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I usually talk about success, but I thought I’d take a little different tack this time.
I have had the opportunity to observe, up close and personal, some of the most successful actors in the business over the past four decades. I made it my business to write down every success strategy that I saw them use – then try to adapt my behavior to those methods.
By copying successful people (it really isn’t cheating to adopt someone else’s successful behaviors), I’ve managed to have a fairly successful career myself.
Along the way I’ve also had a chance to observe those poor actors who just can’t seem to get anywhere (many of them very talented, by the way).
Those actors seemed to be using different tactics. I noted these strategies too, and every so often I’d write down what I facetiously called “a failure method.”
Here are seven of those guaranteed-to-work “failure methods.”
1. Become a critic. I’m sure you know other actors (not yourself) who do this. They criticize everything. “She can’t act, I don’t know why they keep giving her the Oscar.” “They spend a 100 million dollars and the scripts sucks.” “Yeah, I saw that show, they should have left it in the basement.”
There are two bad results from this tactic. First, once your friends realize that this is how you behave, they will make darn sure you aren’t invited to any of their shows. Second, you will probably end up becoming a full-time critic (paid or not) and your acting dreams will be left behind. Remember, you will become what you practice to become. Don’t become a critic. Do you like critics? Do your co-workers? Has anyone ever given a critic a standing ‘O?’ Don’t become a critic, I beg of you.
2. Beat on your own head with a hammer. This is what I call the behavior we see all to often, where an actor cannot allow a compliment to remain unchallenged. “You were great.” “Ha! I really stunk the place up tonight. You should have been here Friday.” This is a very tempting behavior. No one wants to look like a swelled head egotist – but this is not the way to go about proving that you are not.
In essence, when you judge your own work negatively, you are practicing to be a critic again – only this time the target of your criticism is yourself. Don’t do it. I have seen actors of real talent who, by poo-poohing their own efforts eventually convinced themselves that they weren’t any good. And they quit. Do you want to quit? Then don’t get down on yourself in any way.
You’re human. (if not, you must be one of those alien humanoids that’s trying to take over the Earth and I’m really flattered you’re taking the time to read my little article) You will never be perfect. Start to cut yourself some slack if you want to be a successful human. Accept compliments graciously and move on.
3. Predict the future. It can’t be done. All of the people who say they can predict the future, do so to separate fools from money. When you do it with regard to your own life, you are in The Twilight Zone – and you could end up staying there.
I’m sure you’ve heard this: “I’m going to be the biggest star in the world. It’s my destiny.” (Or words to that effect.) Now, some actors do this in the mistaken idea that this is an affirmation of their goals. But this sort of blather is way too non-specific to have any real impact on your results.
If you want a real affirmation, try something like: “I’m going to be a professional, paid actor who earns my living with my craft. I’m going to be a nice person, a good collaborator and I’m going to have a life outside of my job.”
And for pity’s sake don’t predict disaster. “I know I’m up against incredible odds and I’ll probably starve, but I’m going to be an actor anyway.” This kind of prediction has a terrible habit of coming true (in ways that you cannot predict).
If you meet someone who blabbers constantly about their “destiny” keep your distance. Individual disasters can often include those in the immediate vicinity.
4. Be competitive. Acting isn’t a sport. There are no winners (or losers) at the end of a show. Well, the audience has a chance to lose if the show isn’t worth the twenty bucks – but among actors there’s no score at the end of the presentation.
The big downside of a competitive personality in show business is that others will feel you are trying to “beat” them and they won’t want to work with you. Collaborate, don’t compete.
There are many who say this is a competitive business and they are partially correct. But the competition is the individual aspirant’s attempt to be better every time. It’s about being good enough in the audition process to be considered a “possible.” But after you get the part (or don’t) the “competition” is over. Move on.
It’s the “win at all costs” mentality that will get you heartily disliked (a bad outcome for an actor) and more importantly – it doesn’t work that way.
5. Fill your life with pettiness, bitterness and jealousy. PB&J is not a sandwich – they are the three horsemen of the apocalypse in an actor’s career.
The central element of any acting career is the inevitable rejection you must face. “I didn’t get it.” is a phrase you will hear and say many times in your theatrical career. Reacting to this rejection as if it is personal is a guaranteed way of failing to reach your goals.
If you believe that other people have an unfair advantage, or that you are being singled out for rejection, or that every rejection is proof that you have made the wrong choice – guess what? You’re going to fail to achieve your dreams.
When someone else books a job, it has nothing to do with you. When another actor gets a break, it’s her triumph — but not your defeat. When you don’t get the part, life is not over and there’s no excuse for weeping and eating an entire gallon of cookie dough ice cream. There will always be other parts.
Is it easy to remain calm and positive in the face of rejection? Nope. But that is what you must learn to do if you want to have a career as an actor. Get used to it or get into another field of work.
6. Procrastinate. Do not put off until tomorrow what you should have done three weeks ago. People who procrastinate get in the habit of procrastinating. When things don’t get done, hey – “Bob’s your uncle!” – it’s failure time.
Some people quote Scarlett O’Hara on this. “Tomorrow’s another day.” This is a very bad summation of your philosophy. Don’t forget that Scarlett is a self-centered, spoiled woman filled with PB&J and she doesn’t get anything she wants. And “fiddle-dee-dee” hardly compensates for a life full of disappointments.
If you need new pictures, because the one you have isn’t working – don’t put it off until your bills are paid – do it now. If you need to memorize a monolog and practice it until it’s second nature, turn off that “Friends” re-run and do it now. If they are holding two days of auditions, make it your business to be there on the first day. Believe me, the habit of putting things off will guarantee a less than desirable result.
Those are six “mental” methods of failure. Here’s a practical one:
7. Spend more than you can afford on headshots. Booking with an A-list photographer and making a large investment in make-up, hair, lighting, etc. is a bad idea in the beginning of your career. This is generally a hopeless attempt to get a headshot that makes you look like a movie star. Actually there are two failure strategies at work here.
First spending a lot of money to get a “session” with a top photographer and all that goes with it. By and large this won’t work if the person in front of the camera doesn’t know what he is doing. The person in front of the camera is you. Do you know what you’re doing?
If you are still learning how to be photographed (a process that will take many photo sessions for most actors) spending a lot is a waste of your financial resources. (If your rich Aunt Minnie is willing to “lend” you thousands of dollars to keep trying this method – well that might work.)
However, it’s been my observation that once an actor has spent upwards of two thousand bucks for some pictures – it’s very hard for them to “toss them out” – even if the headshot isn’t working. The more you pay for your headshots (as a percentage of your income) the less likely you are to “cut your losses” and move on.
Flogging a headshot that does not work (get you called in) is the number one cause of most career doldrums. This advice doesn’t apply if you’re already a star. A star can use any old headshot.
The second part of this failure method is the idea that “looking like a movie star” is what it’s all about. That idea is wrong on many levels. You are not a movie star. You are an actor. Someday you may be a movie star. That’s what happens to some successful actors. But until you reach that point, you are better off working on looking as much like you as you can. Especially in your headshot. It counts.
Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface of the myriad “failure methods” out there, but I’m sure you see the pattern.
Being a successful actor is like most other professional pursuits – there will be ups and downs – but to guarantee a life full of downs, just use any of these methods I’ve outlined above.
They absolutely work.
By Bob Fraser
(Acting Magazine Contributor, Author/Distributor of YouMustAct CD Rom Technology)
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