Want Acting Opportunities? Make Your Own! - Beverly Hills Playhouse

“Build Your Own Door and Walk Through It”

Apparently I said that to a student a couple years ago. If I recall, she was frustrated on the career front, and this was a response to her saying, “I’m having trouble getting through the door.” My answer was recently quoted back to me by a different student, Mark Gantt, who wrote it down and used it to some degree to inspire him to build his own door. More on what he did below.

I’ve been recommending the book The Long Tail by Chris Anderson to anyone and everyone I’m running into lately. It is an excellent and down-to-earth analysis of the ramifications of broadband internet for commerce and distribution. Why should actors care? Because conventional thinking about acting careers is TOAST. It’s finished. Turn the page. Move on. Witness the current battle between SAG and the producers (which I believe SAG will lose). The world has moved on, and to a certain degree, we can’t be heaving deep sighs about how horseshoe makers are going out of business. The car cometh.

I’d say the vast majority of actors are still operating under the following conventional assumptions regarding career:

1) I will get an important agent and/or manager to rep me.
2) I will be sent out on an important audition for a big role / recurring role / guest star / etc. I will book said job.
3) Said job will be seen by Someone Important, and I will be brought in for another, more important job, and so on and so on….
4) Fame and/or money and/or a career of regular acting work will ensue.

So the actor, even when he or she is trained and has ability (and this is not exactly the norm), is still waiting around for the agent to call them for an audition, and their career administration is geared towards improving that agent and networking with casting directors. The problem is that both the agent and the casting director are gate-keepers whose gates are melting around them. There will soon be no gate to keep.

Actors must become not only masters of conventional career administration (which, while it is still here, should be chased dutifully), but also far more entrepreneurial about creating content. Milton used to bemoan the fact that he wasn’t directing movies any more – he wanted to. But in his mind, directing a movie meant a script being mailed to him, the approval of millions of dollars of expense, and a line of white production vehicles stretching for blocks. I told him once that if he wanted to direct a movie, get a camera, invite his favorite actors to his beautiful home, and start shooting. They could probably improvise something under his guidance that would be better than most scripted films. Hire a guy with Final Cut on his Mac and some skills, and he’d have a feature in 6 months. He looked at me as if I was insane. Ah, well…. I think a large part of his frustration was that he wanted validation, he wanted courtship, he wanted to be wanted, he wanted the romance and the money and the various accoutrements that come with “making a movie.” But when I suggested he could simply bypass all that and just make a movie, it just didn’t indicate to him at all.

I think this is the case with actors as well. Underneath, under much protest to the contrary, there is the irresistible allure of trailers, money, fame, attention. We have to get past the idea of millions of dollars – either for film budgets, or for our own compensation. The fact is with broadband digital distribution on the web, the amount of money to be made will be fragmented over the millions and millions of content generators – so the money you’ll make will be less. But let’s face it – most aren’t making any money now! So instead of the dream of $1 million per movie, how about the idea of a steady $20-50 thousand per year, spread over many products? I think this is good. Let’s see who’s interested in telling a story, as opposed to interested in a Ferrari. If you’re interested in the art form, in telling the story, in moving people or entertaining people with your performance, then the opportunities are only going to explode exponentially. The cost of that opportunity will be demand for higher responsibility – the individual performer’s responsibility to come up with a story to tell. The performer will have to be skilled not only as an actor, but possibly as a writer, as a motivator of others and of organization, and of business, and potentially of other areas of life so they can pull together the rent and car insurance in a regular fashion while they consistently pursue the art as well. The romantic and almost-impossible-to-achieve dream of $1 million a year for your acting services is being replaced by the far more achievable, but you-have-to-work-for-it-and-create-it, $1K-100K for your abilities across the artistic spectrum.

Sometimes when I come up against an actor who’s frustrated about career, I’ll posit the following: “Okay. Let’s make it really bad. No one will ever hire you to act in film or television, ever. Now what? You’re free. No need ever to attend another agent or CD workshop – your employment has been banned. Now what? Are you an actor? What is your Slingblade? Tell me a story.” And it’s amazing how few actually have a story they want to tell. Or a role that comes to mind that would give them everything they’ve ever wanted to play. To me it’s an indication of the innate passivity of most actors. It’s an inertia that must be crushed.

So, back to Mark Gantt. He partnered up with Jesse Warren, a friend from class, and created a web series called The Bannen Way. (www.bannenway.com) Mark used his contacts from years of prop work on sets to pull together many of the production elements. They both collaborated on the writing. They had a RED Camera donated. Jaguar donated one of their hottest cars. Mark played the lead. Jesse directed. They shot two five minute episodes that looked as good as The Bourne Identity in terms of style and visuals. Everything the BHP teaches was applied – acting, administration, attitude. All of it. Major talent was applied. Acting lessons applied. Administration applied. Attitude? My god, no question. When they were done, they spent months sweating over the editing and the creation of a trailer. Pretty much the same day they sent out the trailer (not on DVD, but by link to a website), they had interest from agencies and studios. Then after months more of negotiation and bullshit, Sony has picked it up and will give them a very decent payday, as well as shoot another 18 episodes, with Gantt still playing the lead, and Jesse directing.

The day they signed the contract, that’s when Gantt called me, and quoted a critique I gave to another actor from two years ago. That felt pretty good. “High cotton,” as my southern college roommate would say.

2 thoughts on ““Build Your Own Door and Walk Through It”

  1. Sarah Murdoch Billard


    I hope you don’t mind an almost random person finding your blog and commenting on it. I know Mike Mahaffey, and he posted a link to your post about the recent SAG adventures on his Facebook, and I kinda just kept reading.

    It’s interesting, but this is almost exactly the thing my dad has been trying to convince me of for years – so needless to say, I found it fascinating and encouraging. It’s also interesting because I’m in my senior year at a BFA Acting program and so am supposed to be spending all of my free time finding scenes for showcase material in the hopes that an agent will like me, I will get important auditions, and so on and so forth. So this has given me a lot of food for thought. Thank you.

    One question (well, two) – What is BHP and who is/was Milton?

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this. I really enjoyed your post.

    -Sarah Murdoch Billard-


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