Anna Walker Roberts: The Next Yes
I’ve had a number of friends/actors reach out to me and ask what I’ve been up to and what my thoughts are about the questions I’ve been asking people on my blog. This has been such an inspiring endeavor to me and I want to be an encouragement and positive force in this industry, so here are my thoughts. I’ll be focusing on three areas that cause actors a lot of stress and trouble, booking jobs, auditioning, and making money. Here goes! Booking Jobs: As an actor, and as a human, we go through seasons. There are times of plenty and times of dryness. There are times when we go hard at acting and times when it sits on the back burner while we wait tables or work at Gap. There are times when we are offered so many projects that we have to turn some down and times when it seems like all we are getting is ‘no.’ This is the industry we’ve chosen, and that’s how it works. I have discovered, however, some ways of coping and a system that helps me keep work coming down the pipeline. I hope some of this information is helpful to you as we all continue learning and growing. I share this from a place of humility as I’m still learning so much of it myself. Number 1. Consistent activity. Consistency is KEY in this industry. For me, that means that I wake up every morning and spend about 2 hours applying online for auditions through Backstage, IMDb Pro, Facebook Groups, Film.org, etc. During this time I also respond to any messages I’ve gotten back from previous days, schedule auditions, read over sides, etc. A few days a week I tape myself for video auditions and edit those, send them off, etc. This industry is a numbers game. Documentary film-maker Adrian Belic (Ghengis Blues and Happy) once shared with me that he and his brother submitted a film to thousands of festivals around the world, and it was accepted to over 100. Other film-makers would approach him and ask, “How was your film in 100 festivals? Mine was only in 10.” And he would ask, “Well how many did you submit to?” Usually it was 20-50 festivals. It’s the same way with acting. The more projects you submit to, to greater your chances are at getting a few yes’s. Backstage recently added a feature that lets you see all your past applications. Since I began submitting myself on Backstage in December of 2013, I’ve sent in over 700 applications. Of those 700 I received further communication from about 100, either setting up an audition, asking for a video of a monologue, or setting up a Skype call. I’ve taped myself for 28 different projects in the past two months alone, in addition to auditioning over Skype for about 6 and auditioning in person for another 10. Sometimes I turned down an audition because I wasn’t ok with subject matter or the shooting dates conflicted with something else in my life. Despite those big numbers, I’ve only been cast in 3 films through Backstage during that time! I’m not saying it’s the most efficient system, but I can promise that if I hadn’t been submitting consistently, I wouldn’t have worked on any of the 3 films I was cast in. And considering I’m using other platforms and getting cast through those as well, it all adds up to having a consistent stream of work. So what am I working on currently, and how did I get the job?
I just wrapped on two short films in Philly in which I had day-player roles, and I booked both of those through film.org.
I wrapped on another independent film last weekend called Standing Up, which featured my friend, and Veep Secret Service-Agent, Raymond Kyle Ramsden. I played Jennifer, the girlfriend of the lead character, and I got that film through film.org as well.
3 weeks ago I did a film for Temple University students called Non-Scents, which was a very funny comedy that poked holes in the process of casting and the way actors often behave at auditions. I played Ruby, an over-eager actress and was cast in that through a Facebook page. I’m currently working on a film called 4 Months 10 Days about an inter-racial, inter-faith couple who struggle over their differences, but keep pushing to make their relationship work. We are rehearsing over the next couple of weeks, the project will shoot in Brooklyn mid-March, and I was cast through Backstage. Coming up, I will be featured as a cop in Deep Undercover, a crime series filming in Philadelphia. I was cast in that through a networking event for actors and film-makers.
I’m also in a fantasy web series called Grimoire, and was cast through Facebook.
Finally, I have a runway fashion show coming up at the end of March, and I was cast in that through my agency, Main Line/Plaza 7 Talent. **A side note about weight and appearance: Obviously weight and appearance are an element of booking a job. It is my belief that whether you weigh 110 pounds or 310 pounds that there are still roles for you out there. There are MANY niches in this industry, and while some of them may be more specific than others, keep working until you find yours. There is a myth that actors have to lose weight and be a 00 in order to book roles. This is just false. There are gorgeous celebs out there that are a size 6 and higher, including Bryce Dallas Howard, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Amy Schumer, Mindy Kaling, Melissa McCarthy, Christina Hendricks, and the list goes on. You can even do a ton of print modeling and commercials at any size or height. Own your body, invest in some good Spanx, focus on being healthy, and have pride in exactly the shape you are. I am a 5'7.5" size 6-8 and so far that hasn't kept me from getting the lead roles that I want. Whatever size you are, don't let that stop you either.
