This January marks the fifth year since I moved to Los Angeles from Astoria, Queens. I’ve seen this type of blog several times and thought I’d take a crack at it from the perspective of today’s advice to my January, 2011 self.
- Don’t waste time. Start creating.
I didn’t waste any time when I first arrived. I immediately started working on my music and played a lot of shows solo for the first time (at the House of Blues- a life long dream, and the Viper Room- something I never thought I would do). Within two months I was cast as a lead in a feature film and got a manager. A few months later I got a commercial. But then there was a lot of nothingness for a few years. Few auditions. Fewer bookings. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have the best headshots, or the best representation. Or maybe it’s because of the race problem in casting. Who knows. But what I should have been doing during that time was writing. If there is any advice I wish they had prepared us for in drama school, it’s to write, endlessly.
- Avoid the food service industry at all costs. “It’s the only realistic survival job an actor can have.” Never was a bigger waste of my time than working as a restaurant hostess and bartender, all for the sake of “keeping my days open for auditions/having a flexible schedule”. Now, I do enjoy creating drinks and learning about booze (who doesn’t?), but ultimately, bartending was never quite as monetarily rewarding as it could have been. While the intention was to learn mixology so I could have a job and take it anywhere in the world and survive, after all these years working in restaurants- I have a gaping whole in my production resume that could have included perhaps associate producing at a network or production company. Now I must start from “scratch” once more. I’m far more grateful for my recent freelancing experiences as a production assistant on a major feature film.
- Don’t produce something you didn’t create unless you’re getting paid. I put two years of my life into a project that I was starring in, but didn’t create. It’s something I believed in and wanted to see the light of day, but after raising the money, after the filming, after everything was done- during a pitch meeting with the writer and another actor I began to realize that no matter how much I was involved or how much work I put into producing it, I could be cut out at any moment because I didn’t create it. Not only that, every time I was pitching the project, once they found out I didn’t create it, the pitch was off the table. Moral of the story- if you plan on putting hard time and energy into a project as an unpaid producer, write it yourself (or as a team).
- What Would Bowie Do? And do that. Don’t hesitate on the ideas that keep circling in your mind. It keeps coming back for a reason. Develop it. See it to the end. Dare to be an artist, for heaven’s sake. It’s what you came here to do. Figure out who the fuck you are and be that person, whatever incarnation it needs to be. If you are a musician, embrace that identity. In drama school I had to strip away that musician ego I had spent years building up, and it left me without an identity for years. I’m only now coming back to that girl in a new light and saying “fuck the rules” and “fuck the past (-Man Up)” and moving forward as the person I want to be, not the person casting wants me to be.
- Don’t pay for advice. We go back to “fuck the rules.” All the ‘workshops’ this industry offers talent are a waste of time, no matter how many people defend the process- it’s criminal and it sucks. If you want real advice, make solid relationships to industry players and take them out to lunch. Generic advice never helped anyone. Avoid at all costs. “Get a haircut, you look too ethnic.” “Change your name.” “Don’t tell people you’re Trinidadian, they might think you are black.” “Don’t put ‘Canadian-American passport’ on your resume, someone may not hire you because you’re taking all our jobs.” << All fabulously horrid advice from “professionals” who aren’t even working and thrive off of desperate actors trying to hone their brand. Forget these crooks and talk to people you trust. Take a public poll. Whatever. But be very wary of workshops, career consultants, and any other type of money grubbing lunatics that pay their bills with aspiring movie stars fresh off the boat. Certainly there are great teachers out there, but for the love of the craft and everything sacred, do your research. If you want references, contact me directly.
- Shoot with everyone, not just “the best headshot photographers in LA.” I’ve shot with everyone. I taught myself how to shoot headshots because I’d say 1/100 photographers I’ve shot with actually knows how to open me up and also shoot my angular features. The two I can think of shot me for free. The best photoshoots I’ve had were in New York with fashion photographers. I felt more free and thus was more expressive because we were making art.
Headshots are the bane of my existence and have been a casting problem from day one. I look different in every photo depending on lens/lighting/makeup/attitude of the photographer. So shoot as much as you can, there are plenty of photographers out there that need models. Again, do your research and take a buddy if you need to. It’s not great to be alone with photographers because a lot of them take advantage of young attractive actresses- so ask references first and take a friend. If they don’t want you to bring a friend with you, just say no.
- Spend more time getting your reel solid, less time crafting your “Brand.” In the end, you have to deliver the goods. A high percentage of talent is booked straight from their reels without auditioning. If it’s between two actors- the director will probably look closely at the reel to decide. It’s easier to create a brand than it is to create content for the brand, at least for me. I could spend all day editing photos and designing websites and graphics for myself but when it comes to writing a short film that can showcase my skills, it couldn’t get more difficult. I’ve written many, many “scenes” for my own reel, I even started a business producing actor’s reels and made a killing. It honed my writing and directing skills. I could crank out fifteen-twenty scenes for someone else in a day. But to write for myself is the most difficult task, so if you find yourself in this conundrum, partner up with fellow actor-writers and write for each other.
- Don’t ignore other opportunities. If something opens up and you are a perfect fit, dare to walk through the door. Don’t say no to opportunities that could be right for you just because “I have to be available for auditions.” My biggest regret is not going to South by Southwest with my band because of that very reason. It would have been the experience of a lifetime, and I missed it because I’m a slave to my acting career. Don’t be a slave. Be an artist. Go where the wind takes you. If you are good at writing, directing, producing, music… pursue those things. Your strengths will dictate your success. Don’t ignore them. Go for it. You never know what path may lead you to your destiny.
One last bit: Don’t ever forget the things that make you passionate. I want every actor who just got off the bus and is looking for a new apartment, survival job, acting coach, headshot photographer, agent, manager… please read this and heed my advice. Oh and you’ll notice that everyone has an opinion of what you should be. And when they say “be yourself,” don’t listen to anything else they have to say about you, because everyone sees you differently.
Now crank up Big Data’s “Business of Emotion” and let yourself fly :)
-Satu Runa @saturuna