Chad’s ode to the actor, part 3: closing the deal
let’s say you’re starting a business making cupcakes out of your home kitchen. so you make a bunch of cupcakes, you find people who like cupcakes and you sell them your delicious homemade cupcakes. seems simple enough, right? that’s business. those are the basics of any individual business transaction. to get even more specific, those basics are:
- know what the customer wants.
- have what the customer wants.
- present the right customer with what he or she wants.
- assuage their fears, concerns or reservations.
- close the deal.
i don’t mean to be overly elementary, but when i’m fixing something i like to take it apart and find out the most fundamental working parts before working on it, and those are the basic steps of any business transaction. to turn a single transaction into an actual thriving business there are obviously more basics, such as keeping your overhead and cost of goods below your income so as to attain, maintain and improve profitability, but let’s just focus on that basic business transaction before we get into any of that. perhaps i’ll get more in the weeds on all those other things later, but there are so many books and articles written by better thinkers than i out there, that i don’t think that’s really necessary. for now, let’s just focus on what “closing the deal” actually means to an actor.
looking back at the five points i listed above, let’s assume first of all that you already know how to act. that you have some basic skills at the very least. then let’s assume you’ve already done the first two and a half points by first knowing your casting and then at least starting your contact list (if you haven’t yet read parts one and two of this little post trilogy click here for part one and click here for part two). so that leaves the last two and a half points.
i say “two and a half” btw because if you know your casting and you have some contacts to “present” yourself to, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done the presenting part. asking people for jobs can seem weird. it can seem demeaning and like begging or whatever, but that’s not what i’m talking about. as i talked about at length in the casting part, directors, producers and casting people NEED actors. that’s a fact. and we need GOOD actors to fill specific roles, so if you have a large, active list of contacts that’s more people that will either occasionally need to hire you now and then or will know people who do.
so all you need to do from there is get auditions and then nail those auditions. for an actor, that is all there is to the last two and a half points: getting auditions and then doing really well at them. so how do you do that? well, before you can ask to get seen for something, you need to know what’s out there and that requires constant research.
for researching what’s going on in the business, there are a variety of tools you can use. reading the trades can help. Variety and Hollywood Reporter are great for more established actors, but Backstage West was very helpful for new-to-town actors back when i was acting, and now there are tons of online resources. whenever i’m casting something, i generally try to use my own personal database and We Make Movies‘ database of actors to fill up most of the casting session, but i also augment that session with actors i don’t already know by using LA Casting. and there are a variety of other options out there that are used by casting people, managers, etc. of all levels – including one or two options that aren’t exactly considered kosher.
the other benefit of maintaining and growing your contact database is that your contacts will now and then tell YOU about opportunities, but don’t wait for that. stay in touch with all your contacts, keep them up-to-date on what you’re doing and stay interested in what THEY are doing because now and then they’ll need somebody like you or they’ll know somebody else who does and you want to be there to ask for the opportunity to read when you see it.
knowing HOW to ask however is an art unto itself. i was at a little St. Patty’s day thing last weekend and the topic of policemen came up. a couple of ladies at the party have had nothing but bad experiences with cops while a couple other people have had only positive experiences. after a little discussion on the topic – with some pretty messed up stories along the way – the consensus was that attitude seemed to have a lot to do with how we’d been treated by policemen in the past by and large. there are always a few nasty exceptions, but the people who generally get let go without a ticket treat policemen with genuine respect as a rule, while those who always have bad experiences with cops see all cops as power-hungry A-holes and treat them accordingly. attitude and charm is key.
i have a friend who is an excellent actor. his type is ridiculously salable and he knows it, but whenever we talk about business he tends to transform slightly. it’s a small change, it’s subtle, but it’s just a little bit hostile. as good as this actor is, he’s got a tiny little chip on his shoulder whenever we talk about business and it’s a little off-putting. the odd thing is, he seems to know he’s got this attitude and vacillates between being ashamed of it and justifying it. luckily i know how this actor really is and i’d hire him in a heart beat if i needed a character like him – and i’m sure i will one of these days – because i know he’s not really like that when it comes to the craft. i know how fun and warm and friendly he can be, but if i didn’t know him and his work already and just saw this mini-Mr Hyde he sometimes turns into i might not know how professional he actually is. directors want to work with excellent actors, but they also want to work with people who aren’t going to be a nightmare on set. they want to work with pleasant people.
