Make your own Hollywood
by Nancy Bishop
Don’t be an actor who sits and waits by the phone for your agent to call. This is a miserable way to live. If the phone isn’t ringing, staring at it won’t help. Actors need to be proactive. One of my teachers used to say, ‘It’s a poor dog who can’t wag his own tail.' So get out there and wag your tail.
Feeling ignored?Once an actor complained to me that he wasn’t succeeding because casting directors ignored him. He said, ‘The casting directors have control over my career and whether I make it or not.' This is absolutely not true. Take the power back. You are the only one who is in charge of whether you succeed or not.
This is the most valuable advice that I can give actors. Make your own work. If no one is casting you, if there is no one making a film or play with a role that is right for you, then make one for yourself. Write a play about you, directed by you, produced by you, with you in mind. Create the perfect role for yourself. If you don’t like to write, then find material. There are plenty of good plays out there. When you are doing theatre, ‘push yourself and work with good people’, advises casting director Meg Liberman. You will learn from your co-stars. Not only are you attracting possible agents and casters, you are also honing your skills and getting better with each performance.
Take to the fringeMany cities have fringe festivals. If yours doesn’t, then start one. Fringe festivals are full of that sizzling energy created by hundreds of talented actors who are desperate to work. These actors are seizing the moment, practicing their craft. As the nineteenth century playwright, Friedrich Schiller said, ‘he who has lived the best of his own age will live for many ages to come.' It is these performances that will burn themselves into the minds of viewers, not just the big blockbuster films. Stars who got their start at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for example, include Jude Law, Gerard Butler, Hugh Grant, Ricky Gervais and Rachel Weisz. There was a time when these actors weren’t famous but they didn’t get noticed by sitting at home.
Write your own rolesSteven Berkoff confesses that he composed his now famous adaptation of Franz Kafka’s story Metamorphosiswhen he was out of work and sick of waiting for the phone to ring. Metamorphosis was nothing more than a talent vehicle for Berkoff — playing a cockroach of all things. Now Berkoff can languidly wait by the phone. This time, in addition to getting acting offers, he’s waiting for his agent to call and report on the royalties he earns when the play is produced as a star vehicle for other actors, like, for example, Mikhail Baryshnikov. If you create a good role, other actors will want to play it too.
If your phone isn’t ringing with film offers, then take the reins into your own hands, and make a film yourself. You don’t need millions to make a film — all you need is a camera (a simple digital video camera will do), a computer with an editing program, and a lot of ideas, energy and enthusiasm. Choose something that matters to you and find your voice to express it through film.
There are independent film festivals bursting out of every city. If no one accepts your film, then you can pop it on YouTube. There are even online film festivals. The internet bars no one from promoting their work. Unknown actors are able to attract agents and auditions for top notch roles when they produce good online work.
• The film Good Will Hunting launched the careers of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and it was written by . . . guess who? Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Some of the world’s best drama has come from actors who wrote material for themselves to perform; don’t forget William Shakespeare was an actor.
• Vin Diesel didn’t know that he was on course for action hero superstardom when he made his own film, Multi-Facial in 1994. The film, about multiculturalism and identity, was close to his heart. He made the film because he had a passion to express himself. That $3,000 film was accepted for the Cannes Film Festival in 1995, eventually catching the attention of Steven Spielberg, who offered him a role in Saving Private Ryan.
• Other actors who started by writing their own material include Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Steve Martin, Tina Fey, and Emma Thompson.
Team upIf you feel that producing or writing aren’t for you, then team up with someone else. Actor and producer Colleen Camp advises actors to ‘align with people you think are talented, and be an entrepreneur. Write for yourself, write for someone else and get them to write for you’. Colleen is an excellent example. After many years as a jobbing actor, she started her own production company
and has produced nine films.
If you’re out there doing it, you might not even have time to answer the phone when we call you. When I was casting Everything is Illuminated, we needed an actor to play a comic Hitler. Pip Utton was touring a one-man show called Adolph. Utton had written the play and was playing the title role. He caught my attention from his good reviews of playing the Führer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Ironically, he wasn’t available because he was too busy touring his show.
Make the first moveWhen you’re doing a play, you’ve got a product that you can invite casting directors and agents to come see. Collect reviews from your play and you’ve got material to send out and post on your website. If it’s a short film, you can send the whole film, or edited scenes of your best work can go on a show reel and can be uploaded to your website as well.
Take David Mamet’s advice: ‘If you have character, your work will have character. The character to do exercises every day over the years creates the strength of character to form your own theatre rather than go to Hollywood.' You heard Mr. Mamet; make your own Hollywood!
From Secrets from the Casting Couch, Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury)
April Yvette Thompson