TOP TEN MISTAKES ACTORS MAKE WHEN MOVING TO LA and often for years after they get here
“Move to LA! Get to where the Big Studios are! Get to where the action is and make it happen!”
Whether you’re a well-trained actor from New York or a newbie from Idaho, there seems to be this overwhelming need for so many actors to get to Hollywood. It’s the excitement of making it here that compels actors to move out to LA without a a focused plan, without having a lot of the prerequisites in place. As an award-winning actor [bensonsimmonds.com] and longtime acting coach [masteryouraudition.com] , I have worked with so many actors who came to LA and encountered countless unnecessary difficulties and frankly wasted so much time and money! So the time has come to share my top 7 mistakes actors make when moving to LA.
#7 – Actors come to LA and think the first thing they need to do is GET IN THE UNION!
Wrong! Unless you are coming to LA with a lot of big credits in film TV or theater from New York or another major city, it will not serve actors to try to get in the union right away. I believe it’s a much better strategy to
try to get as much NON-UNION work in the first 6-12 months as possible. Agents, casting directors, directors and producers want to work with an actor who has on-camera experience and who has and continues to hone his/her craft.
Take advantage of being non union and audition, book and shoot film, TV and commercial roles to build your resume and experience. If you do get into the union right away, then you are limited to only auditioning for union work and you will now be competing with union actors who usually have a lot more experience than you do. This doesn’t mean that you don’t want to get an agent and audition for union shows. It just means that your priority should be getting work and doing what you love. When you first get to the city, that will be much easier by auditioning for non union film, TV, commercial and industrial work.
#6 - Actors come to LA without saving enough money to sustain themselves for the first few months and they also do not come with a plan on how they will support themselves when their saved money runs out.
Now, being an actor myself, I know we are not by nature the most financially savvy group, [big understatement there!?] but if you are moving to LA, you need to take into account the expenses you are likely to encounter. Unless you are moving from New York, it’s likely you can figure that LA will be twice as expensive as where you are moving from. Everything is much more expensive here. Rents will be double or even triple what you may be used to. If you have family or friends with whom you can stay for a while, then that will reduce your expenses. If you are coming by yourself without contacts, then you will want to either share an apartment or house, or get a 1 bedroom apartment. Some simple craigslist research will show out of town actors what the going rents are. If you do have enough to get your own studio or one bedroom, my clients have had great success with westsiderentals.com. You pay a small fee and have access to the better rentals, including shares in LA.
My recommendation is that you save up a bare minimum of $5,000.00 and preferably at least $10,000.00. You want to have money to take classes, get pics, work-out , do mail-outs to agents, get a support team, etc. Most actors don’t move here with enough of a financial cushion and somehow assume that they will find either acting work or a day job easily. Coming from a small city, you assume that there will be more opportunities, which there are, but there also also more people competing for the same jobs. But realize that everything is expensive! ouch! You need a car in LA and you have to also factor in expenses like car insurance and maintenance. For most people who move here, you will find that your monthly car insurance in Los Angeles can be the equivalent of what you were paying for 3-6 months of car insurance in your home town. Also, make sure you get your car tuned up before you get here.
This leads me to the next important topic.
Your day job and how to support yourself between acting jobs. I suggest that you delay your move to LA and explore going to school to learn a skill that will provide you with a decent hourly income.
Simply ask yourself the question: aside from acting what could I do that I’d enjoy and that would also provide a good part time income? I know you love acting and you should be doing what you love, but are you also good at graphic design? Are you a bit of a computer geek? Do you have or can you learn skills such as carpentry, plumbing, being a locksmith? Or do you have an interest in video editing, or any other film or video technical skills? Generally, the more specialized your skills, the higher the hourly income. Maybe you can develop marketing and social media skills. Do you really want to be a restaurant or catering waiter? At least take a bartending course to get a higher hourly income. Craigslist is such a great resource for getting a sense of what kinds of day jobs are out there and what they pay. Do you think you can survive on $1600.00 per month? That’s all you will make working full time $10.00/hour job. As I reveal in my marketing e-book for actors [http://masteryouraudition.com/?page_id=237], ideally you want to work no more than 20-25 hours a week to bring in your weekly income. You will want to use the other 15-20 hours studying your craft and marketing your acting career. Don’t forget, as an actor you are running your own independent business and it takes times and focus. Even if you’ve been living in LA for years, it might be time to take a break to upgrade your day job skills so you can make more money in less time and have more time and energy to develop or recreate your career.
5) Actors move to LA and don’t take the time to become part of a community.
As exciting as it is to move to LA and start taking classes, it is also very stressful and overwhelming. I recommend to
my students who are new to LA that they make sure to find a community as soon as possible. By community I mean a group of people who share a common interest outside of acting [preferably not a creepy cult!?). Take the time to find a spiritual community, a church, synagogue, temple, or a meditation center. It will give you a sense of community and belonging, and can be a great support system. Since pursuing acting can be so egocentric, having a spiritual community can help you see the big picture and help take the focus off of you and put the focus onto contribution. I also recommend taking one hour a week to do some volunteer work to give you a sense of purpose and contribution. There are so many great places to volunteer, helping an older person, reading to kids, working with animals, etc. If you don't want to explore a spiritual community, then consider joining other organizations that interest you, sports, hobby, nature groups, etc. My point is don't just limit yourself to your acting class. Also, be smart and explore becoming a member of organizations such as IFP, independent film producers so that you can meet directors, producers, etc. and also become part of an indie film community http://www.ifp.org/ Or consider joining the actors annex at the writers boot camp.http://www.writersbootcamp.com/annex.asp . The possibilities are endless. The bottom line. Don't isolate, think community.
4) Actors move to LA with no sense of higher purpose.
Whether you're just moving to LA or have lived here and pursued a career for years, it is important to develop a sense of purpose that will give you continued passion to pursue your acting dreams. As I explain in my new book SOULAR POWER - Unlocking the Eight Gates to Joy and Abundance [www.soularpower.biz ] we can approach our success from an ego or soul point of view. Ego is all about self-interest and soul is about contribution. Most of us want success as an actor both from a ego and soul point of view. But ultimately your source of passion will come from understanding your acting career from your soul’s perspective, which will help you become what I call a “soular powered” actor.
Take a moment now to write out your ego mission statement and your soul mission statement for why you want to be successful actor in Hollywood. In your ego mission statement, write out all the selfish reasons you want to be an actor. Have fun and just let it rip. For example, “I want to be a successful LA actor so men/women will adore me, so that my father or Aunt Sophie will finally have to admit that yes I do have talent, so people will love me and tell me how great an actor I am”.
Now take a moment to write out your soul mission statement, which is all about contribution. Simply use this statement and fill it in in a way that speaks to you.
” My goal is to share the unique acting skills the divine gave me in order to inspire others to ______________________________.
Be specific in how you personally want to inspire people. It could be to inspire people to believe in themselves or take their power back or realize that they are o.k. the way they are, or that they can find love at any age or that they can overcome any challenges. When you can be specific of how you want to inspire OTHERS, it will give you a renewed sense of purpose in pursuing your career. You will notice that you will begin to attract success much more easily and you will begin to enjoy the process more. It will feel less like a struggle.
#3 Actors don’t have a professional support team in place.
So many actors enroll in an acting class, get an agent and then go out on auditions and hope for the best. They neglect to take care of the most important element of success, their support team. Every actor needs the support of an excellent audition coach. When you get the auditions, you need to have in place an audition coach who you trust, someone who helps you break down your audition script, personalize your character and helps you make great choices. You also want someone who helps you feel confident about your work. I always talk to my actors about the 3 “C”s of auditioning well, which include craft, confidence and contribution. Know your craft, learn techniques to build your confidence and go into the audition room with a sense of wanting to contribute and share your talent. Don’t make the audition about them giving you approval and liking you.
