Getting Acting Gigs By Sneaking In The Backdoor

by Noah Applebaum on March 23, 2009

So you’ve moved to L.A. and now it’s time to implement phase two of the plan: get discovered by some chance occurrence while serving a big time director his or her organic fruit smoothee with all natural granola at your unavoidable “day job.”  Simple, right?  My advice to you: put down the apron and pick up a walkie talkie.  If you’re going to work some BS job it might as well be in the same ballpark of the sport you’d like to play.

The truth is that the stakes are extremely high and the competition is ever present in this business.  The long shot discovery is an urban legend.  Careers aren’t made overnight; they take years sometimes decades of constant dedication and drive.  Talent, sure.  But everyone’s talented here- don’t you watch Idol?  Yes, if you have a serving job you get tips and your schedule is open for “auditions.”  But why let someone else be in control of your own destiny?  Not saying agents are a bad thing, but sometimes it’s an excuse for complacency.  I have an agent and I still bust my butt to get my own work, and a lot of my acting jobs have come from working in the film industry.  I know that must sound completely nuts…

When I first moved to LA a couple years ago, I treated it as though I were in a graduate program.  I have always felt that learning by doing is much more practical than flipping through an out-of-date textbook and I wanted to apply this philosophy of education to my experience in the entertainment industry.  Besides, I wasn’t going to learn anything about Hollywood serving hipsters some lame, new-age Asian-Brazilian fusion dish in Melrose.

Inevitably everyone comes to town with a certain level of naïveté, but throwing yourself into the fire is an assault on the ego- it shakes the stars from your eyes and gives you a necessary jolt of reality.  This Is A Business.  No one wants to invest time and money into your career when you’re first starting out, and if they do they’re probably in the adult film market.  

The acting projects I have booked for this year have all come from contacts I made while working crew positions (anything from production assistant to 2nd AC to AD to art department).  And although after many 6 day weeks/16 hour days I prayed that my death would come quick and painless by some freak water buffalo accident near studio 26 or stray cannon shrapnel on location of that war epic, what I quickly realized was that I had begun to plant seeds that would later blossom into what I came out here to do: act.  That was my “a-ha” moment and it made all of those endless hours and sometimes ludicrous tasks so worth it.  My non-acting work two years ago is now paying acting dividends.  Multiply that by how many shows you crew up on and it doesn’t take a statistics major to see the odds increase.

How to get one of these coveted PA gigs?  Luckily, places like Craigslist are ripe with broke producers that can’t pay you much.  Friend of a friend of friends are a good source, too.  Or the direct approach- follow the goldenrod crew parking signs and ask an AD to hire you.  Even if you have to bite the bullet and work for free a couple times, more often then not you will be remembered for future gigs and could potentially make decent money from these sources.  It’s not a sprint- it’s a marathon.

I’ve often heard LA referred to as “the village.”  It certainly is a small world and paths cross quite frequently.  Yes, the hours are long and it’s not an acting gig, but if I were a barista at Starbuck’s with that same energy and drive it would take me ten times as long to set myself up in a position to be given those opportunities. 

There is always someone who is better and there is always someone who is worse.  The difference is in setting yourself up to capitalize on opportunities when they present themselves.  And there ain’t a lot of them at PF Chang’s.

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