Sometimes, I have so many words running through my head I don’t know how to put them into writing.
Sometimes I have no words.
I want this website to be helpful, and I find that it’s most helpful when I’m honest, and honestly – I haven’t been able to write, since my last post.
It feels trite, at this point, to say “we’ve been through a lot the last couple years” because I feel like we’ve been saying that for a loooooooong time now. With the pandemic, with the elevation of the glaring equality issues we face in American society, with the entire restructure of our political systems – it feels impossible to write about our industry, when there’s so much more to say, about everything else. We’re constantly standing face-to-face with violence, and it’s impossible not to feel a little…broken.
Daniel, if you’re reading this, I thought about what you said after class and I hope you know, that’s why this post exists.
I’ll make an effort to come back to this. I’ll write. I’ll write because even though I can’t tackle everything I want to tackle, I still want this website to be useful, and positive. It’s why I started it, and I’m so grateful when I hear that it has been, in any small way, to any of you.
During the pandemic, I struggled to find a reason to find my job, and our industry, essential. I struggled to imagine any other emotions besides what I was currently feeling. I struggled to relate to others who disagreed with me. I’m an introvert, so the physical isolation felt freeing – but suddenly I felt so alone in totally different, new ways, as more issues than just Covid began to percolate. I felt powerless.
I still struggle with all of this, but I can definitely say I’ve started finding my way back, to a life and a balance that works. At some point, maybe I’ll write about what I learned, during the past few years – it would get philosophical and weird, but enh. Maybe that’s helpful too.
For now, I’m hoping it will be helpful for me to hone in, and just talk about acting. That is, after all, why I started writing these thoughts down – I do genuinely want to help actors. I want to help everybody, really, and I’m sure my therapist would say it’s to a fault, but this blog in particular is dedicated to you fascinating creatures who decide to act. So when I have these days with no words, and no idea where to start – I’ll start with honesty.
And I’ll honestly start by saying it feels really fucking difficult to write about any of this without screaming into the void about how barren the world feels and how I truly believe we have to come together and practice what I call ruthless positivity. Not toxic positivity – ruthless. Radical kindness, bravery, empathy, gratitude – all to an overwhelming degree. Protect yourself and others; ruthlessly, and kindly. Ruthless positivity a concept I strive to live by – I’ll have to write about it on another website, where my soapbox is set up. For now I’ll focus.
Here are a few things I’ve noticed, in a post-pandemic (or current, depending on how you look at it) landscape of acting.
One. This is one of the best times, that I’ve ever seen, to be a developing actor in this industry. Before 2020, self tapes were an alternative to coming in person – now they are the norm. The sheer volume of auditions we in casting are able to get through, is staggering compared to what it used to be. Since saying ‘yes’ to an audition is on the actor’s time, and not on ours, I’m pretty happy to give an audition to whoever, whenever. Unless it’s a waste of everyone’s time, I’m willing to try it. The world of opportunities has exploded for developing actors – there is so much new content, and so many new characters, and most casting offices are like mine, and open to watching a self tape from someone they don’t know.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and the subsequent elevation of the Black Lives Matter movement, most companies have realized they need to more proactively hire voices from marginalized communities. As a result, there is a thirst for actors from all marginalized communities, and since we haven’t been celebrating these communities properly, companies are forced to turn to new faces, because frankly the actors with financial meaning, are already busy. I used to have to tentatively ask my creatives if they’d potentially be open to maybe considering a fresh face, or floating the possibility of change a gender/ethnicity/ability/etc. of a character – now I get to say “Nope, we have to change it.” As a whole, the industry has turned to new faces, and are willing to find new talent, from anywhere. And that’s across the board – in particular for actors who a part of marginalized communities, but also for actors that aren’t. It’s been a distinct shift towards discovery, opening up boundless prospects for new and developing actors.
I’d like to take a quick second to say – would have been much better to have George Floyd, and countless other Black Americans, still alive.
This shift towards new faces and voices makes every tape a real potential for a job; and the fact that self tapes are now the norm, has further democratized the process. You don’t have to take off work to audition. You don’t have to live in LA to audition. If you have a disability of any kind, you don’t have to deal with the bullshit of leaving your house to go somewhere that might not be accommodating.
Two. This is also one of the worst times, that I’ve ever seen, to be a developing actor in this industry.
Back in the first half of 2020, no one was busy, and everyone wanted to keep trying, so everyone was willing to put down a self tape, and casting was happy to watch all of them. Now, the staggering volume of auditions has also become the norm. Which means I can’t get away with seeing 20-30 people for a role that I know are right – now I see 200-300 people for that same tiny role. You’re competing against soooooo many more people than you used to.
I think the biggest casualty for actors/acting during the pandemic is in-person auditions. I know commercials are back at it, but I have a hard time seeing narrative casting ever go back to in-person auditions for pre-reads. Maybe we’ll see more in-person callbacks in the future, but I have a hard time believing it’ll become the norm again, for pre-reads.
The in-person audition, is crucial for developing actors. I use that time, that first time I see you, to get a sense of you, what you’re like as an employee, what your instincts are towards character, and a general sense of your acting skills. It’s likely we’ll chat a bit or I’ll give you direction that may or may not make sense for the character – whether you’re right for the role or not, I’m getting a sense of who you are and what you’re about, so that when the role comes along that I just know you’re right for, I have a clear sense of why I think you’re right.
