Slow and steady wins the race

Daily adventures, Inspiration


People often ask me what it’s like to be in LA pursuing acting. I recently read an awesome blog post from Jenna Fischer (who plays Pam on The Office) about her journey and how she finally made it. Her post does a good job at summing up the typical actor experience. Here are a couple excerpts from her blog:

I fully expected to be working in movies within a year of moving to LA.  That was not my reality and it is not the reality of most people who move to LA to pursue acting.  It can take a very, very, very long time to succeed in this business and my best piece of advice is to not give up.  You have to motivate yourself and just keep going.  Create projects for yourself.  Don’t whine.  The first year is the hardest followed by every anniversary up to about year 5 when you’re so beaten down you don’t notice the years passing anymore.  I have a friend who is so incredibly talented it is a crime that after 10 years in LA he still has to wait tables to make a living.  He gets acting work here and there but he can’t hold down an agent.  This business is not fair.  It is not like other businesses where if you show up, and work above and beyond everyones expectations, you are pretty much guaranteed to move up the ladder.  I don’t know why it works out for some and not for others.  And when you move here you have no idea which camp you are going to fall into.

It isn’t who you know.  It just doesn’t work that way.  I didn’t know anyone when I moved to LA.  Most people don’t.  I shared an apartment with an old college buddy.  He had a commercial agent and I was sure that by knowing him, this agent would take me on.  She didn’t.

Here is how I got “discovered”.  I had been living in LA for about 2 years.  A friend wrote a TV script and wanted to do a live stage version as a way of attracting TV producers.  He asked me to play a small role.  It meant lots of rehearsal for very little stage time and no pay.  Along the way I questioned why I had agreed to do it.  But, it was very funny and he was a friend, so I agreed.  After our 3rd performance, his manager approached me and asked if I had representation. I said, no.  She offered to represent me saying she thought I had a real future in television comedy.  Naomi is still my manager today. 

 A month later, I was doing a very strange play - a musical adaptation of the movie Nosferatu – at a small theater in Los Angeles.  I was doing it because I loved the Commedia dell’arte style of the show and the people involved.  I worked all day as a temp doing mind-numbing data entry for a medical company and then went to rehearsals for 5 hours a night, often getting home past midnight.  One night an agent came to see the play and left his card at the box office asking to meet me.  He became my first agent.

Now, that sounds easy right?  Well, that was all after 2 years of working as a temp, doing every acting gig I could find – usually for no pay, borrowing money to buy a new engine for my car and wearing a pair of shoes with a hole in them because I couldn’t afford anything else.  Did I mention my living room curtain was made from a torn bed sheet?  It was another 3 years before I got my first speaking part on a TV show.  That show was Spin City.  (I played a waitress in a scene where the girl playing Charlie Sheens crazy date threw bread at me.)

Every year I did a little more than the year before.  My first 5 years I probably earned between $100 – $2,000 a year from acting.  Year 6 brought me some of my biggest success and I only made $8,000 from acting.  But, I put a lot more money into my career than that.  Headshots are expensive.  The photo session and getting prints can run anywhere from $500-$800. Classes range from $150-500 a month.  It costs $1,200 to join SAG once you are eligible.  And apartments are crazy expensive.  $700 – $1,000 for a crappy apartment that you share with at least one roommate.  Its no wonder my living room curtain was a bed sheet.

So, how did I get The Office?  Spin City was cast by Allison Jones.  She also casts The Office.  She became a fan of mine through a series of auditions.  I kept going into her office year after year auditioning for different things.  I got some and not others but she kept bringing me back.  I developed a relationship with her – not because I met her at a party and we schmoozed – but because I had proven to her over the course of many years that I was a reliable and serious actor capable of providing a consistent body of work.  That is what this business is all about – from a real working actors perspective.  Allison remembered me when it was time to cast The Office.  She called me to audition and I finally got the part.

Thankfully, I’m not struggling financially like many other actors here. I have a steady job as a tech PR consultant that pays the bills. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the best of both worlds. It’s so important to have a job outside of acting. Given the small amount of money an actor makes when starting out, one can’t rely on acting to pay bills. Otherwise, you’ll be constantly stressed and won’t be able to enjoy the journey.

Jenna also talks about how friends and family don’t quite understand the biz. I get asked all the time from friends and family back east “when am I going to see you on TV?” Folks, it’s going to take time so please be patient. This is a process and I have a lot to learn.  Like any job/career, it takes time to move up the ladder.

It will be hard to explain your first milestones to friends and family back home.  They are waiting to see you on TV or on the big screen.  It is hard to explain how a 2nd callback for a job you didn’t land was the highlight of your month and a very valid reason to celebrate.  I remember one year my proudest moment was at an audition for a really slutty bar maid on a new TV show.  It was written for a Pam Anderson type.  I thought, “I can never pull this off.  I just don’t have the sex appeal.  I feel stupid.  No one is going to take me seriously.”  But, I committed to the role and gave the best audition I could.  I didn’t get the job.  I didn’t get a callback.  But I conquered my rambling, fear-driven brain and went balls out on the audition anyway.  That was a huge milestone for me – but hard to explain at Christmas.  A year later I booked the role of a trashy prostitute in a little indie movie called Employee of the Month.  In the past I would have turned down the audition thinking that I would embarrass myself.  But after that earlier breakthrough I felt confident.  The success is not always in getting the part but in the seed that is planted.  

I have countless examples like the one Jenna describes above. I have small wins and count every one as a milestone. The auditioning process is crazy, and I’m getting stronger, smarter and more confident with each audition.

As an FYI, Jenna did not land The Office until year 8. Her colleagues on the show have similar stories — it took Rainn Wilson almost 10 years to become a recognized actor, and Steve Carell had been working at it for almost two decades.

For me now, it’s all about having a balanced life. Between PR consulting, acting, writing and volunteering, I have this. I’m grateful for this balance. As far as the acting, I’m working on my craft. We’ll see where it takes me, but for now, I’m certainly enjoying the journey.

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One Comment

  1. I’m extremely inspired together with your writing talents and also with the format in your blog. Is that this a paid topic or did you customize it your self? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is uncommon to peer a nice blog like this one nowadays..

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