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What Actors Can Learn from Fishermen

Success is a matter of repetion--simple tasks that lead to reward.

Success is a matter of repetition–simple tasks that lead to reward.

Yes, that’s a young Nick Coleman on the far right, proudly holding onto the biggest fish I’ve ever caught.

While I tend to write mostly about headshots, headshot photography, and how NYC actors can improve their headshot sessions, I also like to share insight on the business of acting.

As an actor with many years of experience in New York, several years of experience in Missouri, and with actor friends and colleagues having more experience than myself, I’m in a good position to share what does and does not work for actors. And over the years, it’s been increasingly clear that what seems to guarantee success more than anything else is a concept that’s been around for millenia, but rarely followed.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ”

“Successful people aren’t born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t like to do. The successful people don’t always like these things themselves; they just get on and do them.”
–Don Marquis

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever. Teach an actor to use the Net and he won’t book work, but he will spend a lot of time looking at YouTube.”
–Author Unknown

Okay, that last one I may have made up but you know it’s true…

What An Actor Can Learn from a Fisherman

Fishermen are the perfect example of success being dependent on small, seemingly insignificant tasks.

Sure, they spend time getting the right bait (great headshots), the right rod and reel (the actor’s body), the technique and skill to jig the rod the right way (classes and coaching) but when they go out for a day of fishing, they still have to throw all of those things into the water and hope for the best.

And they do this hundreds of times before catching a single fish.

Over time, a fisherman develops better techniques, upgrades to better gear, gets a fish finder (an agent)… but he still has to cast over and over. And instead of hundred times, maybe it’s thirty or forty.

At the beginning of their fishing experiences, they can expect to catch the tiny fish–the ones you throw back. Eventually they will catch bigger fish, with the occasional keeper hauled into the boat, but it can take a lot of time, and thousands of casts before landing that first whopper.

Acting is no different!

So what can an actor do that’s the same as casting the line into the water?

  • Open call auditions
  • Headshot and resume mailings
  • Postcard mailings

Hard Copies of Your Headshot and Resume Get You WORK

Yes, I know we’re now in a digital world. I use twitter, I’m on Facebook, obviously I blog about New York headshots… but when it comes to getting your career started, and making first contacts, nothing beats an old fashioned hard copy of your headshot and resume, paired with a great cover letter.

And yes, sent through the M-A-I-L. You know… the old kind… with stamps you licked with your own saliva and walked down to the mailbox.

When I look back over the periods in my acting career where I had spikes in employment, and when I speak to my working actor friends, it’s clear that the most productive times in an actor’s life happen when the mail is going from the actors door to the casting director’s desk.

  • Email can easily be deleted without being read
  • Online casting websites and responding to casting notices is reactive not proactive. Actors must be proactive (and yes, the cleanser is great too)
  • Headshots and postcards hang around the office and get seen
  • Cover letters and postcards get read (or at least scanned quickly), they give you an opportunity to shine

I’m working on a post about how to do a proper mailing… yes, there is a right way to do it.

In the meantime, get your materials together!

Get a great headshot, make sure you have an appropriate level of training, and get involved wherever you can volunteer.

Actors don’t work unless people (casting directors, agents, etc) know who they are, and what they are up to. Mailings are your line in the water… start with the basic gear, and get your line wet.

Casting Directors Do Read Their Mail

Before any naysayers start naysaying, let me part with this:

My first work on TV all came through mailings. All of it.

And when a family crisis took me away from the business for a while, a New York soap casting director who had repeatedly cast me on her show (and was used to receiving my postcards) actually called to make sure I was okay, and still acting, because I hadn’t written in a while.

Mailings work. They’re part of the business, and part of what you have to do as an actor.

Just like casting that line… there’s a right way and a wrong, for sure… but do it the right way often enough, and you’re guaranteed results.

They might not always land a whopper, but you never can tell.


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