This is the third in a series of articles about relocating to Hollywood or New York to follow dreams in the entertainment business.
If you’re an actor and you’re wondering whether it’s time to move to New York (the home of live theater and a decent amount of film production) or Hollywood (the home of most film and television production), you might want to consider a few things.
- 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.
- 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.
The actor I interviewed falls into that last group—earning $250,000 an episode for his role in a hugely successful show. He’s one of the lucky ones. But it took many years for him to get to that point.
The question that is perhaps most important in making this decision is whether the move will afford you greater opportunities than it will cost you to do it. Here’s what I mean: It is obvious that there are many more auditions being held in Los Angeles and New York than in Baltimore, Cleveland, Tampa, Salt Lake City and perhaps the rest of the country combined. But what might not be so obvious is whether that translates into a better shot at becoming the actor you want to be. It would seem it should. But consider this:
- There are many more actors competing against you for that very reason.
- Because there are so many actors, there are gatekeepers set up in L.A. and N.Y. to block many newbies.
- Many of the actors competing against you have far more experience than you may have.
- If you don’t have an agent (most new actors in Hollywood/N.Y. don’t), you may not even hear about the auditions for your type.
- It will cost you far more money to wait for your chance in N.Y. and L.A. than any other place in the country.
Again, I’m not writing this to pour water on your fire. I’m writing this because I believe, as one quote says, “The best way to achieve your dreams is to wake up.” By wake up, I mean recognize the realities of the world you are looking to enter. Too often young actors are lured to Hollywood with dreams of becoming the next Will Smith or Jennifer Aniston. They are lured by the glamour of the less than 1% of actors who enjoy such glamor. Not many have their hearts set on even being one of the 18-20% group—those actors whose faces you may recognize, but whose names you don’t know.
It’s much easier to be a big fish in a small pond. One thing for sure about Hollywood, here you are swimming in the Ocean. Before you move here, make sure you’re ready for the salt water and sharks.
How do you do that? You get big in your town first. You find the theater groups that are active where you live and get involved. If you live in a very small town, you might want to move to a city near you to expose yourself to more opportunities.
Most actors considering a move to New York or Hollywood should have already done these things. If you have succeeded in those smaller ponds, move up to a lake. There are many acting opportunities in larger cities like Las Vegas, Orlando and Chicago. You may want to cut your chops in those large cities first. Doing so will get you used to the process so that, when you do get your shot in L.A. or N.Y., you’ll know better what to do to win the role.
But say you’ve done that as well. Let’s say you’re going to get a roommate (or two) and make the costs of living in one of these cities as cheap as possible. What’s the benefit of moving to N.Y. or L.A? Mmm…? Maybe sharing my story would illustrate it best.
Here’s the set up: I moved to L.A. with my family after placing as a semifinalist the Chesterfield screenwriting contest, getting an offer to purchase my screenplay, and attaining representation as a screenwriter. At our new apartment in Burbank another couple had moved here in support of their son’s acting career. He’d won a major talent contest in New Mexico, had gotten an agent and booked a few TV shows and movies. The mother had just taken a job as an agent with her son’s talent agency.
Within two months of being here, while chilling in the hot tub by the pool, the mother asked me if I’d ever done any acting. As it so happened, I’d been the star of nearly every high school play we’d done from my sophomore year forward. She said she’d like to rep me, my wife and daughter as actors because she believed we’d book a lot of roles. I thanked her, but said “no.” I was focused on writing.
My wife and daughter, however, said, “Sure! That sounds cool.” Soon they were in movies—The Italian Job, The Hulk, Legally Blonde; commercials for Time/Life, Rent-a-Center and others, and making decent money while hanging out with the likes of Mark Walhberg, F. Gary Gray and Mekhi Phifer—all without having taken a single acting class or having any experience at all. Once my wife took a few classes, she booked more work. After two years of being asked, I finally said, yes. Before long, I too was booking commercials for Time/Life, Papa Johns and others and going on auditions for movies and TV shows including Stargate Atlantis, CSI, and ER.
My point is that none of us had any intention of being actors, yet we fell into it in Hollywood. However, none of us are famous, nor have we made a career of acting as the less-than-1-percent actor I mentioned above. He too fell into acting—in college—in a small town. He moved to medium city—got big there in the local theater groups, then moved to N.Y. where he did Broadway and off-Broadway shows. Finally, he moved to L.A. where he struggled for nearly 20 years before he became a less-than-1-percenter. But he succeeded at making a career of it because when he got to L.A., he knew the game thoroughly. He pursued his dreams wide awake and understood it might take many years. He was ready to swim in the ocean. The question is, are you?
Now tell me what you think. Do you agree? Disagree? Please share from your experience in the comments below and share this article with others. Also look for my next article on Singers and Musicians in the next few days and please check out my book for the complete stories and all the other advice from this actor and many other successful celebrities.
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.)