Starting Your Acting and/or Modeling Business

Many thanks to Aaron Marcus, premier acting and commercial modeling career coach for providing today’s blog entry! He is the author of How To Become a Successful Commercial Model and creator of the Becoming a Successful Actor & Commercial Model Workshop.

As in any business, actors and models also have some start-up costs. Here are a few of the things that we have to invest in:

– Head shots

–  Comp cards

–  Business cards

–  Industry books

–  Newsletters

–  Workshops

–  Classes

–  Postcards

–  Agent’s websites

–  Creating DVDs and CDs for our on-camera and voice-over work

 Although this can get expensive, you don’t have to get all of these done at one time. If you think about it, these expenses are actually pretty small, compared to other businesses’ start-up costs. You can check with an accountant to see which expenses are tax deductible.

Tax Advice for Actors from Actors

Here are a few expenses you might not yet have thought about, but at some point you may decide to purchase:

 A Wireless Ear Prompter. This is a small ear piece that allows you to hear a script you record onto a micro-cassette. Ear prompters are generally used by on-camera narrators who have long sections of words to read, or for those giving a live presentation at an event. I just used one for a training film I did in Portland, Oregon.

 Contact Lenses. If you wear glasses, you should consider getting contacts. I recently did another on-camera narration for the IRS. They preferred me not wearing glasses, which would have made it difficult for me to read the teleprompter. Fortunately, I always bring my contacts, and things worked out very well.

 To help you prioritize your business expenses, I suggest you first invest in information, so you know how to run your business:

Read books and newsletters, then create a head shot.

 Create a comp card after the head shot is completed, if you want to get work as a commercial model.

Find an agent; being represented and on the agent’s web site will help get you work

 Take workshops and classes; they will also give you your best chance at finding work

Produce the other materials once you are out there auditioning and hopefully booking jobs.

The Soloist – by Steve Lopez

Steve Lopez chronicled his efforts to help Nathaniel Ayers, an incredibly gifted musician, who suffers with schizophrenia. This true story was made into a movie starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. I have not seen the film yet – this post concerns the book by Steve Lopez, a journalist who chronicled Nathaniel’s life on the streets.

Nathaniel Ayers had attended Julliard for a while before his illness took hold and ended his time there. He was considered an extremely talented violinist and cellist, even by Julliard standards. Lopez was mesmerized by Nathaniel’s violin performances on the street and consequently wrote a series of articles on Nathaniel for the Los Angeles Times.

The book is a true insider’s look at what it’s like dealing with a person with mental illness. It’s so easy to judge when you see a homeless person or hear the story of a person with mental illness. Where is the family in all this? Why is no one taking care of that poor soul? Couldn’t they see that he was mentally ill? Why didn’t they *do” something?

I know I am guilty of thoughts like that. You think: I would never let something like that happen to my child. When I first opened the book, I was surprised to see that the author of THE SOLOIST dedicated the book “for Nathaniel’s mother, the late Floria Boone, whose love never wavered.” Though it’s true that some people are abandoned by their parents and that’s why they end up on the streets, it’s not always the case. And it’s not always drug or alcohol abuse, or sheer laziness. (I have never, ever looked at a homeless person and thought they ended up there just because they didn’t feel like working…that simply makes NO sense. That’s like saying someone starved to death because they didn’t feel like cooking.)

Nathaniel had a loving mother. She did everything she could for Nathaniel before she passed away. But when you have a mentally ill person who is so sick that he lashes out – violently sometimes – at any attempt at assistance, what can you really do?

When you see a homeless person, you can’t help but wonder why they don’t just go to a shelter or why we don’t have healthcare officials out on the streets, rounding up people who need help. The law pretty much says that unless you can prove that a person is a danger to himself or others, you cannot force a person to be hospitalized. It was months after Lopez befriended Nathaniel before he could convince him to sleep indoors – if only for one night. Nathaniel preferred to sleep in the tunnels.

Lopez had far more patience than I would have. He stuck it out with Nathaniel for years, trying to convince him to accept help. Nathaniel was adamant about wanting to sleep in the tunnel or on the street. He seemed content there, almost to the point where Lopez began to contemplate if maybe he was better off there. I know when I see a homeless person, I assume that they would be grateful if someone offered them a place to stay for the night. I learned from THE SOLOIST that this is not necessarily so.