That’s just…gone. I don’t get that time, anymore. I have to try to guess all of that from your slate along with your self tape. I have no idea how you take direction, I have no idea if you’re a nice person, I have no idea what else you’re capable of. I can’t tell what your communication style is – and although that’s not something every casting office pays attention to, it’s something I very much pay attention to. I’m trying to play matchmaker with creatives – how am I supposed to fight for a match when I don’t even know if they communicate in the same ball park? Chances are, if someone who I know, and I’ve met in the room before, does a stellar tape – I’m much more able to fight for them, because that small amount of trust has been established.
Three. The toll, that this volume, has taken on all of us, is overwhelming. The entire process, as it now stands, is overwhelming.
For actors, I find this to be particularly difficult for a few reasons.
- For anyone new to the process, it’s incredibly frustrating to know there are so many opportunities, right around you, and not figure out how to capitalize on those opportunities. To not get a shot. And even if you do – you don’t know how to get it again and again.
- As you start getting auditions – it feels like you’re acting into a void. At least in an audition room, you get even a mere glance in your direction and “Thank you,” that lets you know perhaps this wasn’t the one. Now – there’s quite literally no feedback. It’s impossible to know what you’re doing wrong – and what you’re doing right! And even if there is feedback – remember I said I’ve got 200-300 tapes to watch? I’m not able to write you or your reps back with detailed feedback. I’m so sorry, I just can’t. You might get a “thanks but not this one!” and that’s about as much as I can give, because I want to respect the rest of the people who taped by watching their auditions too. Trust me when I say I’d love to give you feedback – but if I have to choose between disrespecting you by not getting you feedback, and disrespecting you by not watching your tape at all – I’m gonna lose the feedback.
- For anyone in the middle of this flood of self tapes, the sheer volume of work is impossible. I’ve seen several actors go from one audition every week or two, when things are steady, to 5-10 auditions per week. It’s like pilot season, on steroids, as a marathon. And these aren’t one or two page scenes – we’re talking eight, ten, twelve pages, meaty scenes, and since it’s a self tape, you can’t just wing it. I’d love to say these actors thrilled with the new opportunities, and truthfully they are – but they’re also trying to give every single one of them their all. And there’s just not enough hours in the day or emotions in the heart to be able to give every single one of them, their all. It’s too much.
I don’t have clear solutions for any of this. I have a few thoughts on what you can do for right now. It might be helpful, it might not – and ideally the landscape of our industry has changed for the better in a few years and we can look back at this post and feel like it’s useless. But for now, here are my recommendations.
If you are entirely new to acting – the advice hasn’t changed much. Put yourself out there. Join a local community play, make a video with friends, do a student film. Join an acting class or studio, if you can afford to. Put clips on social media. Do whatever you can, to put yourself and your work out there, and learn as much as you can. Your acting can always be improved. The industry as a whole is currently thirsty for new faces, so do what you can to put yourself in their line of sight, all while consistently improving your acting skills so that if you get an opportunity, you’re ready to knock it out of the park.
If you’re starting to get auditions, and it feels like you have no idea what you’re doing – surround yourself with trusted (and respectful!) opinions, and do your best to figure out what you’re doing right. Keep improving it. If you learn you’re doing something wrong, by all means fix it, but focus on finding out what you do well. Everyone as a first layer will say “Yeah! Good! Fine!” and if you push them to a deeper layer, they will tell you what they think is wrong, and what you should fix. It’s much harder to know, specifically, what you’re good at. Learn what it is, find confidence in it, and improve it. You can always deepen those skill sets, add nuance, add flavor – try doing it with every new audition you get. Ask for feedback, even if there’s only a 1% chance you get it. Make sure every tape you send has a note along the lines of “please let me know any directions to re-tape, I’d love to show you some more colors” especially with casting offices who don’t know you.
If you’re starting to get so many auditions you’re stretched thin, or your life is getting imbalanced, or you can’t support yourself – you have to pick and choose. This means you will lose some opportunities. There’s no way around it. But in the infallible words of Ron Swanson – never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.
It’s the 2020’s. Mental health and boundaries are not just crunchy granola buzz-words. They’re concepts we all know we have to adopt. I am trusting, from a casting point of view, that you will take care of yourself. If I send you an audition, and it’s really not plausible for you to do – do not do the audition. Chances are, if I know you even a little bit and I’m really interested in your tape, I’ll ask why. But most of the time, I’ll assume you had a reason, and I’ll catch you on the next one. And if you know I followed up, and had interest in your tape specifically – maybe that makes you pick doing my project, instead of another that’s just mass-collecting actors who happen to look like you, whether they’re actually similar actors or not.
The current system, where actors are getting giant meaty scenes from multiple sources and requiring them in one or two days – it’s not sustainable. And I hope we figure out a better way forward. But right now, it is what it is, and you have to take care of yourself. That means missing out on some opportunities, in order to give your best to others.
I can’t tell you how to pick and choose, you have to figure out a system that works for you. Maybe it’s a role you feel you’re best suited for, maybe it’s the script you like best. Maybe it’s the filmmakers you want to work with, maybe it’s a casting office you’ve said ‘no’ to a few times and you want to make sure you tape something for them. Maybe it’s the one that seems most fun, even if it’s only for an audition. I can’t tell you what to pick, only that you have to pick. Stretching yourself so thin you’re not doing a good job, and burning yourself out, are not options.
This industry has always required hard work. A lot, of hard work. And as this industry evolves, that will stay true. What I’m asking for, from you, is to continue to do the work, but do good work. And good work means taking care of yourself, in order to put your best foot forward.
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash