Welcome to Atlanta! Where the Actors Play. Waaaay back in 2005, if you were living in Atlanta and looking to jump into this crazy business called acting, conventional wisdom would have told you to make the move to Hollywood and start there. And even as recent as 2012, if you came to Hollywood and mentioned you were from Atlanta, you would be met with a shrug of the shoulders, and maybe even a look of disgust.
Flash forward to 2020, and if you were to move from Atlanta to Hollywood, ears would perk up. More than that, the expectation would be that you have built a solid resume working in the Southeast. Today, I want to talk about that shift in perception, how it’s still shifting, and what that means for the newbies and workaday actors who are looking to build a long-term, sustainable career.
I moved to Atlanta in 2000 after my undergraduate studies at Duke. I was looking to delay life decisions, so I did the sensible thing and went to grad school at Georgia Tech. When I wasn’t working on my Masters in Engineering, I was exploring my acting “hobby”. In those days, the most Atlanta had to offer was regional commercials, and lots and lots of corporate training films (for Home Depot, Delta, Chick-fil-A, etc). The only TV shows were in Wilmington, NC, and we would get 1-2 films per year come through the state. In fact, my first speaking role in a film was in Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius. I changed film forever when I uttered these six words: “There’s no way Prohibition can last.” <cough>
In short, Atlanta wasn’t exactly “on the map” when it came to the TV/Film industry. And moving to Hollywood from Atlanta would’ve been no different than moving from Topeka or Boise. That started to shift with the introduction of our tax incentive in 2005. More specifically, when it was reworked a couple of years later to the version that still remains today. It is currently uncapped and offers up to a 30% tax credit to qualifying productions. 30%! So it’s no wonder that Hollywood started shifting more and more production to our state. By 2012, it was starting to become clear that actors could legitimately build not only a good resume but also a sustainable career here.
From the set of Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius. My character's name was actually “Chum”
Cut to 2020, and we are constantly in the top 3 production centers worldwide for TV and Film. With shows like The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, Ozark, The Resident, almost every Marvel film through their MCU Phase III and everything from Tyler Perry shooting in the metro Atlanta area, it’s hard to count how many opportunities are here at any given time. Add to that the opportunities in Louisiana (Jurassic World, NCIS:NOLA, etc) and other Southeastern states, and the opportunities are virtually limitless. So now, if you were to move to Hollywood from Atlanta, there would be an expectation that you should have built a substantial resume before landing at LAX. At the very least, you should have your Union card secured, as well as a couple of Co-Star roles and a Demo Reel with recognizable stars opposite you.
And honestly, why wouldn’t you spend time developing your career here? As a right-to-work state, it means you can hold off on joining SAG-AFTRA until you’re absolutely sure you want to pursue this career professionally, and the barrier for entry into our market is so much lower than in NYC or LA. More on that below…
On the set of "The Change-Up" with Jason Bateman (left) and Ryan Reynolds (right)
So now that I’ve built up the image for Atlanta as a career destination, the question becomes should you move here? YES! Ok great…so how should you start? That question is more nuanced, but here are some suggestions for starting out in Atlanta or moving to Atlanta:
1. BUILD A NETWORK: Like any major market, you need to get plugged in as soon as possible. Social media can be a great way to discover a community of like-minded people. There are many Facebook groups dedicated to the local acting community and several highly respected acting studios where you can get stellar training and build a network of actor friends.
2. TRAINING: Speaking of training, you need to find a teacher who is a working actor, or at least understands the nuances of how Atlanta is different than LA or NYC. If the teacher doesn’t know the local landscape, they won’t be that helpful beyond the fundamentals of the craft.
3. SELF-TAPING: Learn the art of self-taping! My wife and I run one of Atlanta’s original taping services, Get Taped, and we highly recommend using a professional service at first so that you understand the standards in Atlanta. Do not come to Atlanta from LA with arrogance, because we’ve been doing self-taping way longer than LA, and our standards for taping are WAY HIGHER than LA when it comes to quality, so you need to educate yourself as fast as possible.
