“Here are some statistics you may not know—there are 120,000 SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) actors in Hollywood. At any given time 85% of them are out of work. The average salary of a SAG actor is less than $10,000 a year. Most of them are just trying to earn the required $7,500 a year to keep their health benefits. 18-20% of them fall into star roles and make serious money. But less than 1% are the ones you read about and know, the real stars, the actors who make million dollar and double digit million dollar salaries.” –From I Followed My Bliss to Bankruptcy–What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to Hollywood pg. 208
The star I interviewed for my book, which gave me the facts above, earns a reported $250,000 per week for his considerable skills learned through his years of experience. Most of those years passed with barely a livable wage from his craft.
“For one period of time, about three years, our family survived on my wife’s income. She was out working while I cared for our child. You can start to question what you’re doing wrong and what’s going on. I would do well on an audition, but couldn’t get to the next level.” –page 209
Three years. Things have only recently changed.
“I got a stint doing recurring roles here and there. I have friends who became huge stars very shortly after arriving here. We worked together in New York doing Broadway. We came out here together and acting success happened for them much quicker. It just took longer for me. Other very talented friends still have not broken through.”
And that’s how it is. Some make it right away and others labor on for years.
In my book, I chose to interview celebrities and successful Hollywood artists to see what they knew that others who hadn’t succeeded did not. They knew what it was like to succeed and they understood the demands on the life of a successful actor, writer, singer, producer, director, etc. I chose to interview them anonymously because I wanted them to feel free to be completely honest–neither afraid of hurting someone nor being retaliated against by someone later. (In hindsight, I could sell a lot more books if I hadn’t promised that anonymity, but I believe the honesty gained improves the quality of the information.)
One thing they all agreed it took to succeed was a tenacious unwillingness to quit. The realities can be pretty grim for artists in Hollywood. Here one is surrounded by the successful, the wealthy; the ones with the power to make movies, music, or headlines everywhere they go. It might sound glamorous to tell your friends you were on set today with Megan Fox or Will Farrell, but when the difference between what they are paid to be there and what you are paid to be there is millions of dollars, and your not sure if you will be able to pay your rent tomorrow, it can be hard to bite the bullet and keep pushing forward towards your acting success. Hope, in Hollywood, is a skill set you must possess.
Acting success also doesn’t come to those who can’t take rejection. Rejection for an actor can feel very personal. After all, it is the actor who stands before the casting director speaking her lines. It is this same actor who then hears “Thank you!” in the middle of her sentence and is escorted out past the next young thespian who looks enough like her to be her sister. According to this TV star, acting success is about business and rejection is part of the business.
And contrary to oft taught belief that success in Hollywood is all about who you know, according to this star,
“It’s not really about who you know, but being in the right place at the right time. It’s about being steadfast. You come in, do the job. Most people who make it are just lucky. They have the look the casting director is looking for—so the casting director takes whatever talent the actor has. Most times what the actor has lends itself more to celebrity than to talent.” –page 207
That explains a lot. When he first arrived in Hollywood, this actor counted among his fans the hugely successful TV producer Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, LA Law). Although that relationship led to occasional roles on Bochco’s shows, it didn’t lead to constant employment or stardom. This actor’s journey in Hollywood went from bit part to small recurring role for nearly 20 years before he finally had “the look.”
That quote might even explain why many get into the business of acting—seeing some actor in a movie and thinking, “I can act better than that.” That may be true, but will you be at the right place at the right time? One thing is clear, the more auditions an actor goes on, the more chances she has for making it eventually.
Here’s another great nugget of truth he shared,
“L.A. is not really about acting. TV is a producer’s medium. Film is a director’s medium. Actors have no real control. Sometimes you do a take and you think you did it well and the director wants you to do again in a different way. So you do. They may use the take that isn’t how you wanted to do it. But it’s their decision. Once you understand and know your place, you’re cool.”
Who would have thought that? A director, no doubt. Of course film is the director’s medium. That why director’s get to call it “a film by” and get their names above even star’s names. Yet it’s unlikely an actor would expect to have his best work discarded because the director or producer preferred the take where the actor looked less than his best.
The interview with this great and wise talent went on for much more in the book, but the last piece of advice I’ll share from him here now is this:
“Young actors don’t realize this, but acting is one of the most unglamorous jobs there is. It’s one of the most fickle. There are some great rewards, but this is a business. The things you think they look at, they don’t. It’s really a war of attrition. You stick around long enough, you’ll work. If you come here looking for all the perks and accouterments, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons because you really have no control over those things.”
Great truth to keep in mind as you look for your acting success in Hollywood. For more from this and other interviews with successful writers, directors, actors, singers, film and record producers, to help save you years of frustration and to encourage you on your Hollywood journey , please check out my book. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
Update 3/7/2013: (The 2nd edition of What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to Hollywood available now exclusively on Kindle for only $4.99. Get yours now. Click here. Kindle e-books can be read on I-phone, I-pod, I-pad, Android, Mac and PC with the free Kindle App.)