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January 19, 2023

4 Red Flags You’re Not Serious About Your Craft: Actors’ Edition

by Tony Gapastione

(and 4 easy ways you can turn those red flags green). 

“You’re not ready.”

Cue gut punch. 

Have you heard that phrase before? Not fun. And no one wants to hear it. But it can be helpful if we are humble enough to acknowledge we have work to do.

Actors! Are you ready to take your acting career seriously?

I want to share four red flags that I’ve spotted in my own acting/filmmaking journey that all actors and filmmakers can turn green. This will be a two part blog and I’ll start with actors first by reflecting on some not-so-fun things about being a filmmaker. 

When I first started out I thought I needed to spend time getting an agent or a manager. Whether you’re an actor or screenwriter you might relate. 

#1-I sent query emails. Crickets.

#2-I asked friends for help in making connections. Uh…Tony who? 

#3-I prayed that God would send me a miracle, open a door and make my dreams come true. And God said, “I made you, empowered you and gave you skills and abilities to make it happen. Get off your ass and make it happen.” She’s always right. 

That third example is pure satire so friends of faith don’t come burn me at the stake. But I hope you get my point. (And yes, I sometimes refer to God in the feminine. Not sorry).

When I finally made my way to a meeting with a literary manager in Los Angeles, he bought me breakfast and blatantly told me, “You’re not ready.” 

Now, I’m pretty sure he didn’t even read the four script samples that I sent, per his request, because when I asked for specific feedback on how I could “be ready,”  he said “write more scripts”. 

Um, OK. 

Now, admittedly, this meeting came from a friend doing me a favor, and the manager was probably too busy repping A-list talent that in comparison was not wroth his time because I was a nobody to him.

But it still hurt. (And someday he might regret it).

“The secret to success in this business is perseverance.” 

I heard Kevin Bacon say this on the Smartless Podcast, one of the funniest listens and on my weekly podcast rotation. I CACKLE like a teeny weeny baby witch at the banter of actors Will Arnette, Sean Hayes and Jason Batemen.

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All three of them have their own stories of auditioning, creating, and making it in entertainment. What I get from their weekly banter is that there is no one right way, and everyone’s path is different. 

But one thing I know to be true (except for Nepo babies?) is that we all have to work hard, make a plan, and never give up. This means we can’t just wait around. Have you heard this before? Yes, you have. But you’re still here reading this because we all need the encouragement to keep going. 

“Brave your way” has been a motto I have created to motivate myself that ultimately became a moniker of BraveMaker.  (And can be found on our t-shirts).

Screen Shot 2023 01 19 at 1.18.40 AM

Ultimately, we have to be motivated to work hard. And because of that rejection, I vowed to let no one else tell me I wasn’t ready. I tripled the amount of scripts I had written since that time and I make my own projects. I don’t wait for anyone else to greenlight me. I green light myself. 

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The cavalry isn’t coming. 

Mark Duplass said this at his keynote SXSW film fest talk in 2015. Eight years later, nothing has gotten better for independent film, it’s only gotten more crowded, noisy and difficult to get your film made. Years will continue to fly by and we will have nothing to show for it if we don’t make it happen for ourselves. Basically, stop waiting for someone to come sweep you away into your dream life. Mark said it and we need to keep reminding ourselves of it. 

So I’d like to help you BE READY and avoid rejection based on some simple red flags that you can turn green. 

Here are the RED FLAGS, in my opinion, that signal you’re not ready to be a serious actor.

🚩 Red Flag #1: If you don’t have a professional headshot, you are not serious, you are not ready.

I can’t tell you how many film castings I do in which actors send selfies. The worst was a guy who sent a picture from his car, with his seat belt on, for a film that did not take place in a car. 

Don’t do this. 

You will not be rejected and no taken seriously if you don’t have a professional headshot. (And we can tell). Most times casting directors or producer/directors like myself make assumptions that if you don’t have professional shots you’re not going to “act professional” on set Right or wrong, it’s part of the business. We expect to see good photographs (that for the love of God LOOK LIKE YOU!) Don’t make excuses. If you don’t have the money, get the money. (Ask for headshots for your birthday, Hanukkah or Christmas). If you want a career as an actor, treat it like your job. I worked at McDonald’s for two years when I was in eighth grade and freshman year. I had to buy my uniform. If I wanted to work there I needed to wear the right clothes. If you’re not willing to invest in yourself and make sacrifices to get the professional tools you need, you’re not ready to be in this business. You can avoid this type of rejection!

 🟢 Solve: If your shots don’t look as good as the ones below (good lighting, simple background) Get a professional photographer to photograph you! 

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Get recommendations in your area. SF Bay Area I can’t recommend enough SF Bay Area photographer Richard Shiu. I have sent so many actors to him and and so many have booked gigs on his work. What are you waiting for? Yes it costs money, but it’s a must if you want to be a serious actor. Stop complaining how expensive this all is and find another job if you can’t hack it. Sorry to be blunt, but this is not an easy industry. Do you have what it takes? I believe we all have the capacity but not many of us believe it or are willing to do the hard work necessary. (And that’s OK). 

