Let’s be honest here: movies is an attractive medium, and everybody wants to know how to make it in the film industry, particularly actors.
Why actors? Because this falsified trend of “overnight success” doesn’t seem to be dying off yet. A good chunk of aspiring performers still believe that all you need is to get in front of the camera, and the next thing you know you’re working with Julie Delpy on Richard Linklater’s movie. Hopefully, you don’t need me to tell you that this is not really how it works.
Is the acting dream possible? Absolutely. However, due to a high level of competition in the showbiz of 2015, there are no easy ways to get a break in this business. For those looking how to make it in the film industry, I’ll provide a few tips on how can one start an acting career or push the progress of your acting career further.
How to Make It in the Film Industry
According to movie stars, there is a moment when you know you’ve made it. Marilyn Monroe, one of the biggest and iconic American movie stars Hollywood has produced, had her moment when she drove by a movie theatre and saw her name up in lights. In an interview, Marilyn said she was so shocked she pulled the car to the other side of the street and stared at it. She even said “Someone’s made a mistake!” It was all smooth sailing for Marilyn’s career after that, with movies like ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’ (1953) and ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959) making her face and voice famous all over the world.
Do you have dreams of being on the silver screen? Do you practice your Oscar acceptance speeches in the shower? Do you look at roles and say ‘I could do that’? You desire to know how to make it in the film industry, and you might have it in you; if not to be a movie star, then at least a working actor. If working in cinema is truly your passion, there are pathways to genuine and wild success. Just ask Marilyn!
There’s this myth of impossibility surrounding the film industry, like it is this golden Olympus where mere mortals dare not go. But it is important to remember that those cinematic gods we worship – from Marlon Brando to Jennifer Lawrence – started out just as daunted and inexperienced as you are right now.
If you follow the examples of movie greats around the world and show some serious determination, your ‘I-made-it-moment’ might be just around the corner.
Audition (Times Infinity) and Persevere
Movie stars (and even working actors) of today may have got to their level of achievement through a multitude of ways, but there is one factor that every successful person in the film industry has in common: they kept pushing.
In the entertainment business, luck has nothing on perseverance.
If you are a working actor, you have to be ready to attend upwards of twenty auditions a month (maybe even a week, if you’re lucky), and be prepared for a chorus of no’s. The trick is not to be discouraged when you get turned down or even insulted by an employer. While it does sting, it is important to remember that more talented people than you have been treated a lot worse. Fred Astaire reportedly received a note back from a casting director that said “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.” He later framed it in his multi-million dollar house next to his honorary Academy Award, Emmy, and Grammy.
Whatever they tell you, sometimes directors can be wrong. You just have to keep going to find the right one.
Get to Work!
Do not buy the myth that all actors that move to places like London, Los Angeles or New York have to be waiting tables for the rest of their lives. True, you do have to eat in-between auditions and cattle calls, but no one said you can’t make money and still be in the industry that you love, maybe not as an actor just yet.
Naturally, a movie executive is not going to call you up immediately and offer you a million dollar contract (though if any do, let me know). But acting is not the only part of show business. You could even argue it’s the least important. Try to get Patrick Stewart to your shoot without somebody to actually film him! Or do his makeup. Or bring him Earl Grey tea.
Thousands of people are hired every day to keep the movie machine running, with an insane amount of variety. Check the “crawl” credit screen after your favorite film: there are carpenters, hairdressers, boom operators. There are even jobs you’ve never heard of, like ‘breakdown artists’. Breakdown artists distress costumes to look realistically messed up, usually for action scenes. Want to run over Benedict Cumberbatch’s suit with a lawn mower and then splatter it with fake blood? There you go! Best job ever!
While we do understand that some of these positions aren’t exactly entry-level, many of them are, and are an extremely good way of getting into the movie business, even if the current position isn’t your end goal. Think of it this way: not only will you be supporting yourself while auditioning and acting, but it is an excellent opportunity for experience, learning, networking and finding out industry insider tips. And you won’t have to bus any tables!
The Theatre, The Theatre!
If you are looking for ways how to make it in the film industry as an actor, I would strongly recommend building a concrete theatre foundation, especially if you market yourself in London. Not only will the experience look good to casting directors and talent agents, but it will teach you a lot about performing. Working with multiple companies, directors, and other actors can teach you a million new things about the show business. Be curious, humble, and keep your ears and eyes open.
The amazing British actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh began his career in the theatre, performing in increasingly large roles before and after college. He immersed himself in technical as well as performance theatre. After a stint in the Royal Shakespeare Academy, he began his own company and eventually graduated to acting and directing his own pieces with his friends. Now he’s one of the most influential directors in Hollywood, with movies like ‘Thor’ (2011) and the new live-action ‘Cinderella’ (2015) under his belt. Kenneth Branagh’s acting career has been pretty terrific, as well. He was chosen to recite poetry in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, and also played a professor in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ (2002), which basically makes you British royalty.
Kenneth Branagh attributes his success to the marriage of theatre and film in his career:
“Going from medium to medium – if you get the chance to do it – from theater to television to film, which are all distinctly different, keeps me sharp. What works in one doesn’t work in the other, and you have to be looking for the truth of the performance, whatever way that medium might demand.”
Theatre is a great way to start searching for that truth in whatever you are working on, whether it is Shakespeare or a Frozen concert. It is important that you approach acting as an art-form, a craft you learn and develop, and not as something you do only for the paycheck. That will help you stay with it for the long-haul.
One of the randomest Hollywood make-it stories is that of Johnny Depp, who was working as a telemarketer and playing guitar in Los Angeles, hoping to become successful with his rock band “The Kids.” His wife at the time introduced him to Nicholas Cage, and apparently after they played a game of Monopoly together, Cage told Depp he should ditch singing and become an actor. Cage even got him an agent and gave him regular tips, like some cinematic fairy godmother.
My point is that while getting into the movies is not impossible, it is really weird and usually makes no sense. People become successful in their own ways. You could be involved in a cult show like Nathan Fillion, be picked out of hundreds because of your singing voice like Amy Adams, or become famous for hamming it up on YouTube like Darren Criss. Your claim to fame will be as different and as unique as you are, and not something that you can really plan. What you can do is follow the examples of great actors before you, take advantage of every opportunity, and work. If you put yourself out there enough, people are bound to start watching.
Moral of the story is this: success is always behind the corner – trust me, it’s there for all of us. We simply don’t and can’t know which corner it is. All we can do is keep moving forward with persistence, keep working and persevere, take rejection lightly and try to look behind every corner of the film industry. It will happen eventually.