Your team may also include a good therapist or life coach or simply a trusted friend or two who can help you process your feelings when challenges come up. You need someone who believes in you. And let’s face it, sometimes you need to hire someone to objectively believe in you. I’ve worked with so many actors who expect their friends and family to be rocks of support and often for whatever reason they can’t be. It’s often makes more sense to hire someone professional whose guidance you can trust and with whom you can check in when needed
2) Actors move to LA before they really need to
If you’re moving to LA to study with a particular LA based acting teacher, then you seemingly have a real reason to be here. But many LA based coaches like myself and others teach actors from all over the country and the world by skype. So you can in fact study with an LA teacher from your home town. You can still be getting excellent coaching but you can be saving on all your other expenses. Also, many actors don’t realize that once they have developed their craft they can actually get a fair bit of work in their smaller markets. Most actors complain that there isn’t enough work in smaller markets and at some level that is true. But the question is, have you made the most of your local market? These days you can produce indie films and web series from anywhere in the country and still get national attention. If you keep expanding your craft in your local market and put yourself out there, you will start to get more work, especially if you are working with a New York or LA acting coach by skype. You want to build your craft, and put together a good professional demo reel before you get to LA if you can. The production values don’t have to be top quality, but your acting does. A director, producer or casting director really just wants to see that you can act, that your work is layered. They will overlook a lot if your work shines. Also, make sure that you only include work that is well acted and professional on your reel. And please do not include montages of you with different looks. Argghh! Don’t get me started on that! Imagine that you are a busy director/producer/casting director or coach. You don;t want to waste time. You simply want to get a sense of who the actor is and what talent they have. That means less is more. I’d rather watch less than a minute of good work than 3 minutes of montages and uneven acting. Let’s be clear here. I am not trying to tell you not to move to LA to study and build a career. I’m just suggesting that you become more proactive in your local market and use your home town resources to the fullest to build your career. Being proactive could mean starring in and perhaps writing or co-writing a web series or short film or feature in your home town, where you use you local environment to serve and actually enhance the web series or films. It may involve writing a one-person show, performing it and getting good reviews locally, etc. Then you might come to LA and remount the show here.
Even if you have your finances and a great day job lined up. Even if you know to build a community and have a sense of purpose and you don’t rush off to join the union, you still are most likely missing the most important key element to success as an actor in LA or any market. And that takes us to the #1 mistake most actors make when coming to LA. Most actors make this mistake even after years of living in LA.
#1 – Actors don’t know their brand and how to market themselves.
Regardless of whether you are just arriving to LA or have been here for years, if you don’t know how to brand yourself, you may never get the career you want and deserve. Even if you work diligently and passionately on your craft with the best teachers and coaches, if you don;t take the time to know exactly WHO YOU ARE as an actor and what you really want, then you will not know how to brand yourself. There are thousands of actors wanting to share their talents with LA casting directors, directors and producers and agents. Even if you have talent, an agent and a decent reel, you need to understand and be able to answer two distinct questions.
1) what you really really want and WHY
2) Who you are as an actor. what are your essential qualities that make you uniquely you?
As I explained in my blog entitled The top three questions to help you brand yourself for success [http://masteryouraudition.com/?p=282], most actors don’t have a clue as to what kind of work they really want and why. They simply say, “I want to work”. That’s like saying you’re going to drive from LA to New York without any road map and just head out in the direction of New York. You may never get there or it may take you years when if you had a clear road map it would take you less than a week.
The problem is that most actors want to believe that we can play anything. We don’t want to limit ourselves. But the truth is our perceived limitations are our greatest gifts. Do we as actors want to constantly expand our craft so we can put our stamp on any role? Of course. But the divine gave each of us a distinct mix of qualities that makes each of us unique. For example, if you have a naturally sharp sense of humor, then yes, even though you can play straight drama, it would be silly not to use your sense of humor as part of your brand. Use what you have. So many actors with accents think they have to immediately lose their accents and eventually they do. But if you come to LA with an accent, use it to help you stand out! Celebrate it, don’t try to hide it until you have mastered an American accnet/
Speaking of branding, let’s examine one of the greatest actresses of this century, Meryl Streep. Yes, she can play anything, but most of her early successful roles had a common thread of brand. She played intelligent, emotionally conflicted, complicated heroic sophisticated women. Even though she can play comedy, she didn’t get accolades early on for playing comedic, sexy, blue collar, heart of gold, down home, or “bad” women. The point is to develop and focus on your brand and THEN branch out.