Auditioning: I had an actor-friend recently ask me how I had booked so much lately and what I was doing in auditions to have success. Obviously you know by now that I’ve also had a lot of not-success in that mix. But here are some things that I do (mostly in my head) to help with auditions. I go into an audition like it’s a date. The casting director is not the predator and I’m not the prey. We all know casting directors want us to do well, blah blah blah, but what helps me is thinking of it as a date where I will get to know them and they will get to know me and maybe we can offer each other something beneficial. If you are auditioning directly for the director, you are also auditioning them. Are they someone you would want to work with? Do they know what they are doing? I always go into an audition knowing that I could turn it down if I don’t want to work with the people involved. Be insanely prepared. You are less likely to be nervous if you are prepared and know your sides as well as possible. I always try to go in with two different takes on the character or scene. Then I’m prepared to come at the material from a different angle if the director asks for it. I also like to come up with a specific backstory about the character. It may not even be mentioned in auditions, but I have it ready if the director asks a question. Plus, this is just actually really fun to do.
Listening is such an incredible tool that we generally waste completely. I tend to go in mostly for low budget/independent/thesis/student films of some type, which means I’m auditioning directly for the people I will be working with (there’s no professional casting director or other gatekeeper). Before I read, I ALWAYS ask them what inspired them to write the piece, what message they want to send, etc. You can learn so much from listening to them talk about the film that might change your interpretation of the character. Plus that just makes me feel more connected as a human to those people and I enjoy my work much more than when I just walk in, read, and walk out. Practicing your sides with an actor-friend can also make a huge difference. Luckily I married an actor, so I can practice my sides for him and we play with the material until we find what feels right. It’s a horrible habit to ‘watch yourself’ as an actor. We need to be critical of ourselves to some extent, but really we can only measure how we are feeling inside of ourselves. Great actors make other people feel things. You need to practice on other people to see if you are making them feel anything or just feeling a lot of stuff inside yourself.
Journaling/reflecting. I like to journal or reflect on an audition once it’s over. I don’t dwell on it, but just consider what I did well, what I could have done better, etc. Is there anything I learned from it and so on. When I don’t get cast in something I like to feel just a little sorry for the people who chose not to cast me. I’m aware that this is horrible and arrogant, but it helps me cope. I feel bad for them that they probably chose someone who won’t take the role as seriously or won’t show up on time or be as directable. Then I forget about that ‘no’ and move on to the next ‘yes.’ As an addendum, there’s always the possibility that if you aren’t getting cast in anything, you might need more training. I paid a crap-ton of money for my training at SCAD (ok, my parents and scholarships paid for that...), and am still paying for acting classes after going to graduate school and working on a lot of films. I think we should all be taking classes as much as possible. Class is where you play and grow and fail, and those are necessary things for us to do continually. It also helps a lot to have an acting coach, friend, or agent who can be real with you and objectively critique what might be going wrong.
Making Money: What about making money though? Yeah. I don’t have a great answer to this, but I can share about where I am. It costs money to be an actor. You have to pay for classes, headshots, workshops, comp cards, resumes, etc. So we do actually need to make some money somewhere in order to keep doing this. I don’t have a ‘day job’ in the traditional sense. I am a consultant with Arbonne, a network marketing company that make cosmetics, skin care, and nutritional products that are gluten free, soy free, dairy free, GMO free, vegan, kosher, etc. This gives me the freedom to create my own hours and work from my computer at home, on the phone in my car, or on set. This is an IDEAL career for actors who move frequently for work. I don’t have to ask a boss if I can take off to go to an audition or get someone to cover my shifts while I’m filming all weekend. Honestly, it’s amazing. If you don't like your day job and it's also keeping you from having a flexible schedule, it might be time for a different day job. So when it comes to acting, I’m open to taking jobs that don’t pay. Really, you have to decide what's best for you. I know there are non-famous actors out there who won't consider unpaid work. I'm great with that because I'm taking all those unpaid jobs that they won't, and I'm having a great time doing it. My goal for the moment is to make a profit or break even while adding to my reel, expanding my range, and networking. So if I get a travel stipend, food on set, and free lodging plus IMDb credit and a copy of the footage, I’ll take the job. If I get paid, that’s obviously better, but I’m open to either one.
On the flipside, I do believe that even on student films, actors should be paid something. Pay me $20 bucks or something. So if you are director or producer out there reading this, PAY YOUR ACTORS. It makes a huge difference in their work ethic, their sense of value, and how everyone on set behaves. And if you can't pay them much, have their favorite Starbucks drink on set for them or offer to help them edit their reel or something. A little love goes a long way, and the vibes on set are way better when your people feel appreciated. Let's help each other out people! When I've made it big and am getting paid $50,000 a week for some hit TV show, I'm going to invest a lot of that in Kickstarters for films so they have enough money to pay their actors.
My next post will feature actress and improviser, Elizabeth Byland, so keep your eyes peeled for that in early March :)