Everyone’s got a story about what they were doing before they started acting. What’s yours? I love a good story, so share in the comments below.
Here’s my story. Feel free to read, or if you’d rather watch, I made a video of this post.
Before I became an actor, I was in college prepping to go to medical school. I was studying like crazy and needed a break, so as a distraction I took a lesson on how to do voice over. I sounded terrible, but I was hooked.
I signed up for more lessons, put med school on hold and shopped my voice demo to agents. It took me 6 months to get my first agent and another 6 months to get my first job. That year I made $525 from my VO work. Then an agent said to me, “You’re a VO guy? Ever think about doing on camera work?” I said, “They use cameras in voice over?” She said, “No, dummy, take this class and let’s talk in a few months.”
Suddenly I was training to be an actor. I got hooked on that, too, and realized the potential in the business. I thought, “I can do something I enjoy and get paid for it?” So I set about learning as much about the business as possible and my second year I made $7,000. Better than year 1, but still not sustainable over the long term.
My solution: I found a couple successful actors and asked them to mentor me. I wanted not only to become a better actor, but learn how they made it their full time living.
Once I applied what those mentors taught me, my career changed. That was over 20 years ago. Since then I’ve booked over 4000 jobs for over 500 clients and worked in every area the business offers. TV, features, stage, VO, commercials, print, corporate work, I do it all.
Am I famous? No. Do I own a private island? No. But acting has provided a great life for our family. We don’t want for much. We have ups and downs, but my mentors taught me how to deal with those, too.
I’m proud to say I did this from scratch. I had no friends or family in the business when I started, I’m not particularly gifted or good looking, and I don’t have a degree from a fancy acting school. In fact when I’m used as an example of someone who has done well, people don’t say “You’re successful because you’re an amazing actor.” They say, “You’re successful because you treat it like a business.”
Actors are entrepreneurs (especially in this day and age) whether they realize it or not.
I tell you this not to brag but to make the point that if I can do it, literally anyone can make this work for them if they put in the time and have the correct mindset. You must manage your career, or it will manage you. You must manage your money, or it will manage you. You must control what you can control, or you will spend a lot of time spinning your wheels.
If you’re in Chicago, a good place to start is by reading the book, Acting In Chicago: Making A Living Doing Commercials, Voice Over, TV/Film and More. It’s a detailed, information-packed look at how actors start and grow an acting career in the Midwest.