There was one incident in the book where Lopez was afraid that Nathaniel was going to hurt him. This was a rare occurrence for Nathaniel, but there is always the threat of danger when you are dealing with an unstable person. I was reminded of the recent tragedy involving Gabrielle Giffords. Even prior to the shooting, there was no doubt that Jared Loughner was out of his mind. There were numerous reports of his bizarre behavior at school. After such a tragedy, we all ask again – Why didn’t anyone do anything? It seems the school really did try. They knew something was seriously wrong with Loughner and it seems they took all the necessary steps that the law allowed. It simply was not enough.

The book is certainly sad at times, but well worth the read. Nathaniel’s music serves as an inspiration even as his illness shows that not every problem truly has a solution.

This was the main lesson that I took away from reading THE SOLOIST. There is so much more going on then simply “he’s mentally ill – get him help.” It just doesn’t work that way.

Brief Script Update – Just in Case Anyone Cares

I have not yet reached that Eureka!!! moment where the whole script comes together, but it’s coming soon. I can feel it. The characters are now jostling for my attention – telling me little bits and pieces of their backstory and telling me why they do the things they do…

I was lucky to walk outside yesterday in the rare 70 degree February sunshine. As usual, I was listening to my individualized “soundtrack” to my script. I have successfully reclaimed the songs – they no longer belong to the last draft that was terrible. As a matter of fact, I found myself straining to remember what happened in the story in the last draft.

I abruptly stopped walking for moment. I swear, it took me a full 30 seconds to remember what the hell happened in the earlier draft – the one that took me more than a year to write, but was blasted to oblivion in a review.

 I literally could not remember the original story. 

It just shows how much I’ve really let go of that draft. All the scenes and characters I loved as well as the heartbreak of the bad review.

 I’m totally over it. It’s all about the new, exciting draft.

 It was a nice moment.

Have a great Friday, everyone.

You Can Never Be Known For What You Want to Be Known For

You can never be known for what you want to be known for…People will know you for whatever they want to know you for. – Robert Pattison.

No matter where Mr. Pattison goes with his career from now on, it’s pretty obvious what role he’s going to be known for. It’s a done deal, sealed in blood. (Sorry, there was no way to resist that. I did try….)

 He has a good point in that we can’t choose what people remember about us. If you’re a successful writer, maybe you’ll be remembered for your favorite book. Maybe you’ll be remembered for your least favorite book. The one that was the most commercially successful but that you weren’t so crazy about. It happens. It could be a lot worse. Maybe you won’t be remembered at all…

Successful actors often complain that they are most known for a certain very popular role that they once played when they were younger. I can sympathize with their feelings to a point. God knows I can’t imagine what it was like to be a Brady kid…But at the same time, what’s so wrong with having fans who love your work? Most artists would ideally like to be remembered for their overall body of work, not just one part. Understandable.

But if not for that one breakout role, you might not have been able to go on to those other things.

It must be rough for child actors who never really got another chance after childhood stardom. Consider the very sad stories surrounding the children of Diff’rent Strokes. In those cases, their tragic downfalls had more to do with their personal family situations than with just show business.

The Cosby kids seem to have survived their experience relatively unscathed. Malcolm Jamal-Warner has done some other acting, but he’ll always be Theo Huxtable. And I’ve never heard him complain. Isn’t it better to be remembered for one role than to spend your entire life as a Wannabe who never got that chance at all?

I’m truly grateful for all the actors out there who seem to appreciate their success and embrace their fans who remain fond of their beloved characters. Florence Henderson fully embraces her legacy and cherishes all her fans who still see her as Mrs. Brady – their second mom. At the same time, she retains her own personality – every bit as kind as Mrs. Brady, but surprisingly raunchy and irreverent. She’s cool.

My Florence Henderson Autograph

Another actor to embrace his legacy is comic genius Tim Conway. He has this under his biography on his website: “I was born and then I did the Carol Burnett show for eleven years. What else is there to know?”

Tim Conway’s website

I still can’t believe how Ed Asner – Lou Grant himself – indulged me when I requested his autograph on my Wannabe flyer. I asked him to sign it because I had spunk. (For you young ‘uns out there – his character famously told Mary Tyler Moore’s character- “You’ve got spunk! I hate spunk…”). Mr. Asner wrote on my flyer “You’ve got spunk and I love spunk! Kisses, Ed Asner.”

Ed Asner Autograph

 It honestly brings tears to my eyes when I look at it. He is a television veteran and he wrote one of his most famous lines – a line he’s probably repeated a million times and had repeated a million times to him by fans like me – on an autograph to ME. Clearly, the man is okay with being remembered as Lou Grant.

