Here is the first part of the long awaited tales of my trials and tribulations in La La Land. It has taken this long for me to process all of the weird and wonderful things that happened to us over 2 weeks. I’ve split the post into 2 parts because it’s just too long. The first part is mostly focused on the Acting Industry and the second part will focus on how I felt about L.A and Hollywood as a place to be and live. I hope the advice is helpful and I hope it was worth the wait. Happy reading.
As you may know from reading What we think we know ‘Pre- Pilot Season’ Trip I was well read on L.A and Hollywood in particular, as far as the Acting Industry goes. I was prepared for the whole Pilot Season illusion and kind of had some foundation on which to base my expectations before I arrived. I’d spent my whole life watching American programmes based in Los Angeles, I knew what I was getting into – so step aside and let the pro handle this right!? WRONG!!!
The first thing that struck me about Hollywood is that I couldn’t quite get my head around where I was. I kept thinking I must be in Tenerife or something because initially it didn’t have the feel of what I imagined it to have. I’m fairly well travelled, but this trip was quite un-nerving for my puny little brain because at first glance the culture is just like ours. They speak, read and write English. We see so much American TV that their accent isn’t at all alien. They eat similar food, wear similar clothes, and have similar interests in sport, fashion, entertainment. Apart from the fact they drive on the wrong side of the road and can do a right on a red light (as long as nobody’s crossing), they seem to be just like us, yet that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are no words really for what I am trying to describe, it’s definitely a case of just getting out there and feeling what I’m trying to explain. It’s an energy, an aura, a mist. Hollywood in particular is a strange place, which I later found out was comically dubbed ‘HollyWIERD’. I affectionately like to call it ‘Blackpool on crack’. Painted a visual for you? Good, let’s move on.
I decided to go to Hollywood to see what all the fuss was about. So many of us Brits, particularly those of ethnic heritage have been successful over there in Film and Television and I wanted to see if I could do the same in the future. It’s no secret that there just isn’t the work in this country – for anyone! Especially not for teeny, tiny, Northern, working class, brown chicks. So the way I saw it was go over, dip my toe in the pool of possibility and see if I could a) get work and b) live there. A US 0-1 Visa is a lot of money! No point getting one if you’re going to hate the place right?
The first thing I had to do was figure out what my USP (unique selling point) was, my ‘type’ that I speak of so frequently. If you remember what I spoke about in What we think we know ‘Pre- Pilot Season’ Trip the industry over there is much more dynamic than it is here, aggressive even! There it is much more of a business machine and our industry, as my friend puts it, is “an expensive hobby”. In America (and here, but we don’t like to face the truth) you are literally a product, a commodity to be sold and marketed. You are the CEO of your own company and that company is YOU! (My Twitter followers know how much I hate that CEO stuff but it’s true).
So if you are your own product, you must decide how you want to be marketed. What is your playing type? Are you drama, comedy or both? If both how will you differentiate between the two for auditions and headshots? Can you show both? Are you the best friend? The bitch? Are you sporty or a teacher? What is your playing age – and be HONEST! If you don’t know ask friends. Try hair up and down (if you have long hair). Write all of the options down and use them as references. Be aware that whatever you look like on the day of a meeting or in that headshot is how you will be judged.
DO NOT expect Casting or Directors to have vivid imaginations, if you look like a 40 year old Policeman, don’t expect them to be able to see the 20 year old Skateboarder in you, unless you can show it. Remember my story in Headshots them being dumbfounded that my hair could be straight and curly. Research which Actors you think are like you. What have they been in? Whose career would you like to have and what have they been doing? Have they won awards? Find out why and how does your ‘type’ sit next to theirs?
In Hollywood, Industry professionals will cut you down like a raggedy branch if you are not prepared and ready. They want you to be at your most presentable at all times of business. It matters what you look like. Not that it doesn’t matter here, but it is so much more about the whole package over there and that’s not to say that you have to be traditionally beautiful either. If you are an ugly, feral looking giant – be the best, ugly, feral looking giant you can be when going for meetings and auditions.They do not want to hear nor have time for your excuses. No ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’. They don’t care! And by the time you’ve opened your mouth negatively to argue their critique, they already hate you. You need a thick skin because they will be brutally honest with their opinion of how you look and sound etc. If they hate your shoes, they will tell you they hate your shoes and why. You must be open to critique, take on board what you need and politely discard the rest. I had a middle aged Jewish Californian try to tell me how to do my less than middle aged, part Caribbean hair. She wasn’t being rude and although I could have taken offence, I had to see what her intention was by giving me her ‘advice’ and her intention was to get the best out of myself.
Another thing they hate over there is neutral styling. Neutral styling in a headshot or in person is the death of an Actor anywhere – unless for theatre. Good Agents in either the UK or US will get their clients to have a few headshots that can convey different characters/looks. And by characters I don’t mean dress up as Betelgeuse in one and Farmer Giles in another. I mean a hint, a look of a different role. It could be such a slight change but change enough to convey a dramatic Actor or a comedy Actor etc. In America this is true tenfold. Their headshots are not only ALL colour but they have an edge to them that almost makes them look like a screen shot from an actual TV programme (see Michael Roud as an example to see what I mean). This again makes is easier for Casting, Directors, Producers to imagine you on screen in a programme.
If you’re a good Actor, and I mean ‘good’ in the sense that you care about your skill, you will take classes as regularly as you can, (come on – I know it’s expensive and we have to work and it’s a game of chances as to whether the teacher is actually any good or not but), be it a few times a year or once a week it all counts. In this country we tend to think that if you have trained, that’s it you are perfect and never need to attend another class ever again. Or even worse – that we were born with a God given talent and never have to take a class in our life – WRONG! Imagine going to a hairdresser that did their training in 1976 and never learnt any new skills since. Or worse, a hairdresser that randomly did a half decent shape-up on their dad once. Do you think they are going to produce the next haute couture style for your head? Don’t be ridiculous, you’re going to get the driest style, with the deadest layers 1976 could ever produce. It’s the same for acting. The Americans do not have this ridiculous and lazy notion. Even some of the biggest names take regular classes between jobs to keep their skills sharp and to continuously improve as an Actor. Have you ever heard the story of when somebody asked Tiger Woods what he did on his day off and he replied “I practice”. You don’t become the best overnight. God given talent only gets you so far.
Hollywood, being a hub of Film and Television has a multitude of places to train, unlike us who have much less choice in quality training. Besides Drama Schools, we only have the odd class here and there scattered around the country. Typically anywhere that has a lot of anything, you must sift through the rubbish to find the good, but they have SO MANY amazing classes. They have Drama Schools too, but for those who need to fit classes in between work and not scrimp on standard – they are in abundance! From Lesley Kahn, Amy Lindon, Lee Strasberg Institute, Howard Fine and many others (too many to mention), there is just so much greatness to chose from, all offering expert and tip top training on every aspect of Acting you could imagine. They all have their tried and tested techniques that have and are still getting Actors booked and working, which is what it’s all about right? Who cares how good you are if you cannot be seen.
Not only is taking a class about being sharpening tools, it’s also about being seen and making connections within the industry. The whole industry in L.A works on word of mouth, so find out where other people are going. See what works for you and make friends, connections, contacts.
One main difference I discovered when I was there was the comedy. It’s no secret that our comedy is completely different to American comedy. Ours is more sarcastic and dry. UK Northern comedy is even completely different to UK Southern comedy, but American comedy is like neither. I found it cheesy, cringworthy, in your face and gaudy. I can’t lie I struggled with it and was not open to it at all. I didn’t want to feel like I was forcing it and being over the top – which made me fail at it completely. There is only one way to do most American comedy and to be over the top. However the fundamentals apply to all comedy be it US or UK. Apart from the technical beats, it’s all about high energy, high stakes and keeping your character likable. This is the same for all of the Acting classes and techniques in L.A. A lot of what is taught could be applied to work here in the UK. You just have to find what works for you and get your own way of working.
When it comes to meetings, be it with Casting, Agents, Managers etc, all of the above marketing information applies. They are always on the lookout for the next big thing because the next big thing makes money, so they are always interested in meeting new people and talent. Make sure that your first impressions count.
- Be dressed appropriately for your monologue
- No excuses for why you aren’t at your best.
- NEVER say sorry – FOR ANYTHING.
- If you mess up, just ask to start again (NEVER SAY SORRY – THEY DON’T KNOW YOU F’D IT).
- Never tell them you’re bad at something, just say you’ve never done it before – they are not British and humbleness is not appreciated out there.
- Never sit to deliver your monologue, it drains the life from an Actor.
- Don’t wear perfume or cologne – they hate it and of course many people have “allergies”.
- See a casting like a blind date. Nobody wants to meet someone who’s needy and hassle. They don’t like baggage so be on your ‘A’ game for meetings. Be that person they want to see again.
- You must always follow up with them, they will not chase you. Don’t get it into your insignificant little head that they will see the next Heath Ledger in you and chase you down to the ends of the earth, get you a Visa and put you in lead on the next big budget movie. Do you know how many Actors there are in L.A?! And on the whole they’re trained better than us by great teachers, they have the best Agents and Managers and the best Fitness Instructors. We are nothing –YET! You must continue follow up with them and keep them informed of any new information regarding your Visa and move etc.
- If you can speak with an American Accent use it from the minute you walk in the room. Save your English accent until you need it. We’ve all heard the stories of Idris Elba and Hugh Laurie fooling people with their American Accents until way after signing of dotted lines. Trick – don’t lie. They want to be fooled, they want to be brought into the character’s world. They don’t want to know that you are Jennie from Birmingham England if you’re auditioning for Mary Ann in South Carolina. They don’t want to know you’re faking at first, so they then are caught by the accent and constantly looking for fault in it. They want to concentrate on the acting.
- Have a few monologue pieces ready that can show off different accents and characters.
- According to one teacher, when it comes to auditions you should save the challenges for the shower or an acting class and do what you can do best today.