4. AGENTS: Find a GOOD agent! But how? Well, this is where the network you build will be extremely helpful. We meet new actors every week (pre-pandemic) who have just moved from LA or another market. We love guiding them to agents and other resources based on our vast knowledge of all the major players. So whether you ask your friends that have been here a while, your new teacher, your taping service, or some other trusted resource, you should be able to narrow your list of agencies to target for representation. SAG-AFTRA’s website also has a very helpful list of franchised agents.
5. MANAGERS: You don’t need one in Atlanta. Not for a very long time. Most agents roll their eyes when they get asked this question, and most Casting Directors loathe working with them. One factor is that actors will often find Managers based in LA or NYC, and then those managers call casting with ZERO knowledge of our local market and end up just complicating the casting process. So unless your career is at a point where you truly can’t manage it alone, then don’t waste an additional commission on a manager.
Some of the sets I’ve been blessed to work on over the years
If you’re coming from LA/NYC with good training under your belt, and a couple of credits, you might be looking to make a tier jump. That’s great, but again, do not arrive with a sense of arrogance. We meet actors in this situation often, and most are happy with how many auditions they get compared to their old city, but are sobered by how hard it still is to book. The reason opportunities abound is because casting directors can view hundreds of self-taped auditions PER ROLE, whereas in LA/NYC they can only see a fraction of that number in person. This will all change (possibly) as a result of the 2020 pandemic, as all markets will have to shift to a primarily self-taped model.
The downside for a new actor (or transplanted actor) is that, just like marketing, you need at least 7 good impressions (audition tapes) with each Casting Director before they start to really trust your “brand” since they aren’t meeting you in person. So even if you have a longer resume than most, if you are largely unknown in this market, it will take time to start booking. And that can be super frustrating to the actor who thought they could easily tier jump from “No-Name Under-5 Roles” to “Recurring Co-Star” or to “Top of Show Guest Star”.
My wife, Brooke Jaye Taylor, and I from our self-produced web series, "Becky & Barry"
As recent as 2015, I would say that Atlanta was a good training ground, and even a place you could have a sustainable career, but that you would largely remain in the workaday roles that rarely recur, and only once in a blue moon have Guest Star billing. But now, the opportunities have fully opened up to Series Recurring and even Series Regular roles. I personally know several actors who have either watched Co-Star roles blossom into major recurring roles (Steven Reddington on ABC’s The Resident, Danny Kang on Insatiable, Nelson Bonilla on Netflix’s Ozark), or booked Series Regular roles from the start (Melissa McBride on AMC’s The Walking Dead, Kendrick Cross on OWN’s Ambitions, Atkins Estimond on Starz’s Hightown).
Hollywood has finally embraced the “local” talent here. I put local in quotes, because with all the influx of actors over the last 10 years, we have become a melting pot of the whole country. So the notion of an “Atlanta Local” no longer carries a negative stigma of some inexperienced actor. And with more talent and crew moving here all the time, the opportunities will only continue to grow.
Brian Chapman (left) and I in our 2-man improv show, Left-Handed Time Travelers
The last piece of the puzzle that surprises many transplants (or out-of-town actors/crew who come to work here) is the true Southern Hospitality. People are genuinely nice here in Atlanta. There is a supportive community of actors who do not see each other as competition. It can be a very refreshing change of pace. Plus, even though our traffic can be nearly as bad as LA, it is SOOO much cheaper to live here.
So there you have it. I’ve called Atlanta home for over 20 years, and have watched this industry mature from just a blip on the radar to one of the largest production hubs in the world. I am proud to call this city home and look forward to many more decades of prosperity not only for my own career but for the other actors that choose to call Atlanta home. And if you decide to move here or even just visit, come see us at Get Taped and we’ll welcome you with open arms (from a safe, 6-foot distance, of course).
Matthew is a Storyteller based in Atlanta, GA. He is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA, and has over 60 credits on IMDb. He and his wife own Get Taped, which is one of the original audition taping services in Atlanta (founded in 2010). You can follow him on Instagram @matthew.cornwell and Facebook, or just wait for him to nonchalantly pop up on your TV screen.
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