Hello. Hi. I see you. I know you exist. We all know you exist. One of the beautiful things about working in the 21st century and in an increasingly digital society, is that our industry is now a global community. Skype, self tapes, cheap flights – we in casting are able to look around the world for virtually every role we have.
But we don’t.
I don’t say that to scare you, I don’t say that because you need to move to LA. You don’t. I just want you to be aware of additional steps you need to take.
Logistically speaking, I know more actors who live in LA that those who don’t. Pure fact of the matter is, since I’m based here, I meet people day to day, who live here, and are able to work at a moment’s notice.
For a production, it’s extremely expensive to hire someone who doesn’t live locally. Union rules, which are in place to protect you, require production to fly an actor in, put them up at a hotel, give them per diem, provide transportation – you can see how traveling an actor for even a day or two of work can cost a production hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars. And the budget may not have room to spare that kind of money. Every dollar is needed – even in a huge production, there may not be room in the budget to travel someone for a small role.
That’s also not taking work papers into account. To get someone a visa could cost several thousand dollars, and several weeks time, not to mention the work involved to process the visa. If I have a role working next week – I quite literally can’t consider someone who doesn’t have work papers.
Casting someone local is cheaper, faster, and all-around easier to do.
But don’t hire any movers just yet.
First – obviously not all productions are in LA. Film and television shoot all around the world – there may be productions near you, and you being able to work as a local or you even just being closer to the shooting location puts you at an advantage. If I have a film shooting in Romania, and you live in France – you can bet I’ll be looking at your tape more seriously than an actor living in LA. And you’re likely a part of a smaller group of people I’m looking at, which makes you stand out when in a major city like LA or NY, you would be just another face. And if you’ve got anything that sets you apart from other actors in your area – perhaps you’re Canadian, living in India, or East Indian, living in Canada – I’ll definitely be looking for you when I need someone with an American accent who can work in Bangalore or someone who speaks Hindi that can work in Toronto.
Stay informed on the projects near you, and make sure local casting directors know who you are. We trust local casting directors to know who’s working, and know the options of the area that we may not be able to find in our own searches.
Second – it’s expensive to move, and expensive to live in a major city. If money comes a little easier for you, then yes, get your ass here. But for the rest of the world, I’m going to recommend you do everything in your power to get a job without spending your hard-earned money.
Don’t focus on guest/co star roles on television shows that aren’t near you. I can tell you right now – unless it’s a series regular character, or a large recurring role, productions are not going to pay to travel someone and they’re not going to wait to get someone’s work papers in order. If casting asks you to do a tape, do it – but don’t expect to be hired. It just doesn’t make fiscal sense for a production to do so.
That being said – self tape for anything someone asks of you. You’re at a disadvantage, not being in the room – you could be a fantastic actor, but we have no idea what you’re like to work with, or how to see you differently. You may not think the role is right for you, but tape anyway. Tape with your own choices, and your own instincts, and you’re right – the role might not be the one for you, but now I have a better idea of your capabilities. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to projects and found a self tape from someone that wasn’t right for the role at the time, but I kept them in mind and now I’ve got something right up their alley. If you send in your self tapes with the offer of re-taping with notes, that’s another thing that piques my interest – since I’m not able to work with you on the spot, in the room, it’s helpful to know you’re open to the process and even though it’s cumbersome, I’d like to get a better idea what you’re like to work with. The more I get to know you and your work, the more likely it is that I’ll fight to have production travel you for a role, because I believe in you.
If you don’t have work papers – start working on them. At least a blanket O-1 visa is needed for most US productions, whatever you can do to start the process helps. Even just being aware of exactly what you need or what step in the process you still need to complete makes production feel more comfortable taking on that responsibility. Consider taking a smaller project, if production will help you get a visa.
If you can afford to spend some time in LA, plan to do so. A month or so here can open up your world. It’s ideal if you can have a reason to be here – whether it’s a job, or a screening of something you worked on, if it’s a workshop you’re taking part in, a class you want to take – anything that has you acting and/or working and gives you a reason to be here. While you’re here, meet as many people as you can – they may not have a job for you right now, but meeting people, in person, makes a tangible connection and they’ll remember you when the right role comes. Not everyone who works in this industry makes it onto Deadline or Variety, but they’re still people that might get you hired. Come during Feb/March, for pilot season, come around May, when summer projects are gearing up, come in July, right before television shows get going. Honestly whenever you can get here is fine, just avoid major US holidays.
Maybe Los Angeles isn’t your scene – then get to New York, get to London. Same thought process – meet as many people as you can.
I don’t think you need to live in major city to be a working actor. Our industry is global, and I guarantee there’s something working relatively near you, whether it’s film, television, maybe theater – if you’re just looking to work, there’s no reason to move. Dynamic, respectable careers have been built by actors who have never moved away from their hometown.
I also don’t think you have to be living in a major city to be a star. But the fact of the matter is, bigger projects get put together in cities like LA, New York and London. Just know that at some point, you’ll need to go there, whether it’s for a visit or a home. Keep working where you are, do your best to be the best and the harder you work, the more likely it is you’ll get paid to go to one of those cities instead of doing it on your own dime.