Acting Is an Art, Actors Are a Business

I’m pleased to introduce a beginning of guest posts on Buffoonery Workshops with a very apt article by the New York Film Academy.

As you know, or if this is the first time coming to my site, I am an actor, writer, and overall creative person. My visual artistic family taught me how to embrace my right brain, but also introduced me to the business side when they opened their own shop. Unfortunately, many actors learn their craft but miss out on that ever so crucial element of the business side.

Enjoy reading what Glenn Kalison has to say with regards to being an actor and a business person.

“Good looks and developed talent can only get you so far.”

“The actor, who actively manages his or her career, including working as one among many on a production set, is more likely to achieve success and manage earnings wisely.” 

By Glenn Kalison, Chair of the Acting Department, New York Film Academy

Acting is an art, and most accomplished actors speak of their “craft” as one of creative expression. That is no less true today than 20, 50, 100 and 1000 years ago. But the most successful actors and other types of performers also think of themselves as a business. This is because an actor ultimately must have a valuable and high-quality product, must deliver to a client’s expectation, and must manage cash inflow such that there is a profit when the show is over.

To a performer who is just starting out, this might seem like a distant need. But in fact anyone who plans to earn their living in movies, television or on the stage should consider their business objectives while attending a school for acting. The following tips are among those we teach at the Acting & Film School at the New York Film Academy. It includes advice that can carry you from the earliest stages of your career through to retirement (if you ever in fact do plan to retire – many actors don’t):

  • Train. This goes beyond the obvious, that you be skilled as an actor, able to harness natural talent with knowledge. What it means is that you have a resume that includes quality training, perhaps in a variety of settings and over time, that will tell a producer, director and casting agent that you are a professional. Needless to say, the competition for just about any job is fierce. A production will choose the actors who demonstrate a commitment to excellence.
  • Know your niche(s). Actress Jane Lynch (Best in Show, Glee) talks about her earlier years as an actress, where she picked up work here and there but didn’t land leading romantic roles. She happened into comedic roles, however, just at a point where she had aged out of the ingénue category anyway. Her niche (some would call it a brand) is as the hyper-efficient, take-no-prisoners, tough-as-nails female character actor. Finding one’s niche or brand, no matter how narrow or broad, allows the actor to focus on developing skills and chasing work where his or her talents can be put to good use. Your niche represents your best shot at breaking into the business, so own it.
  • Collaborate. If you are in a film or television production, just keep in mind it’s not all about you. The audio engineers make sure your key lines are heard in the emotion and inflection you intended. The lighting engineers get those lights to do you many favors. Everyone, every single person involved in a production, makes it a success. Collaboration means you need to respect the multiple functions and responsibilities represented on a set. In order to accomplish this, the more time and experience you can garner on an actual film set the better. Consider yourself less a star and more a teammate.
  • Don’t work from a point of desperation.  Everyone has to eat and everyone needs a roof over his head. If you live in LA, everyone drives so you’ll need a car. But you will do much better at working in career-building roles when you finesse circumstances that allow you to take care of financial needs even while you are available to audition for and work in the roles you love. Those circumstances mean working a day job (that you don’t despise) with flexible hours and living modestly until you can afford more. After living modestly for months and years on end, your first big job will come with the happy shock of bigger money.
  • Beware of “Hollywood Accounting.” Sadly, there is a long history of film, television and video production studios and distributors inflating overhead costs to wipe out profits. This is how blockbuster films (My Big Greek Wedding, Rain Man, Forrest Gump, Batman, Coming to America) will show a loss, even after raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. As an example of how this affects filmmaking, Winston Groom, the author of Forrest Gump, never received a dime from that movie’s wild success because the film showed a net loss; reportedly, he will not sell rights to the novel sequel as a result. If you sign a contract that includes a percentage of profits, don’t get too excited over it. Work with qualified managers and lawyers who can ensure you are adequately compensated up front.

Does considering one’s art a commercial enterprise ruin it? We certainly hope not. Most people who are successful at working in the industry reconcile themselves with the business end. Consider it a necessary evil, or simply understand the pragmatism of it: a lot of money can be made in entertainment, and you might have a shot at getting a piece of it. But just like any other business, you have to provide a worthy product, negotiate your price and hold onto your earnings once you have them.

Writer biography:

Glenn Kalison received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of California at Irvine and has since worked as an actor on films that include Clutter (with Carol Kane and Natasha Lyonne), The Good Shepherd (with Matt Damon and John Turturro) and Mystery Team (with Aubry Plaza and Donald Glover), a Sundance Film Festival hit; and on television productions that include Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Law and Order: CI, Smash, Lights Out, As the World Turns among others; and many off-Broadway and regional stage productions. He is the Chair of the Acting Department at the New York Film Academy.

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