Still, you’re convinced that you’ve got the goods to be the next Morrissey or Amy Winehouse. Your film school loved your quirky little romantic comedy. Everyone tells you what a great Daddy Warbucks you were in the community theater’s production of “Annie.” Now’s the time to put all that to the test.
That’s why we’ve compiled the ABCs of avenues to travel for the aspiring writer-actor-singer-director-model-producer to make that rise to the top all the more successful.
Agents: This man or woman is the gatekeeper into your life as a Hollywood player. He or she will be instrumental in giving you the who, what, where, when, why and how on everything from that play you’re dying to appear in to that soap opera that you’re not quite sure you want to be a part of, but the rent’s due, so…
How to nab one: Start small. Many of the top agencies will not take on [insert your name here] as a client. So if you thought you were going to get to Los Angeles and get signed at CAA or Endeavor right out of the box, nice try, kid.
That’s where the little guys come in. There are a ton of tiny boutique commercial, casting and literary agencies looking for fresh new talent. You can usually find them by subscribing to publications like Back Stage West.
Put in a little investigative work. Casually call each of them. Don’t tell them that you’re “so and so with a great project looking for representation.” Instead, ask for the person that handles talent for whatever you’re looking to break into.
In the event that they don’t immediately warm to you and instead, start asking you lots of questions, just tell them you’re an assistant to someone (make up an obscure name) and say you’re calling on behalf of your boss. Many will give up the name. In the event that they don’t, move on.
Once you’ve got your contact, wait a day or two then call the person directly (for what to say, see next section). If they don’t sound interested, simply thank them for their time and mail them a headshot and a nice note reminding them of your conversation and leave it at that. Sometimes people may be gruff on the phone, but when they actually see a photo of this supposed hot new talent, interest could actually spark.
Just remember: NEVER pay anyone to represent you. Anyone asking for money up front is scamming you. A legitimate agent or manager will take a percentage of your earnings (usually 10 to 20) once you’ve been compensated.
Be aggressive. B-E aggressive. Make them come to you. Three of the best Hollywood stories belong to Molly Shannon, Steven Spielberg and Shia LaBeouf.
Shannon wrote and performed a one-woman show in Hollywood and would invite major players to see it. When someone from a little show called “Saturday Night Live” actually showed up, well … you know, the rest is history.
The same is true for Steven Spielberg. The famed director was reportedly 19-years-old when he sneaked onto the lot of a Hollywood studio and set up an office for himself – much in the same way that Michael J. Fox’s character did in the 1980s film Secret of My Success.
He began wheeling and dealing like all the top dogs. By the time anyone found out, he’d already made himself indispensable. He ended up with his own production company.
Spielberg’s latest protégé, LaBeouf was clearly hip to that story. As a kid growing up in Echo Park, the Indiana Jones star would phone local Hollywood agents pretending to be a manager representing HIMSELF! He actually got one rep so excited about some kid named Shia that was working L.A.’s stand-up comedy circuit that the agent came to his performance and signed him.
The moral of that story is, have some nerve and take some chances. Find out who the top dogs are. Come up with a fake name. Make up some fake stationery. Send out letters of inquiry on your own behalf to agents, studio execs and producers.
Then wait. Many won’t respond, but there’s always the one or two that will.
Just remember: Get your name and face out there. Get headshots made. You can find photographers and their work online and in Back Stage West. Many will work for as little as $50.
Rent a theater space. Places like Hollywood’s Gardner stages are inexpensive (1501 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles; around $100 a night) and centrally located. Got a funny play or a stand-up act? Put it on all by yourself then advertise the event on Craigslist and in the trades (Variety, Back Stage, The Hollywood Reporter).
Caring means sharing. Snagging your big Hollywood break may be the toughest job you’ll ever love. There will be many days, weeks, months and, for some, years that you’ll spend absolutely hating yourself and this town.
Obsession over having the right look or the best car will take over. You’ll constantly be second-guessing everything you do. This is where friends come in. Try to find and cultivate a circle of people who are looking to do what you do.
When Tom Hanks’ wife, actress Rita Wilson, was a teenager, she tagged-along with a friend to an audition for a bit part on “The Brady Bunch.” The show’s casting team was so smitten with Wilson, that she snatched the part from her friend and ended up on the show as a cheerleader.
Because the girls were BFF, there were no hard feelings. Wilson has gone on to appear in films like That Thing You Do! and Sleepless in Seattle.
In an interview with Campus Circle, actor Sean Faris (Forever Strong, Never Back Down) even admitted to loving the camaraderie of having buddies who are performers.
“I know plenty of writers,” he says proudly. “My friends that are writing films and television, they’re all up in the mix with the actors and whatnot. We all kind of need each other, and we all kind of feed off each other. If we’re all doing bad at the same time, it’s OK! It’s kind of like this sad but much-needed support group.”
If you’re an aspiring actor, find and befriend someone who is an aspiring director. If you’re a singer, make friends with the wild-child fashion student who can keep you in killer stage gear. Is writing or producing your thing? Then find that young guy or girl who works as a junior publicist somewhere and get to know him or her.
It’s not about using people. You WILL need a support group to get you through bad auditions or being fired from a gig (because that sort of stuff happens to everyone). But nothing in Hollywood gets done without a little handholding and back scratching. Besides, your new friend might be directing the next Napoleon Dynamite and that song that you sang at last week’s open mic night could be just one friendship away from a sleeper hit.
Just remember: Think of your new friends as your entourage. Each person that you meet could have another friend or contact for you to add to your list. You might not know that NBC’s “The Office” is casting for a funny temp to play Dwight’s nemesis, but a well-connected friend might. The right people will always pass along information to you that is both valuable and helpful.