🔴 Red Flag #2: If you’re not self-submitting on professional casting sites, you are wasting your time and missing opportunities.

This red flag is all about the hunt, the work, the search, and the hustle/hard work. Even if you have an agent like I do. We. Cannot. Wait. Around.  Repeat that again. Slowly.

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What are you waiting for? Lazy actors are not (usually) working actors. 

🟢 Solve: With your professional headshot sign up and populate a casting page on Castingnetworks.com or BackStage.com/Casting. Scan those pages regularly. I have even heard of friends booking films off of Craigslist (proceed with caution). You could also be submitting yourself to student films and make it known that you want to be an actor, you want to be cast. (Yes, working for free to build up your acting reel and experience is all part of the process).  Tell your friends. Ask for help making connections.

🔴 Red Flag #3: If you’re not taking acting classes and practicing your craft, you’re not ready, you’re not serious.

The reality is most actors don’t work 365 days a year, let alone 65 days a year. You will book gigs for a few days here and there (commercial work, short films, corporate industrials) and if you’re lucky you’ll book a week and/or maybe even a month at a time. But these can be few and far between. So during the dry times: learn, rehearse, train so that you are ready when those opportunities come. This is a competitive field. Someone out there has to book these gigs. Why can’t it be you? Good quote: Hustle beats talent when talent doesn’t hustle. 

Solve: This is an easy one. Get! In! A! Class! In person is best but online/zoom works too. That’s all. At least two times a year. Keep sharp, build community, learn tools and practice your craft so you are ready, sharp, believable when those auditions and gigs come your way. PS. I’d also add: listen to (free) podcasts, watch acting (free) videos on Youtube and/or access a Maserclass online. These are all good parallel educational sources. Brave your way!

🔴 Red Flag #4: If you’re not finding ways to write, produce, and/or direct films that star YOU, you’re not paying attention.

Times have changed and are changing quickly every day. Take a guess the number of actors in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG has 160,000 actors) that make a living acting full time? Google it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Spoiler: It’s under 10%, some say only 5%. Many of that very small percent of working actors in SAG are also producers. These smart actors have realized that they also need to create (read: write, produce, fund) opportunities for themselves (OR THEY WILL NOT WORK!). Reese Witherspoon and her production company Hello Sunshine is a great example. If A-list actors, who are working full time are doing it, that means actors like me and you need to get creative and entrepreneurial, too.  For example my feature  film Last Chance Charlene employed some actors (including me, yes I wrote a part for myself) for three or four days and our lead actor Allison Ewing, for thirteen days. That’s not a lot of time. There were years when I maybe only booked one commercial and that was the extent of my acting work for 365 days. Even if you are booking feature films, acting full time is a gift and oftentimes elusive. So if you want to act in one, two or three films/TV shows this year? What are you going to do about that? 

🟢 Solve: Stop the scarcity mentality. Stop the “poor me,” struggling actor identity.

Sure, you might have limited resources but I always chuckle when I hear actors complaining that they have no money while drinking $7 coffees and paying full price for designer shoes. No problem liking good coffee and fashion but find ways to spend less on those things and invest that money in your career. Pay a friend to write a film starring you. Executive Produce a short film for a director. Get yourself on set. Sure, you’ll have to volunteer a lot but this business is all about relationships and it will be a win/win for all involved. Pay attention. Watch. Learn. You. Can. Do. This. If I can, you can!

For more reading on this, consider becoming a producer. Read my blog on it.

I know, I know, you want to act and so did I. Being an actor was all I ever wanted to do. But if I didn’t start producing (and writing/directing my own stories), I would never have had a lot of the opportunities that I had to act–many of which I created for myself. So what are you waiting for?

*EDIT ADDED* and if you’re still complaining about the money (a red flag, sorry to say), get creative and barter. Volunteer to T.A. an acting class or clean a photographer’s studio (green flag). When you’re serious, passionate and committed, you’ll find a way.

If BraveMaker can help at all, please let us know. Follow us on all the socials @BraveMakerOrg. I didn’t cover other free things you can do like social media, setting goals and sharing your dreams with others, in this blog—but if you want to be an actor, start making connections on social media. I’m watching and always looking or those who greenlight themselves. Let’s win together! What else should I have included? Let me know.

I’ll be posting my RED FLAG: FILMMAKER edition in February of 2023.

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Tony Gapastione

Tony Gapastione is a screenwriter/producer and director living in Redwood City, California. He founded and executive directs BraveMaker, a 501c3 nonprofit arts charity dedicated to educate, entertain and create community experiences around justice, diversity and inclusion. He and his wife Wendy have three daughters, one labradoodle and two guinea pigs...all of which end up in his movies in some way. His first feature film, "Last Chance Charlene" will be on VOD, February 2023. Connect with him on Instagram: @tonygapastione
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