After identifying what your essential qualities are, then you need to search deep down and figure out what kind of roles you really want to play and why. I recently taught an advanced 4 week marketing and branding webinar for actors and there I posed the following question to help my actors determine what kind of films or TV shows they really wanted to do.
Ask yourself, “if you were on your deathbed looking back at your life and you could be in one movie, only one, that would be seen by millions of people, what kind of movie would it be and why?” For example, you might say, “it would be a romantic comedy because I want to inspire people to believe that they can find love at any age” OR you might say, “action adventure or fantasy action adventure to inspire people that they can overcome any challenge in their life or to inspire them that good will always triumph over evil.” Then you can start to brand yourself further and target your career. The word here is target.
Take this challenge. Decide to never again send out a mass mail out of pictures or postcards to all kinds of casting directors. Target only the casting directors who are doing the kinds of films or movies that fit in your desired genre/brand. If you decide to make your focus romantic comedies or courtroom dramas, target ONLY the casting directors who cast those kinds of shows and don’t even bother sending to others. OF course that means that you need to get a head shot that brands you as romantic comedy or courtroom drama or action adventure. One secret is to look at the head shots or promo shots for the leads in courtroom drama TV shows and films and do your version of those shots. The promo shots for film and TV are specifically designed to communicate the brand of the show and actor.
Once you have head shot that shows your brand, your essential brand qualities and the genre of show/film you really want to be in, then you need to get a specific reel that highlights your brand. Let’s say that your essential qualities are smart, sophisticated, sexy power women. You choose the genre of courtroom drama, playing lawyers, and you have a head shot which depicts your brand. Then you want to get tape that showcases you in various courtroom drama scenes. Once you have that, you can send your brand picture and tape to casting directors who cast those kinds of TV shows or films.
Another secret is to make a list of all the film directors and producers who make courtroom type of dramas and/or who make movies with smart, sophisticated power women and try to get to them directly through their production companies. Many directors, and producesr have production companies and using the right techniques you can get your branded material to your targeted directors and producers. I explain this in more detail in my e-book called Power Up Your Acting Career [http://masteryouraudition.com/?page_id=237], but the bottom line is that you need to decide who you are and where you fit into the market. Otherwise you can flounder for years, even if you are a super talented actor.
So whether you are thinking of moving to LA or if you have been here for years, take heed of the the top 7 mistakes made by actors and be smart. You deserve to do what you love. Get good at your acting craft. Get good at knowing your brand and get yourself out there. Whether you are in LA or anywhere in the U.S. or the world:
1) take advantage of being non-union and get as much work as you can building your craft, experience and reel.
2) Be smart about money. Go to school or develop skills so you can have a part-time job that pays you a good hourly wage so you will make all the money you need in 25 hours or less. Use the other hours in the week to work on your craft and marketing.
3) Become part of a community.
4) Develop a higher sense of purpose and a more expansive vision
5) move to LA when you really need to
6) assemble an excellent support team, including acting coach and life coach/therapist/mentor
7) Determine your brand and set a up a clear proactive and targeted marketing plan for success.
And in addition to these top 7, remember to be grateful for every opportunity and focus on your passion. Focus on your LOVE of acting and your desire to share and contribute the gifts the divine has given you. Celebrate your courage, your talent and believe in yourself!
Benson Simmonds is an award-winning actor, acting coach, author and branding/marketing coach. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org His websites include www.masteryouraudition.com
www.soularpower.biz and bensonsimmonds.com. You can watch his mini acting class with over 85,000 hits at