there’s a kind of obvious handicap which effects actors in this regard. Gary Imhoff pointed this out to me a while ago (incidentally, Gary has helped shaped my growth as an artist more than any other living person – not including myself of course). he pointed out to me that actors’ tools are emotions – and often strong and volatile emotions – whereas business requires an emotional steadiness and levelheadedness. it’s not necessarily easy to switch back and forth between these two seemingly opposite states of being, but once you realize that a switch is necessary it becomes possible to do so. many people know this instinctively, and yet you hear of excellent actors or actresses being called divas or primadonnas on set, but you have to understand how important it can be for an actor to stay in character sometimes and those characters are not always nice. of course those actors should also understand that until they’re on set getting into character, they need to realize they’re dealing with human beings who generally like to be treated with respect. so recognize these two different emotional modes and practice switching back and forth. when i first realized this neccesity, i found it helpful to think of my business mode as a character i’d portray just like any other.
whatever you need to do to start, you need to practice asking to be seen for roles that you know you’d be good for – and to do so with no hint of a chip on your shoulder. the good news is, the more you do this, the easier it gets and the more often you’ll book jobs. the more often you book jobs, the more confidant you’ll feel and the easier it will be to ask the next time. it becomes a positive upward moving cycle, in which each turn gets easier than the last. it’s vital to remember however that attitude is integral to this upward cycle – and don’t take my word for it btw. read any of the thousands of books on sales which describe the importance of keeping a positive attitude. closing the deal is a zen-like experience. you have to want it without wanting it too bad. it’s like dating. you want to be with somebody who’s interested, but being too interested can be off-putting too. it’s a balancing act.
you can’t beat yourself up after auditions and think that you’ll do anything but create a downward spiral instead. wanting to be better is important – you want to be constantly growing and improving as an artist, but downward spirals suck. they’re like emotional black holes and can waste valuable months of your life.
once you’re getting yourself auditions, the next thing you need to do is use the audition to basically close the deal. that audition itself is the last two points in a business transaction: assuaging the customers fears and reservations and then closing the deal. how well you prepare for that audition, how much research you do on the show you’re auditioning for to make sure you’re bringing the same feel for it, etc. will help decide whether or not you get that job, but there’s always an element that you will not be able to control. that’s the only difficult part about “closing the deal” as an actor. it doesn’t happen while you’re in the room. you won’t actually be around when that final decision is even made. it’s not like retail sales or anything face-to-face. you walk out the door and hope that they’ll call you later, and that’s just the way it is. so getting auditions and then the audition itself alone are what you focus on – not whether or not you get that call later. you focus on what you can control: getting the audition, the audition itself and the performance in the job itself if you get it, but NOT the getting of it per se. in a very real way, you need to think of that call as more of a fringe benefit.
doing well at auditions is not something i’m going to get into here. there are so many different elements to that and so many different schools of thought that you’re better off learning from an acting teacher or coach and then auditioning as much as you can just for the pure act of practicing. even if you don’t fully understand your casting, go out and get auditions. that will actually help you understand your casting better and it’s just good to have practice. i would of course hope that you read as much of the material as you possibly can and then try above all to understand the point of the piece and of the character’s part in the piece as a whole and bring THAT knowledge into your auditions.
finally, after every audition – even the bad ones – you need to pat yourself on the back for getting and taking on the audition. you prepare as much as you can beforehand and then bring in your heart and your soul, but then once you’re out that door, move on and start thinking about the next. focus on the parts that you can control and leave the decisions that you cannot control out of your mind as best you can. there are so many different factors that effect whether or not the filmmakers will think you’re the best actor for the role that once you’ve finished the audition, you need to realize you’ve done all you can and then get to work on the next.
building a career as an actor can take a long time or it can start quickly, but even the quick starters need to maintain their career and take it to the next level and everything i’m talking about can help no matter what level your at. make sure you spend a decent amount of time each week focusing and working on your business. of course you need to keep your chops sharp and your skills up to snuff at all times, but you also need to do your business. be diligent and dedicated. get creative, find ways to be efficient and recognize that if you’re not where you want to be, if you’re not progressing as quickly as you want to, then either you’re not giving yourself the credit you deserve or you need to work harder, smarter or more often.
if you have any questions or if you’d like to meet with me, just drop me a line and we’ll figure something out.
just for fun, here’s an awesome little video about continuing to work on your craft by Ira Glass, the man behind my favorite radio program ever “This American Life” from NPR.