From time to time I post some of the thoughts of Bob Fraser, a man who has worn about every hat that can be worn in show business from actor to producer and back again. An email I received today was so full of good information that I promptly wrote and asked for permission to publish the contents here. And with that permission granted, I encourage you to read what follows and think about how it applies to your own career.
First a bit of background. Bob had received two similar letters asking him for advice on whether it made sense to do some on-camera projects for no pay in order to get some useful experience and maybe some material for a demo reel. Here is his response …
The sooner you begin your ‘career’ the better.
It almost always takes a long time to get anywhere in our business – and the time you wait to take forward steps is time wasted.
When I urge actors to look for work that pays, I really don’t care how old the actor is, or what experience they’ve had up to that point. It’s more about encouraging the ‘pro’s mindset’ … a frame of reference that every actor must start building as early as possible – if they hope to act for a living.
The amount of work an actor can easily get – which does not pay – is huge. I’d guess that there are enough ‘work for free’ opportunities to keep any decent actor busy for decades.
However, it’s the transition you make when you decide that you are really only interested in doing this as a profession (and the definition of profession is pretty much totally related to a paycheck), that marks the point when you start to take your career seriously.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing student films, low-budget films, community theatre, off-off-off Broadway, summer stock, or putting together your own film, with your friends, on the weekends. But don’t make the mistake of believing that you will get any more out of those activities than the experience.
For instance, as far as working for free in the hope of getting material for a reel – think that idea through. If the material you get does not look like a totally professional production (in every way – music, editing, lighting, camera work, writing, acting, costumes, props, etc.) then it will not be footage that will be particularly helpful to you as an actor.
That’s because an actor’s reel is mostly used as a sales tool to convince an agent to sign you – and agents are generally not impressed with talent, passion, your desire to act, or cutting edge content — as much as they are impressed with actors who’ve managed to make money as actors.
That’s the best indication to an agent that an actor will be a good client. Period.
Showing an agent a lot of ‘free work’ pretty much defeats the purpose of a reel. So, a useful reel almost always contains clips from real productions – where actors are paid. That’s pretty much the only kind of reel that works with agents.
And – despite what you may have heard – casting directors are almost never excited about seeing your reel – until they’ve met you (and very few casting directors have time to look at reels when they are casting something). In fact, the only time a casting director will really want to see your reel, is in order to show it to higher ups – to convince them that it’s worthwhile to consider you.
Now, picture a casting director showing your reel (filled with free work) to Spielberg or other A-List director …
Got the picture? Are you really interested in risking what may be your big ‘shot’ – relying on work that was done on weekends by volunteers?
This is a huge subject – and to be honest I’ve written about it extensively in my courses. But, for now, please take my word for it – look for work that pays.
Don’t look for reasons to do what’s easy – in the hope that it will help you skip doing the hard stuff. Looking for work (that pays) is hard – but that IS the job. Getting to do the work is your reward for doing the job well.
Go ahead and do free work … because you love the material, or want to work with someone, or to build a network, or for the experience in front of the camera or audience – just be clear that free work rarely helps you skip the job of finding paid work … and is never a short-cut to achieving your long term goals.
Hope this brief overview is helpful.
Have a splendid week and, as always …
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What Bob has written is obviously aimed at on-camera and on-stage actors, but the connection for those of us primarily doing voice acting is there. The single most important point being that looking for paying work is hard, but it is the job. If you don’t want to do that hard work, you probably want to plan on a career in something else and do a bit of voiceover work on the side now and then.
Yes, that’s pretty blunt. I always want to be nice and kind and likable, but I also want to tell you the truth. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be much of a friend.