Learning Curves

Posted by Bobby Reed
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto

Today, the return of one of my favorite 32’ers, Bobby Reed

Bobby’s first guest post for Stage 32 (link below) was a huge hit, and he was kind enough to write another enthusiastic, motivational, no holds barred piece for the community to chew on.

With nearly 70 credits to his name, including a staggering 30+ over the last three years alone, Bobby is as driven, motivated, and energetic as they come. You know how they say you gotta outwork the next guy?  Well, Bobby has them all outworked before the sun rises.  Excuses aren’t his bag, baby. Results are all that matters.

My thanks to Bobby for (once again) sharing his vast knowledge and experience with the community.

Enjoy!

RB

The professional performer has to learn so much, so fast. Nimble doesn't begin to describe how we have to move through our entire careers. You better be fast. It's why they pay us the big bucks when we do get those very precious network TV jobs or feature films or commercials. I got paid a disproportionate day rate for a network comedy in 2012, and I just got the same bloated check again in 2013, because it aired on the network again in prime time. Double pay for doing nothing. I just be myself and they find it funny. I don't tell them I hate comedy. And still they laugh. Whatever.

No wonder so many people want to be actors. I think we get the gravy because we are on duty, 24/7, in the education of ourselves as artists (20%) and corporate CEOs (80%). That 80/20 thing is what I've always felt my own career was like. From a very young age, it was easy for me to get on the stage and sing and dance and entertain the troops (family, neighbors, the dog, myself). Of course, I've refined my act slightly in the 50+ years I've been doing it, but it really came easily. And it still does. Second nature right from the start.

But to learn the business of advertising, promotion, continual marketing day in and day out. That's a different part of the brain, I think. I know from experience that the promo part does not come naturally to some performers. But it's really the bulk of the job before us. It's not like we go for a brush-up course every couple of years; it's every day. We reinvent ourselves, morph into the next age range or character type (and must do it without the mention of time passing). Easy as breathing. Professionals make it look easy. You must, too. Never let em see you sweat, as the deodorant commercial used to say. And it's all on you, the learning thing. The reading alone would wilt anyone's stamina. I get up in the morning and read all the trades (some mornings more thoroughly than others, and NO, not every word), but that's where I get my leads for sending cards to people about their projects, promotions - any reason to send a little note to someone in the business who may not know my act. And there are a lot of trades these days - used to be just Variety and Hollywood Reporter, not anymore.

All that reading is the tip of the iceberg toward more daily information, more learning, more contacts, more energy into the performing career that auditions and bookings alone cannot supply. The business part should take up the bulk of your day. You better love it, or it will certainly be a struggle, and you may end up being that sad, powerless actor who claims their agent never sends them out. Pathetic. Just my opinion. I think all the arts take that sort of scary laser devotion; you can't just casually be a professional ballet dancer, etc. Or composer, or painter. All the arts take a level of focus and skill that, frankly, I don't think the average person has. We are very special creatures, we artists.

The reading and writing and schmoozing, and coffee with new friends to talk shop, and the auditions for anyone and anything, that's the full-time education we put ourselves through, and it doesn't end until they put your cold, dead body away forever. Until the final curtain comes down, we are on duty to discover ways to hone our art. That's our job.

I was just watching a bunch of commercials while eating dinner, keeping my eye on the acting and the voiceover tones being used for different spots. Have you educated yourself about the ever-expanding world of audio books? They use lots of actors, and I know some friends of mine here in Hollywood who have tapped into that market. Some of these folks have a tough time in the MP/TV market, but they're blowing up in audio books. Go figure.

Here are some educational tricks I've used for years, that you might consider trying:

