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The Product Is You

An Excerpt from "The Business of Acting"
from Backstage West
January 10, 2002

by Brad Lemack


From my role as a manager of talent, a PR specialist, and a college faculty member, I have developed a passion for teaching students of the performing arts, no matter the age, how to transition themselves into career performing artists. Sometimes I'm reaching them on their first shot out, other times they're trying to get a fresh start on a stalled career.

The key point I stress, whether you are a newcomer or a veteran, is that you need to be keenly aware from the start that working in show business necessitates your realization, and your acceptance, that you are a business unto yourself. The sooner you accept this idea and apply it to your approach, the sooner three key things will happen to you:

  • First, you will stop taking rejection personally (it is your product they have chosen to pass on, not you personally).
  • Second, you will start looking at your acting talent as a service you provide to the entertainment community.
  • Third, you will begin to look at promoting the growth of your career as you would any product you might have created and want to sell more of.

As an actor you need to create a personal and objective plan of attack detailing the steps you will take to launch (or relaunch), then maintain, your career. The acting business is an industry in which success ultimately has little to do with talent, training, education, or credentials. Success in this business has everything to do with opportunity, timing, and an actor's readiness to assume the tasks assigned. The path to success involves striking a balance between goals and tasks: goals to set and tasks to achieve those goals.

As I tell my clients and my students, a personal business plan is essential. It will give you focus. It will give you motivation. It will give you objectivity. Your business plan will contain key elements to keep you on track.

Your personal business plan should include a week-by-week breakdown of what you intend to accomplish each particular week for a given period. You are even allowed to schedule time off, lunches, and trips to the gym, the movies, and the Starbucks nearest you. Be specific. Write it down and hold yourself to it. You must make your assignments commitments to yourself.

To start it is important to forget that you have done anything previously to benefit your career. Start from scratch. You have a clean slate on which to create and establish primary, achievable goals for yourself-goals that you are capable of reaching on your own.

For example your goal should not be to get an acting job that pays you money by Mar. 1. It is impossible for you to guarantee yourself that you will meet this goal fully through any means you alone can create and implement. Your primary goal (getting an acting opportunity) should be to carry out the steps that can lead you to this secondary goal (getting paid for it). Business plans are about primary goals. While you cannot guarantee that a specific paying job will be yours by Mar. 1, you can guarantee that you will do all that is within your power to get yourself on track for it. Take care of your primary goals, and the rest will fall into place.

The steps of your personal business plan should include personal assignments like these, spread out into three phases of business proactivity, covering periods of three months each. Phase I focuses on certain tasks. Phase II focuses on other tasks. Phase III focuses on a little bit of everything, as needed. As you will see, some tasks need to be carried over from week to week, but others will be more periodic.

PHASE I GOALS

Get new headshots.
Seek opportunities to act in student films.
Review (and revise?) resume.
Research showcase opportunities.
Research information for agent and casting director mailing lists.
Draft submission pitch letter.
Become consistent at reading trades and related sources.

PHASE I TASKS

Week 1:

Start looking at friends' headshots. Call the photographers who took the best headshots, find out how much they charge for a session and what the session fee includes. Ask if their fees are negotiable (if I shoot only one roll of film, would it be less?). After all, it takes only one frame. Schedule a session for next week, if possible.

Do I have appropriate film or tape on myself to assemble a demo reel? If not, I must set out to do enough student films and other taped/filmed projects over the next few months to get this kind of footage to achieve this goal.

Work on my resumé. What does it look like? Is it in a good, easily readable format? Is it truthful? Ask to see friends' resumés. Are any of theirs styled in a way that looks better than the way my own resumé is formatted?

Make sure my answering machine or voicemail system is working properly. Is the outgoing message professional and appropriate?

Week 2:

Research showcases to participate in prior to pilot season. Ask friends about what showcases they have attended and liked.

Use the Internet to research other resources and compile a list of these useful sites to return to.

Start assembling mailing lists of appropriate agents, managers and casting directors to send new headshots to.

Start working on the pitch letters to be sent with the new head-shots. Research the costs of assembling a short video demo.

Week 3:

More research in preparation for my mailings.

Call every targeted person to see if they are accepting personal submissions for representation and/or informational interviews.

Do I have the spelling of their names and their addresses correct?

Week 4:

If new photos are ready, implement mailing, keeping track of where every photo goes.

Plan a schedule of telephone follow-ups for next week.

Every Week:

Read the trades (Daily Variety, Weekly Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter) daily to keep up on the business of the business and on who is doing what. (Note: You do not necessarily have to personally subscribe to these publications. Many libraries have subscriptions that you can have access to. If you live with similarly inclined roommates, you might pool your resources. Limited access is also available on these publications' websites. A chapter in The Business of Acting titled "Helpful Web Sites, Online Services, & Other Resources for Actors" will have details.)

Read other resources and publications religiously, every week-i.e., Back Stage West-to stay informed about industry news and casting opportunities. Check its website at www.backstage.com.

Read Back Stage West's casting notices, every one, every week. Submit myself for everything I think I am right for, particularly college and university student films.

Scan my other resources, including other online services, for information that might be helpful or useful to me (the book will contain nearly 50 good ones).

This plan would continue for subsequent weeks, months, and phases. There would be and should be repeated tasks for you to do in upcoming weeks. This is a cyclical process. You are a work-in-progress and so, too, are your business plan and your career.

You certainly would not have new pictures taken every month, but you would repeat a lot of the other tasks that make sense for you to repeat This is not a test You will not be graded. There is no wrong answer. There are only positive steps ahead. It has to be a plan that you cannot just live with but live on.

Now that you have seen the start of a sample business plan, create a worksheet to begin creating Phase I of your own business plan. Start by setting five to 10 realistic goals for yourself. What do you want to accomplish from the implementation of Phase I? Write these goals down and then plan the tasks and activities you will undertake to achieve them each week.

I strongly recommend that you keep a notebook or start a database in which you can create and maintain separate work-in-progress lists. Categories should include new contacts made, new contacts to pursue, other leads to follow up on, tasks accomplished, and potential new tasks to undertake as a result of your new contacts.

Keeping a running tally of the things you actually accomplish as you accomplish them can be very beneficial to you. While the responses you get from some of your outreach activities may be less than you had hoped for or anticipated, you should nonetheless recognize your achievements in having implemented them.

Like you, every business plan is an individual creation. It should reflect your greatest career aspirations and how you intend to get there. Every business plan also needs to be realistic, affordable to implement, and full of ideas that will translate into your personal road map to success.

Put it in writing and let your journey begin.

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