This article was originally published in the September, 2014 edition of the Chicago Actors Studio Online Newsletter. To subscribe to the CAS newsletter and read more great and informative articles like this, sign up at www.chicagoactorsstudio.net
The Importance of Skills vs. Marketing
By: Edward Dennis Fogell
Acting Coach, Actor and Director
There is much talk these days about how important marketing is to an actor’s career, as well as a seemingly endless stream of advice and opinion on the best ways to use all the different forms of new media. And while it is important for actors to take advantage of opportunities to get themselves out there, there is an essential question that needs to be addressed before any campaign is launched: Are you ready for the market?
Just because it’s easier than ever to market yourself doesn’t automatically mean that you should. I see many actors these days putting more time and effort into their marketing and much less time developing and growing their talent.
While aggressive marketing may generate some opportunities for you, if you’re not truly ready to take advantage of those opportunities, you won’t deliver when it counts, and your campaign will be seen as just a bunch of empty promises.
So when you spend a lot of time as well to get registered with an agency, for example, you are actually representing yourself to that agent, that you are a well-trained, skilled professional that can compete with other professional actors out there in the marketplace. You are able to compete with talent submitted from other agencies for the same jobs. In essence, make that agent an income. If that is not what walks in their door the first time, or if that is not the results of when they send you out to a few auditions, I guarantee that it will be a cold day in Hatties, before they send you out or even ever see you again to register with them. So you want to be more than adequately trained and prepared the first time.
In most businesses new products are put through rigorous, sometimes years-long testing processes before a marketing campaign and launch are even considered. Assuming that you as an actor are in business for yourself and that the product being marketed is you, let’s take three of the guiding principles that many Fortune 500 companies use to determine the readiness of a product, and see if they can help you to determine your readiness for the marketplace.
1. Are your skills professional grade? Before a marketing campaign can be considered, the manufacturer must be confident that the elements of the product are strong, dependable and high functioning.
Given that there is no official definition of what a professional actor is, in this country at least, it’s up to each actor, through training, reflection, and experience to define it for themselves before entering the professional arena. Here are some questions that may help you see if your work is up to the high standard needed to be a working actor:
a) Can you break down a script or a set of sides into playable beats and then find where the writer’s intent and your intent for character intersect?
b) Do you immediately recognize if the piece is comedy or drama and if so, which specific type of comedy or drama?
c) Do you know how to shift your preparation to suit the primary needs of the five most prevalent genres?
d) Do you know how to adjust your work without throwing it away?
e) Are you able to use the camera to create job-getting moments?
f) Are you as alive when you’re listening as you’re when you’re speaking?
g) Can you quickly make the choices that bring even the most mundane piece to life?
Think of more questions and define what professional grade work is to you—there is certainly more than one definition.
But I will say this: If you are like many actors who are more invested in the dream of an acting career as opposed to the reality, and your definition of being professional is taking a little to no classes, doing some networking, and waiting for the universe to line up with your wishes, go no further. No one in a position to employ you sees that as professional. You still have a lot of work to do—and I don’t mean just repeating affirmations or picturing yourself winning an Oscar. Those visions are important in themselves—but along with that, real, invested, strategic work needs to be done, before you should consider entering the marketplace.
As an actor, you are actually in business for yourself. You have your own company and THE PRODUCT you are selling is YOU. So when a new product enters any marketplace, it is in competition with other companies selling their product. Lets look at basic business approaches of any new product being offered to potential consumers.
2. Do you fill a gap in the marketplace? Before a product is launched, the manufacturer needs to be sure that there is a genuine need for it or that it is a noticeable improvement over similar products already on the market.
So, what about you? What need do you fill in the acting universe and how do you improve on the talents of the actors who are currently successful? What is it that you have that no one else does – what is that certain something? (And please don’t mistake this for some tired old idea of “branding.” I’m talking about really getting interested in your own inner uniqueness—digging deep and exploring the four corners of your emotional life to find the specific qualities and manifestations that are yours and yours alone.)
Do you aspire to simply blend in to the current acting landscape or do you aspire to change it? And if you aspire to change it, how much are you willing to risk to do so?
Simply put, at this point in your career, does your work make a difference, does it elevate the art form of acting, or does it just get the job done?
3. Are you ready to compete with the best? The last phase in market testing is often putting the new product up against existing products of the same type to see if it can match and/or exceed what is already available.
So, if you’ve determined that you’re a true professional and you have something to offer that is needed, let’s see if it will all hold up in the real world.
Your agent calls at 10 a.m. and needs you to get to FOX for a 2 p.m. audition for a guest star role on an hour-long procedural.
a) Do you have a way of preparing that allows you to deeply and creatively access and apply your most compelling qualities to the role and deliver the read with beautiful listening and clear strong technique—fast?
b) Would you know how long it would take to get to the studio and where to park?
c) Do you know how to find the office?
d) Once there, are you able to take care of yourself and stay strong in the waiting room even when you see eight former series regulars waiting to go in for the same role?
e) Are you a strong and interesting presence in the audition room?
f) Is every word that you read improved by the personal and compelling choices you’ve made?
g) Do you give the people casting the confidence to hire you?
h) And could you leave that audition and do it all again for a comedy pilot audition at Paramount at 4 p.m.? And get call backs for both?
A pro would have the chops, the presence, the skill, the flexibility, and the attitude to see it all as an exciting challenge—and wouldn’t break a sweat.
Passion and desire are very important, but alone, are not a substitute for talent and professional readiness, and success doesn’t grow out of meaningless, unfocused activity. Success naturally evolves from training, skills, preparedness and a clear straitgy meeting up with opportunity, that results in taking the right action at the right time with the right effort.
So as you make your plans for the new year, be sure that putting time and effort toward the activities that support you as an actor and as an artist are highest on your list. The success of your marketing campaign, your business and your career depend on it.
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