  1. EDUCATE YOUR DATABASE: Add one new person DAILY to your contact list. Send them a note. Congratulate a producer on her project that got greenlit. Applaud that assistant who became an agent. Director, hair stylist, gaffer; I don't care who it is. There is always someone to say something nice to in show business. That means you'll have 365 new people on your list in a year, and that's just one a day. Go back over your old callsheets. Check to see what the other people (who you've already worked with) are up to and send them a note. There's gold in them thar hills. If your friend got a good theater review, did you send them a congrats note? I just sent one to Washington, D.C. for an old friend in a hit play. The New York Times raved about her. She's always a hit.
  2. EDUCATE YOUR (MOVING) IMAGE: Recut your old footage. Go back over your older clips (not too old) and pull scenes you haven't used and make a SHORT (:50 tops) reel and throw it up on your YouTube Channel (you do have a YouTube Channel, don't you?) and right here on Stage 32.
  3. EDUCATE YOUR COMPUTER: Learn a new piece of software every month. Free or not, it matters not. There are video editing programs, design/layout programs, sound editing programs. I've used the free ones and I've used the paid ones. Just get busy with these products and there will be no limit to what you can do for your own career. And then you won't have to pay me to do it for you; you can do it yourself. But you can pay me if you want to.
  4. EDUCATE YOUR (STATIC) IMAGE: Go back over old footage and pull some stills (screen grabs, or captures) from scenes you have not yet used. Make a thematic compilation (wife, soldier, nun, corporate, whacky), or just add some stills from older footage to Facebook and Google + and Stage 32 and LinkedIn.
  5. EDUCATE YOUR OTHER MARKETS: If you're in New York, do they know about you in Seattle? Or Sydney? Or New Orleans? Or London? They should. You can educate yourself on those markets and how to tap into them. What acting jobs are there? Who gets them? Write to all the agents and managers in a market other than your own, and see what happens. I tried this with Vancouver, and discovered I need a permit, so I educated myself on that little detail. I did not know that, but now I do. The sweet agents up there schooled me good. NOTE: you better have some hot material to send to them. Hot site, reels, stills, clips, credits. Your whole act better be hot, hotter, hottest. This is not an exercise for the newbie. Wait until you are ready to lay them in the aisles. Then hit em with all you've got.
  6. EDUCATE YOUR HISTORY: Read a famous show person's biography every month. It is a how-to education on the way they did it. And totally free if you take the book out of the library. While there are still libraries.
  7. EDUCATE WITH THE FREE STUFF: Read every Bonnie Gillespie and Mark Sikes article on Actors Access (they must have thousands by now); all free, all archived for your ready reference. Bonnie also sells a book on how to manage yourself, which is the show bible to many performers (a new version has just come out). My writings are all free, too, on bobbyreed.com. Just go to the Education page under the NEWS tab on my site, and while away the hours. And watch every how-to video on YouTube about the business of show business. That'll fill up your dance card. Also, the SAG Foundation has many hours of their free seminar videos, many with famous casting people and producers and actors and others who will tell you how to do it. Free. Right there for you. And watch every video on Emmy TV Legends. Thousands of hours of pros talking shop. I'm in heaven. And, obviously, right here on Stage 32, Richard has amassed a truck load of blogs on the movie and theater business, so read every word that has appeared on this blog since it began. Then read it again just for safety.
  8. EDUCATE YOURSELF ON SETS THROUGH OTHERS: When you book a job, seek out those actors who have gone before you. Look for the bigger, more famous folks you may get to work with. Seek their counsel; listen to how they did it. If you hadn't noticed, actors generally enjoy talking about themselves, so let them. Keep your mouth shut about your own story and let them tell theirs.

And please remember, this little article is only about the business side of show business. I'm not talking at all about acting classes and scene coaching. That's a different article. That would include going to as many plays as you can, watching every movie on YouTube (there must be millions so that should keep you busy). I'm in my British noir period now, and the choices of B flicks that never got much play in their day (1940s, 50s, 60s) are dazzling. And they're being watched in Hollywood. By me. Noir B Acting 101. Like going to school if you're going to play a 1935 gangster from Liverpool. You never know. And be an expert on every show on network and cable television. That's a very tall order, I realize. But there it is. Better learn how. Uncle Miltie to Don Draper. Get busy, please.

I like to learn by doing. It's always been my style, and still is. The results are on my IMDb page.

In the age of Google, the old “I don't know” excuse no longer cuts it. Forget that. Hogwash. You better know how. Or know, very quickly, how to find out. If you don't know something, squeeze your learning curve like the bottom of a tube of toothpaste. Become an expert at the whole process. Your learning curve better curve upward. It's worth it. You'll see.


Bobby Reed is an actor, director, writer, producer, editor and the author of SuperMarketing for Actors (Vols. I & II), and has taught the companion course at AFTRA Los Angeles. Bobby's editing work is on Vimeo, his acting work is on his YouTube Channel, and all the juicy details and contact info are at bobbyreed.com.

Bobby’s first guest post for Stage 32, Decide, can be read here.

Bobby is available for remarks and to answer any questions you may have in the comments section below.

Help Me Help You!
RB's Stage 32 News, Notes, Discussions, and Other Fun Stuff (November 1st, 2013)
 
register for stage 32 Register / Log In