Utterly sleep deprived from being up until 4am (vandalism, cops, window board-up companies – fun!), I sat down for lunch a tad fuzzy. Nonetheless, my conversation with this very promising actor yielded something I thought worthy of putting out there, blog-wise: The concept of three phases of an actor’s existence in Los Angeles. (This somewhat echoes ideas from my previous essay The Wall of No, but from a slightly different angle.)
Phase One: Prologue. This would consist of the 1-5 years on average that I have observed actors simply to stumble about town without a semblance of traction. They may be in a class, but it probably isn’t one with significant challenge or discipline. The actor in early Prologue is often spinning, dazed, partying, _____ing without much restraint. Later in Prologue would be found that person who is disciplined, finds a decent class, and with a degree of focus sets out to assemble their skills as a professional storyteller – but who has yet to administrate. Everyone starts in Prologue – and only they determine through their actions and behavior when to emerge from this phase. Prologue is the period between arriving in Los Angeles and becoming a consistently good, professional-level actor who is responsible, focused and ready to leave something behind in favor of being in Phase Two. A lot of actors have said some version of, “Man, I’ve been in town X years now and nothing’s really happened.” My response for most is that those X years were Prologue. Those X years don’t really count on the clock of “I’ve been doing this X years.” You haven’t been “doing this.” Not really.
Phase Two: Build-out. For my money, this is the start point of a career. In Build-Out, by hook or by crook, the actor has gotten himself into a position of acting well on a consistent basis – he/she knows the task, has evolved an approach that works for them, they tell the right story in the right way most or all of the time, they’re good group collaborators and have practiced that skill as well. They’ve probably indulged 1-5 years of Prologue-y gyrations between sloth and chaos in the personal life, are ready to stop the Crazy, and get to work. And work it is. For the next 5 years or so, the actor in Build-out is serious about his or her administration, works it consistently, follows up all meetings and auditions like a professional, and expands their list of Showbiz contacts. They stop conceiving of themselves as some Special Snowflake simply deserving of regular work because of their talent, and they stop blaming other people for their ills. And they’re probably partying less, writing fewer mantras, and simply working more. A proper Build-Out phase has attention to further development of their abilities, and a goal of 50 actions a week directed outward toward building a network, building CD/Agent/Writer/Producer/Director trust in you as a professional actor.
Phase Three: I’m Workin’ Here. Through diligent time spent on build-out, the actor has, we hope, successfully moved to Phase Three, which is marked by more consistent professional work. There are several jobs a year, let’s say. You’re making your SAG insurance minimum. Maybe you even get to give up your day job. But notice that Phase Three isn’t called, “I’m enjoying the money I make from acting here.” It’s Work. Still work. Because you have to move the career in the direction you want to go, all while continuing the actions you did during “Build-out.” But you’ve also learned to ride the ups and downs, the “you’re in first position / pinned / on avail” exhilaration that is crushed two days later when they go with someone else who won third prize on a reality show. Your sense of humor remains intact when your agent quits to shepherd goats in Scotland, or drops you and makes you think you should shepherd goats in Scotland. You might be able to get away without 50 actions a week, but I would certainly still recommend flawless followup and regular communication (3-4x a year) with everyone on your list.
My informal observation is that 80% of actors who land in LA for Prologue never emerge from that phase. They are too addicted to some form of unstructured existence, it’s all too chaotic, they just never quite become a professional about it – either from a skills or business perspective. Some brilliant actors can study for years and still essentially remain in Prologue from sheer obstinance about the issue of career administration. Of the remaining 20% who enter the Build-Out phase, almost none will be consistent for 5 years because they get discouraged, they Slouch Towards Bitterness, or other opportunities for Real Life present themselves and they’re happy to pursue those. So, that’s about one percent remaining who arrive in Los Angeles and make the full journey from Prologue to I’m Workin’ Here! May the Force be with you to be one of them.