I can’t tell you how many times a client has told me about a recent booking only to tag the news stone-faced with “Yeah, but it’s just a short film,” or “Yeah, but it’s just a pilot,” or “Yeah, but it’s just a small theater company.” However small, it’s vital you acknowledge your successes—all of them! Essentially, if you’re competing in the playing field of New York, L.A., Chicago (or hell, even New Orleans these days), there’s really no such thing as a small success. You’re playing a hand at a casino in Vegas, kids. Any achievement is worth bragging about. And I mean, any booking whatsoever.
This is a never-ending journey. There will always be work ahead of you. If you don’t acknowledge your triumphs along the way, you will be in a constant state of misery. Beating out 20 other actors for a well-written student film is an accomplishment. Beating out 200 other actors for a celebrity-studded festival-bound indie is also an accomplishment. Now, to most actors, the latter matters and the former is nothing to feel good about.
That attitude is so problematic because there’s always going to be work and struggle in this business. This is what you all signed up to do. You all signed up for a career path where the future is for the most part, more uncertain than the accountant’s down the hall. Thus, if you book a short film and then piss all over it, you’re not only setting yourself up for a lifetime of feeling inadequate, you’re setting yourself up for a serious, lack of longevity—dangerously so.
If you don’t start celebrating each success today, you’re not going to be able to make a real go of it in this business. It’s just going to be too morale-crushing. You’d have to be a straight-up masochist (and I mean a sleeps-in-a-bed-of-barbed-wire-drinks-battery-acid type of masochist) to endure this career path without smelling and celebrating each and every rose along the way. The alternative is worse: The lack of acknowledging one’s successes almost puts one in a situation where there’s no possibility for surprises—a dynamic which could be incredibly detrimental to the safe and successful blossoming of your career at large.
Sometimes I find my clients are viewing their careers through the eyes of everybody back home. The fact of the matter is a lot of people “back home” who don’t work in the industry don’t really think much of a short film that is never going to be in their local theaters. They only care if that pilot you booked gets picked up and they can watch it on their television in the living room. Many of the successes that I see my clients have—successes which take a lot of talent and perseverance—really don’t mean a hill of beans to Uncle Marty and Aunt Fanny or your cousin Alyssa. Lord knows it’s rough being an actor and when you see your family, you feel like you have to give them a report card of “how things are going.” When you mention that short film you booked, it’s met with tepid excitement and canned encouragement. Situations like these are tough, and it’s easy to take on the perspective of these people and view these smaller projects as nothing more than a way to kill time.
If you’ve made the noble and brave decision to be an actor, you’ve already decided to stop living life on someone else’s terms. So stop ranking out your accomplishments according to what the schoolteachers and investment bankers in your families think of them. This can be especially difficult, because progress in this field doesn’t resemble progress in other industries. In fact, just reading for a major part is a sign of massive progress. However, to people outside the industry it looks like you’re bragging about having a job interview while you still remain unemployed.
I help my career clients to compete for every role they’re right for. I see it as my job to help empower my students to boost their audition rates, so that they understand how to get their foot in the door to be just as important as helping them book their roles and reach their Oscar potential.
One of my career clients was just asked by the director of a major upcoming feature film to audition via Skype for him and one of the producers. This was an opportunity this actor would have never had had I not taught her the right way to properly pitch herself for roles she’s right for. Rather than celebrating the opportunity and putting all of her energy into preparing for this Skype audition, she complained that she didn’t have a good reel to send them, after they requested to see something on tape. Just getting the opportunity to audition for top tier film and TV roles is a major milestone for this actor. Rather than celebrating this triumph, she complained that there was another mountain in front of her after reaching the summit of the one she so desperately desired to climb. Adopting an attitude of constant defeat is unsustainable and exhausting, and ultimately leads to actors leaving the business.
Rather than drowning in defeat, start by making a list of the good things that happened to you in your career so far. Know that things might get easier, but not by much, and that most of this is a mental battle. After wrapping a recent film, Gwyneth Paltrow said to me, “I know it sounds awful, but it’s stressful not knowing when the next job is coming.” Accept that it’s tough for even Oscar-winning actors, and that there’s something beautiful in such a life choice—if you allow yourself to see it.
This article was originally posted on Backstage