I recently read Alison Angrim’s (aka Nellie Oleson) autobiography, CONFESSIONS OF A PRAIRIE BITCH. In it, she says:

“Playing Nellie and being marked as a bitch for life is the best thing that ever happened to me. I constantly hear actors complain about being strongly identified with a character they played ages ago. They reject the character, refuse to talk about “that old show”, and dismiss their fans as silly and “uncool”. Not me, buddy. It took me a long time to figure out what side my bread was buttered on, but once I did, I never turned back. I will happily, wholeheartedly embrace Nellie Oleson, “Little House on the Prairie,” and all the fans worldwide until the last bitchy breath leaves my body.”

Thanks for letting us hate you, Nellie.

And thanks to all the other actors out there who are patient with hearing their famous lines repeated over and over again and who are both gracious and grateful to their fans. Thanks for remembering where you came from and how you got to where you are now.

Why Should I Keep Writing?

Today started out rough. I had a bad day yesterday and it carried over to the morning and I was still kind of upset. I set my alarm for 5am so that I could get some writing done before work. It didn’t work out so well.

 I think my laptop is dead.

I think I kinda sorta backed up MOST of my stuff? But I’m not totally sure. It’s one of those things where it might be months before I really realize what got lost, but I got the big stuff backed up. My screenplays, the novels, and even some forthcoming blog articles. So it could be a lot worse.

I was fortunate enough to receive an HP notebook computer as a Christmas bonus from my boss at work. I absolutely love it.  So I grabbed that this morning in an effort to continue working. I have some research to do for what I’m currently working on, so I needed the Internet. At first, each site I needed took a good 2-3 minutes to load, which is an eternity these days. Finally, the Internet stopped responding altogether.

It was one of those mornings when I was already upset, so it would have taken very little to set me off. There were some tears, I will tell you that. It’s very frustrating to drag myself out of bed on a bitter cold morning only to find that 2 hours later I’ve gotten nothing done.  Finally, the web starting responding and I got an eensy bit accomplished. Then my son woke up.

 Game over.

Sure, I can put the TV on and give him breakfast and then go back to work, but it’s hard. It breaks the rhythm of what I was doing. Besides, my writing time for the morning was almost up anyway.

 I usually walk during my lunch hour at work, but during the winter months I either walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes or do my Wii Fit. So I set the boy up with some breakfast and got ready to walk on the treadmill. Then my daughter woke up. I set HER up with breakfast. At first, the TV wouldn’t work. NOTHING was working! More anger, more yelling, though I did have the sense to tell my kids I was having a bad day and I wasn’t mad at them. Finally got the TV on, breakfast ready, so I went downstairs to the treadmill.

 One of the things on my writing to-do list is to rewrite the query letter for my middle-grade novel. I always keep a notebook on my treadmill because I tend to get ideas as I walk and listen to music.  I haven’t looked at my novel in a while, so I decided to listen to the music that I used when I wrote the book while I exercised to sort of jog my imagination.

 It worked.

I read a lot of blogs and over the last few days I’ve read some really depressing statistics. One said that you have a .05% chance of publishing a book. Many, many others say that you simply must live in L.A. to ever make it as a screenwriter. Writing query letters and entering contests are for suckers. Don’t delude yourself into thinking you are actually building a career, they say. You aren’t.

Pretty heavy stuff. It’s heartbreaking for someone who has as much passion for writing as I do. To think – you could even be a really, really good writer and it may not matter. I know I’ve vented about this stuff but it’s worth repeating. Because it’s really bad.

 WAYS TO PERSEVERE AT WRITING

So – angry, tired, and upset, and wondering why I bother, I jumped up on the treadmill and switched on my Ipod to my “novel” music. My middle-grade novel is about two 12-year-old girls who discover a cave with strange symbols on the walls. The symbols are being drawn by an Indian boy whose spirit is trapped in the cave. The girls have to figure out why his restless spirit lingers before a nearby construction crew breaks into the cave.

It look little more than a few notes of the first Native American song to remind me why I do all of this.

 Listening to that music brought back all of the emotions I felt when I was writing the screenplay and then the book of the same story.

 Suddenly I didn’t give a damn about .05%.