- Internet series are becoming hugely popular and nobody in the industry knows where it is going to go next. Get your work on the net! You never know who may see it. Look at music sensations such as Lana Del Ray and Jessie J, both hard workers but both got their ‘big break’ because they had huge followings on the Internet.
- For Writers – I have it on good authority that submitting a script will not work. There are just too many scriptwriters out there who all have far better contacts than you and you just will not get seen without them. The advice given was to make it yourself here in the UK. Write about what you know and what’s near your neighbourhood.
- You have to find a way for people to WANT to work with you – get on their radar! And you do this by doing your own work. Be it playwriting, web series etc.
- “If they can’t SEE you act, they don’t think you CAN” – sort out your showreel. Have an American one as well for L.A, they want to see your accent.
- Think outside of the box.
- Career plan because some parts may actually damage your career
- In America it is a ShowBUSINESS
- A good way to be seen is to attend classes (obviously) but also Casting Workshops, as many Assistants and Casting Associates attend. Now I know this sounds like the lame ones we have in the UK that are more about making money than actually finding talent, but we must remember that they actually have the work to offer out there – unlike here.
- Network at Film Festivals such as Raindance, Chicago Film Festival etc. Networking is key over there. Everybody in Hollywood is there because they are in the industry somehow. Waiters, bartenders, valet, they are mostly Actors, Writers or Directors so have your business cards at the ready.
- Be more aggressive in the US than you are in the UK. It’s a ‘take no prisoners’ kind of lifestyle. You have to show off your accomplishments. The challenge is – how do you get ingrained in their mind? (Within reason – no streaking!).
- You have to operate your business with the same vigour they said, as the street pastry guy. As we don’t have those, I’d say our challenge is to operate our business with the same vigour as those ‘cash for gold’ guys, or those trying to sling mixtapes on Oxford Street.
- Find a Manager whose clients are currently working and make sure that they and your Agent are working well, in tandem together. A tight ship will give you good stead. This can be a case of trial and error but the more your team works well together, the better chance you have at success.
- Know the legalities of your contracts with Managers and Agents before you sign. Get an entertainment lawyer and have them read over contracts. Any Agent/Manager worth their salt will not mind.
- Samuel French bookstore (equivalent to our Waterstone’s I reckon) sells books that list all of the registered Agents, Managers and Casting Directors, a little like our Contacts but bigger and in more volumes (Hollywood Creative Directory).
- You need a pit-bull Manager or Agent working to get your name out there.
- But remember that unlike Agents, Managers are not regulated in the state of California so any Tom, Dick or Harry can be a Manager and take your commission. Do your research!!
- You need your papers! VISA or GREEN CARD to work! Nobody will touch you without one. Some of the big networks won’t even employ an Actor without a Green Card – forget Visa.
- If you move over there, you need the mentality and drive of an American Actor, not a British Actor. No British humbleness and modesty. It’s a go hard or go home set-up.
- Beware the porn recruiters! You think this is a joke? Again I have it on good authority that on average 40% of Actors who go to Hollywood for work eventually become porn stars. Fine if that’s your thing but if not – be aware. The recruiters will look like other Actors at your auditions and know exactly who and how to target. They are known to ask things like ‘do you want to make $2000 this weekend?’ Which leads me to my next point:
- Do not go over there broke. Apparently ‘normal’ jobs are difficult to find so you must go there with enough money for your accommodation, car, living expenses for as long as it takes to find paid work. The sum suggested was different every time but around £10,000-£20,000 for a year. POUNDS not dollars.
- Follow your instincts regarding meetings. If a 10pm meeting at somebody’s house seems suspect – it probably is. We were told “don’t end up dead in the desert”. There are a lot of sleazy bottom feeders that work in Hollywood. Be careful not to get sucked in.
- Someone said to us that Hollywood isn’t the place to go to find yourself artistically. You only go there for the money – not the art or creativity, don’t ever get it twisted. Then you go home to the UK and work on your creative and meaningful projects.
- If you know a part is made for you, do whatever it takes to get it, but do it professionally and mathematically, DO NOT overstep boundaries.
- Talent can almost be seen as secondary and in the US it is becoming more of a business that is based on looks. If it doesn’t sit well with you that the industry there can be based on looks – I’d say you’re in the wrong industry. Be real – Hollywood is a SCREEN ACTING INDUSTRY. If that’s not for you, stay here in the UK and do theatre, there’s no shame in that at all.
- Make Vision boards or set and plan realistic goals (3 year, 5 year, and 10 year).
- Some of the big Agencies and Management companies poach clients from the smaller companies. Make sure you know what and who you are dealing with because some only love you when you’re hot.
- Make friends but be aware of the people around you and their intentions. I was told by someone who’d spent a full week avoiding speaking or getting to know me, (who was now very drunk), to be myself and not feel like I had to put on an act. (You know who you are haha!). What I’m saying is, it seems like it could be very easy to lose sight of who you are, especially when the critique is coming in from all angles. Be sure of yourself and your intentions before you get there and you will weather the storm of sh!t a lot better. It is tough out there!
- Some locals told us about Hollywood: “Everything is fake and trust nobody”. If you can deal with that. Get in, get working, get your money and get out – you’re good!