You might be tempted to skip over this chapter. Much of what we say here is self-evident and simple. However, we are willing to lay odds that most success stories in this business involve heeding the simple truths we describe below. It may sound lofty, but this section is about character the personal traits that you bring to the table. Looks, personality, or family connections may get you a job, but only character can build a career. All the sophisticated advice and technical information we give you in the later sections will be wasted if you don't have what it takes to take advantage of it.
Read this section carefully. Maybe even reread it if you find yourself at sea in your career. The solution to your problems is likely to be found at the source, which, of course, is yourself.
Training and Experience
There is a reason why Hollywood has developed into the film and television capital of the world. The town has attracted, for several generations, the most qualified professionals in every branch of the industry. If you intend to compete with these people for the few jobs that are available, you stand a much better chance if you have learned your craft before you arrive.
Despite the hype, most creative talent must be skilled craftspeople to sustain a career in the business. Even if you are great in front of the mirror or at handling the family video camera, you need to be ready if you get a chance to show your stuff. Some people get noticed just about as soon as they hit town, and if they're not ready, they may find in retrospect that they've blown their one shot. Before you relocate, you should take every opportunity to gain the skills and experience you will need.
Yes, you can find training and gain experience once you have arrived, but as we explain below, Los Angeles can be an expensive city, both financially and emotionally. Better to take advantage of training opportunities in your less competitive and less expensive local community before setting out for Hollywood.
The entertainment industry is a high-octane blend of the creative and the practical. Thousands and even millions of dollars ride on the ability of an actor to work himself up, in a moment's notice, to the appropriate emotional state for each take, each shot in a day's schedule. Even the lowly production assistant must be able to respond to a thousand competing demands each day on the set, demands that would set the busiest air-traffic controller spinning in a tizzy.
Beyond the skill that is necessary for these jobs, a certain inborn talent is required. Do you have that talent? Unfortunately, you cannot answer that question until you try the job. Imagination will not do it. If you take our advice and get training and experience before you come to Hollywood, you will have some indication of whether you have the talent and temperament for the career you are pursuing. If you build sets for your local community theater, you will discover whether you have a feel for building materials and tools. If you act in community theater productions, the roles you play and the response you receive will tell you whether others recognize the immense acting talent you are so sure you possess. These experiences can give you a clue to whether you have what it takes to succeed in the entertainment business.
One cautionary note for actors. We will give you our strong opinions about the state of acting and actor training in chapter 5, "First Steps." For now, let us say that actors especially should take anyone's opinion of their talent with a grain of salt. Most individuals in creative-talent occupations don't get tested before they hit L.A., but actors often start at home. Just because the local community theater director or even the teacher at your prestigious acting conservatory fails to see and reward your talent doesn't mean you don't have any. A few of these people have a good eye for recognizing talent, but most do not. Of course, the reverse is also true. Even if you've received nothing but praise and encouragement from local "authorities," you may very well get shot down in Hollywood.
This is no profession for the faint of heart. Rejection will be your frequent companion. Poverty may become a familiar condition. More than once your friends and family and even you will question your career. Every successful person in Hollywood possesses the courage to struggle with the demons of doubt, disappointment, anxiety, and low self-esteem each night, then each new day begin again.
For every overnight success in Hollywood, there are a million people who must build their careers a pebble a day. Most so-called overnight sensations enjoy only a year or two of heady acclaim before they find themselves back at square one, no richer for the experience. When you see the names appear in that long list of credits at the end of a picture just remember that those people spent years toiling away at their craft in obscurity to earn that millisecond of screen time. The people who are likely to be successful in this industry will view their careers from the perspective of five, ten, even twenty years.
While often work in entertainment demands that you exhibit the vulnerability, naïveté, and imagination of a child, the business of making a career for yourself requires the opposite. Many talented people will never be "discovered" because they lack business sense. You must have the maturity and smarts to navigate through the maze of agents, managers, casting directors, directors, producers, and others who stand between you and each job, or at least the common sense to choose your supporting team wisely.
A Good Work Ethic
Woe to the person who lounges in bed each day waiting for the job to come to them. This is a career path that demands constant salesmanship on your part, that demands you constantly train and hone your craft. The twelve labors of Hercules pale in comparison with what will be required of you to make a successful career in Hollywood.
A Little Help from Your Friends
This may not be an absolute prerequisite for a career in Hollywood, but it sure helps. There are so many downs and so few ups in this business that a warm and loving network of family and friends can often make the difference in your emotional and financial well-being. If you can count on someone to come through in a crisis (and there will be many), you'll have that extra cushion that makes the difference between throwing in the towel and hanging in there one more day.
If you have all of the traits listed above, begin your journey today. You have a wonderful gift to share with the world. If you lack one or more of these qualities, do not count on some wizard to endow you with them when you arrive in Hollywood. Instead, stay home. Get a good education. Find a loving partner and raise healthy, happy children. Make a contribution to your community. Let that dream of fame and fortune remain just that a dream. That's where it belongs. After all, even Dorothy knew there is no place like home.
Required Reading before You Come to Town
We've included a list of books in the appendix that you should read as you begin your career. These books will give you additional tips about the various crafts in the entertainment business and some perspective about life and the kind of character you will need to succeed. You don't have to read all of them before you come to Hollywood, but the more information you have, the better.
Copyright © 1996 by Gail M. Resnik and Scott Trost