The Long View

May 25, 2010 by     No Comments    Posted under: Attitude, Thousands of Stories, Three Actors

So, I write about a time a lot on this blog. I’ve written about my thinking about time, that it takes 10 years to make it, what I was doing 10 years ago, how to look back and set goals for the future, more thoughts on how long it takes to make it, how I’m going to be a doctor, and my thoughts on patience and marshmallows. Continually, though, the topic of time comes up again and again in my conversations with other actors.

Most commonly, discussions of time revolve around how long it takes to ‘make it’ as an actor. If you go check out any actor whose work Grandma Ethel in Kansas would know, my guess is that 99% of the time there is about 8 – 10 years between their first IMDb credit and the first one that is highly recognizable. You can also assume that said actor was probably acting in some capacity for at least a year or two before their first IMDb credit.

Some people get discouraged by this–oh my God, I’m never going to make it, what do I do?!?!–but as I’ve written before, I think this is great news. It means that the vast majority of the time, people are making it because they work hard, are easy to get along with, and stick with it. I recently read a commencement address that Lisa Kudrow gave in which she talks about how she got fired from sets, had pilots not get picked up, and that it was 8 years until she got the role on Friends. Jenna Fischer has a similarly brilliant post on taking the long view and persevering. It took her 8 years in LA before she landed her role as Pam on The Office. The other thing to remember here is that while all of these actors were working their way up, it’s not like they weren’t acting or doing cool things. They were acting in plays, short films, student films, and doing small roles on TV as they progressed. I have to think that at least most of the time, they were enjoying the journey.

It also strikes me that if you don’t enjoy the journey you’re going to go crazy, because is there really a point where you would be totally satisfied with your career? If you’re making 30 grand a year on commercials, wouldn’t you be that much happier if you were pulling in 40? Once you get that coveted first network co-star, won’t you be itching for more, then disappointed that you don’t have a guest star credit? Then there’s the disappointment of all the pilots you’re in that don’t get picked up (George Clooney had about 7 before ER)…and won’t that single, lonely Oscar look better on your mantle if it had a golden friend next to it? The cycle is never-ending, so it becomes imperative to enjoy each step along the way, or you’ll never make it the 6, 8, or 20 years it might take to get closer to your ultimate goals.

So What the Hell is my Point?

Point 1: Celebrate

If you’re like me and the relative beginning of your career, then be gentle with yourself. Celebrate the seemingly small successes. You didn’t book “just a webseries,” you “booked a friggin’ webseries!!!!” There’s so much competition in this city, even getting called in for an audition means you beat out hundreds if not thousands of other actors.

Point 2: Note Your Progress

I’ve seen a lot of actors get discouraged because after a couple years they feel like they haven’t gone anywhere, but almost always they’ve made tremendous progress. Think back to when you first started pursuing acting. Did you have anything on your resume? Had you ever had an agent? Were a part of a union? Had been on a professional set? Read for a legit casting office? Or even been in something you were proud to show your friends? All the steps along the way can get lost, but remember that they’re all important. You’re honing your craft, meeting people, and (hopefully) having a blast. You really have come a long way.

Point 3: Take the Long View on Relationships

This point is probably worth its own blog post, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about and want to get out there. When you take the long view of your career, you lose all desperation with relationships. You don’t need that Casting Director you just met to cast you in something next week, because you have faith that you’ll cross paths with them again and again in the years to come. Moreover, the next time you meet them you will probably be further along in your career, and that CD/Producer/whomever might be able to help you significantly more than they before. Next week they might be able to read you for a co-star, but in 3 years they might have a series regular on a pilot that they could then call you in on. Start forming relationships just to form them, not because you need something right now. It might take decades for you to “cash in” on a relationship, but how much better will that be if you’ve spent a decade merely forming friendships and positive business relationships?

As a quick tangent, I should also say that it is much more personally and professionally rewarding to approach relationships with the goal of helping the other person, rather than hoping that your new acquaintance can help you. It builds up your brand as a quality person, and in the end makes people want to help you even more. Just think, if you were able to refer 3 of your incredible actor friends to a Casting Director and helped to solve their problem, how much that CD would love you and desire to help you out (not to mention if just feels good). Whether it’s karma or basic human psychology, when you are a good person and help others, they want to help you.

Enough rambling…it’s been a couple weeks since my last post and I’ve had a lot on my mind. Hope it’s been of any value. As always, we love reading your comments. =)

Ben Whitehair is the Los Angeles contingent of this blog. Find out more information and view his materials on his website, or read the rest of his blog posts.