…break the rules, until they have a good understanding of what the rules are.
Actors step out of line, make mistakes… break “the rules” all the time. There is a system to commercial casting with very clear do’s and don’ts… along with the few inevitable grey areas. (Note the emphasis on ‘few’) In general, I believe actors to be intelligent, creative, courageous-type folks looking at a fairly steep mountain of a career to climb… and they choose to do it anyway. My hat is off to you. It is my belief that when actors step out of bounds, it is generally out of ignorance vs. unintelligence or maliciousness. As much as I would like to advise actors to learn the rules and stick to them always and forever, period (and make this the shortest article ever!), I understand that isn’t likely to happen… but I do feel like I can say…
Commercial actors should never break the rules, until they know what the rules are.
To give credit where credit is due… my first introduction to this concept was through my Classical Texts teacher, Hal Ryder (Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, WA), many moons ago. When it came to Shakespeare, he taught his class that we must learn the rules of delivering text written in iambic pentameter, etc.… before we were allowed to break them. It was only after we demonstrated mastery of those rules that we were allowed to make a creative and informed choice to do something different. I should also say that we needed to be able to justify our choice when challenged…
Yes, when applied to the world of commercial casting, there is a bit of a Catch 22. How is an actor supposed to know they are breaking the rules when they don’t know what the rules are? Therefore, shouldn’t we (industry professionals) let actors off the hook based on their assumed noble intentions when they step out of line? No, there isn’t time, there are too many of you and the stakes are too high. Take personal responsibility. Today, I charge you with the task of learning the ways of the industry. It’s your job, and this task should reside at the top of your priority list. Whether you arrived 2 weeks ago or have been doing it for 40 years (stay current, veterans), I am talking to you. Learn the current system. After that, you can make informed choices to bend the rules with the biggest potential for return on your risk, and lessen the chances of being blacklisted for a grievous offense.
How does an actor learn the ways of the industry? It takes some time, effort and money… and I believe it to be in that order. Sometimes actors are so eager to get out there and DO IT NOW that they skip over getting to know the “how it works” portion of the career plan.
*Research. You are so fortunate to be an actor right now. There is a ton of FREE information on the Internet in the form of social networking, online newsletters (such as this one… and MANY others), etc. Beware of listening to everyone; there is a lot of misinformation, scams, and flat-out bitter folks (in competition with YOU) out there giving less than helpful advice. Find well-established, legit companies and read their material. Find established industry professionals (Agents, Casting Directors and Coaches) and take note of the gems of info they put out there.
*If you are fortunate enough to have an Agent, they are a wealth of knowledge. Listen to them… they will lay out their expectations and their “system” when they take you on. Knowing their system will educate you about and reflect the industry as a whole. But, Agents are busy, busy folks. Take notes and ask questions from the get-go. You don’t want to continually call with questions you should have had answered in your initial meeting. You don’t want to keep them from their job of submitting/pitching you nor do you want to annoy them. Ask when you have the chance. Pay attention to the details. Do exactly what they say. And when questions come up during the process, find out from them the most convenient way and time to communicate.
*Take an intro to the industry class. There are plenty of classes that are tempting to take with promises (stated or unstated) of “getting you work”. But if you find yourself taking these classes and not knowing the fundamentals of the process… flying by the seat of your pants, hoping (guessing) you are doing the right thing… consider a class on how the industry works… big picture. There are no shortcuts. I am already channeling Julie Andrews singing “Do Re Mi”. “You start at the very beginning… a very good place to start.” Sing along with me. Before you enroll in a “callback” class, learn the fundamentals of the industry process.
*Consider a short internship with a talent agency or casting office to gather priceless info on the industry that would normally take years (if ever) to learn. It may take time away from the immediate pursuit of your career, but with the big picture in mind, there could be a much bigger payoff. Why not set yourself up for the best possible success?
If you find yourself saying, “it can’t hurt,” or “I have nothing to lose,” think again. I don’t say this to scare you, but rather to inform you. You can hurt yourself and it’s your DREAMS that are at stake. Hard work and informed decisions pay off. Haphazardly doing whatever comes to mind or guessing won’t. True: there is no one path to a successful acting career. True: luck can sometimes play a role. True: Breaking some industry rules can hurt you… and you may not even know that you have done it. This is the time to set new goals. Commit to giving yourself a sturdy foundation of an industry education… consider that things might have changed (they have) and that you may need to put in some time to acquaint yourself with the changes. This will lay the groundwork for a long-term career with your good name well protected.
BUILD your career. Start with a solid foundation of industry knowledge.