to make things better.”

The attribute of confidence is likewise overblown as it usually sets one off on a singular path that if wrong results in failure. In addition, the authoritarian attitude shuts out counter views and opportunities to expand ones knowledge. A dabble of ignorance can be a blessing, especially if one is aware of it, as it promotes curiosity to question and find effective knowledge, things that actually works.

Many newcomers have this thing about keeping the dream alive, that letting it happen is better than doing something. Such thinking overlooks the fact that craft, techniques, and good old fashion knowhow trump serendipity. If you really want to keep the dream alive, why not take control of the process, of your career and be proactive. Instead of waiting for something to happen, get out there and learn what is required to do the job. When you spend more time learning than dreaming, wonderful things can happen.

Are you actually developing your craft or are you going through the motions of being a student, playing the role of a struggling actor or writer. Rather than bemoaning your fate, look for ways to develop your tools and skills. Such actions take control of your dreams and make them a reality.

In seeking knowledge, costs become a relevant factor. Newcomers are usually strapped for cash and instead of bargain hunting; one should seek the best value for funds available. Knowledge has no anchor. It can come from anywhere, from an instructor, a video, a book, or a clip by a proficient actor or writer. Likewise, if your first words are, “How much does it cost?” then you could be losing out on more effective opportunities. Quality and value should be your first considerations, what are you getting for your money. What useful skills, techniques, knowledge and critiques are you receiving in return for your funds?

The same goes for actor’s promotional items such as pictures, resume, cover letters, and video demos. For writers, sample scripts and story proposals should likewise be first rate presentations. Before submitting these promotional elements, seek out appraisals by industry professionals. When these promotional pieces display your knowhow, your craft, your ability to do the job, then they have purpose. Then you will receive due consideration.

What assures success? What pathways provide the greatest opportunity for advancement? These are the questions neophytes should be asking. My answer to these questions is one trumpeted by many accomplished members of the entertainment industry. Learn what you need to know to do your job. Learn how to implement this knowledge and then learn how to do it brilliantly so people will hire you. Learn is the operative word and it’s a process many newcomers avoid.

Instead of pursuing the skills that employers want newcomers focus their time and money on representation, union entry, networking and promotional materials. They self-destruct with rationalizations. Some use the cop out stating, “I’m keeping busy. I’m taking this scene study workshop. I’m getting new pictures taken. I’m sending out submittals every week. I’m staying busy.” You’ll note that only one of these activities has to do with improving craft. The rest have to do with promotion. It might be that promotion is easier to accomplish while craft requires a deeper commitment, a sustained obsession to learn.

There is so much more a person can do to accumulate the skills and techniques required for one’s profession. Formal education is not enough. Certificates and diplomas don’t fulfill the need. Private coaching meets only a small portion of one’s knowledge base. One must go beyond these traditional methods and pursue the skills and knowledge to do the job and do it brilliantly. And if you question yourself about what you are doing, that uncertainty is a good thing for it fosters a deeper and wider pursuit into one’s craft.

Erik Sean McGiven has worked as a drama teacher, career coach and story consultant. He taught a five-week class on Personal Marketing which reflects many of the do-it-yourself options discussed in this article. As mentor he has seen how the students he helps get off track via misinformation and faulty thinking. Other writings and resources relating to acting and the biz (writing) can be found on his website http://www.erikseanmcgiven.com/writings. Erik works in the industry as a screenwriter, producer and production designer.

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