 BIG PICTURE THINKING

 I listened to the spooky, ethereal track called GHOST DANCE, which I used when writing the scene where they first discovered the mysterious cave. DREAMLIKE DRUMMING was when they first realized that the strange symbols were Indian. THUNDERBIRD DANCE is a haunting melody with mournful Indian chanting. That’s when the girls visited a cemetery at the site of the old Indian Boarding School (which I visited as well for research) where their Indian friend, Rain on the Water, had been forced to attend school.

 Finally, I listened to the most powerful track of all, from the soundtrack to ICE AGE of all things. A track called GIVING BACK THE BABY (maybe you remember that scene from the original Ice Age? The music is not Native American, but it sure sounds like it, with rhythmic drumming and all). This track is beautiful, and it’s truly uncanny how well it fits the scene I wrote. It follows the progression perfectly. The girls conduct a sacred Native American ceremony with Rain on the Water, whom they’ve only been able to communicate with, unseen, through the cave walls. They finally get to see him. They catch a fleeting glimpse of him – first in his American boarding school uniform, which then changes back to his native Indian clothing – before he slips away forever.

 Gets me every time.

 I really needed that reminder of why I am doing this.

 Moments like that are when I don’t care about query letters, contests, rejections, networking, agents, publishers, producers…

 I just want to tell a story.

 It’s not in my power whether I know the “right” people of if I’m going to fall into the tiny minority of people who actually make it.

It is in my power to write the best damn stories I can possibly write. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Breakthrough

My last blog entry was about a being stuck and just not being able to figure out the story that I’m working on.  I wrote about how I was really hoping to get some good ideas soon because this damn script has been kicking my butt for months. After all, the best ideas tend to come up suddenly and nearly ALWAYS when I’m not trying. Sometimes as soon as I start working on something else, an idea just occurs to me. The busier I am at my work (meaning day job) the better ideas I get. If I’m busy thinking about work, sometimes the ideas come faster and I just jot them down on a notebook. When things are slow at work and I can really concentrate on my script…nothing happens.  In my home office, unless I’m writing actual pages, I pace back and forth to think things through. Just staring at the computer screen somehow is not inspiring…

I actually did get several ideas later in the day after I wrote the STUCK entry.  I got even more ideas yesterday, when I was in the car driving to the mall with my family. One of “my” songs that I use for inspiration came on the radio and BAM! I came up with an idea I really loved for a part of the ending of my story.

I have an app on my Droid called Inkpad that is like a little portable notebook. Like any good writer, I always used to carry a notepad with me, but inevitably, I would leave it somewhere or I couldn’t find a pen. Believe me, I’m never without my Droid…so I wrote down the idea on my magical phone.

That’s the thing about being a writer. Sometimes it’s wonderful and exciting and inspiring. Other times it’s annoying and exasperating and frustrating. Some days, like Friday, can be all of the above. When you’re a real writer, you write when it’s fun and you write when it’s not. You don’t wait for inspiration. You just keep working and soon enough you’ll figure it out.

 Are You A Real Writer?

Here’s to You (some words of inspiration for real writers from Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent)

With every story I’ve ever written, there comes a moment when the whole thing comes together. When it just feels right and it’s like the characters come together and start speaking and I feel a part of the story. This is the point where I stop forcing myself to think about the story and instead I can’t stop thinking about it. I think about it involuntarily as I drive down the road to work, as I exercise, and as I go to sleep at night. At this point the ideas come fast and furious and I really feel the story and the characters. When the whole story just “clicks”. I usually know it the second it happens. Usually, I am listening to music at the time and I just think “that’s it. There it is! It just clicked.”

It hasn’t happened yet with the script. But it’s coming. I can feel it…

STUCK

Is the word that keeps coming to my mind. Maybe that’s because that’s the title of the book I’m currently reading (by Elizabeth Rose). More likely it’s because that’s how I feel about this damn script I’m working on.

I like the idea. I really do. I’ve just been working on it forever. I did a big huge, lengthy outline. It got shot down quickly by my script analyst. I spent months doing another outline, then I actually wrote the script. That got shot down as well. Back to square one.

Lately, I’ve been sick in bed so I haven’t even been able to look at it. Now it feels like I’m starting over. Where the hell was I?

I got up at 5am today to write. I got up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and came down to write. Then my son woke up. Game over.

I feel like screaming. Like, seriously screaming. I feel like ranting and raving and smashing my computer with a sledgehammer.

Some days are like that for writers.

Then again, some days you come up with a great idea. It just all of a sudden comes to you and you know it’s an idea that you can work with. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.

 I’m hoping that happens to me soon. I don’t want to give up on this script, but it’s seriously pissing me off right now…