1) I wish that someone had taught me about the importance of the business side of things. Being an actor, I thought that the only thing you need is to focus on your art and craft and on being as good as you can be, and the rest will fall into place. Not true, unfortunately, especially in today’s world. It may have been in the past, but today, in order to thrive in this crazy and unpredictable industry, you need to be savvy about the business side of things. You need to understand how things work, how decisions are made, and what comes into play. When you do that, you start to take it less personally and begin to find new ways to adapt, so that you can make things work for you.
An example for me personally is when I made my feature film debut as a lead in an indie film that premiered at Cinema Village NY during my first year of drama conservatory in New York, and I thought that that was it and that my career was going to take off, and I wouldn’t have a care in the world. Not quite. I didn’t hustle for it; I thought it would come to me. And it didn’t. At least not in the way I imagined it would. So the moral of the story: Don’t wait for anyone to come looking for you. The industry is saturated, and you need to keep reminding them of your existence, even at the risk of being annoying. Even established actors and entertainers have to do that. All the time. And while that may be already part of someone’s character, it wasn’t part of mine. So I had to learn. The hard way.
2) Have an idea of the big picture, but don’t focus on it too much. Having big plans feels great, but I know for a fact that you can only accomplish big things by making small steps and focusing on the task at hand. This industry can feel genuinely overwhelming, and if you set overly ambitious goals, you tend to get discouraged faster. You never know how long it may take for you to get where you want to go, so having unrealistic timeframes is not helpful either and can lead to even more disappointment. It may happen tomorrow, or it may happen years later. So, I truly wished that someone had hammered into my head more that all you need to do to move forward is focus on what you need to accomplish now and not think so much about the big picture when you’re doing that. Just like in auditions, you need to remain present and focus on your character and what she’s going through, and not on how that one audition can change your career. (A great book on the subject, by the way, is Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, but you have to be ready for it. I know I wasn’t the first time I picked it up.) It’s not one event that can change your career or life; it’s many small ones combined, and every little step brings you closer to your dream. Artists are dreamers, and while that’s a quality, sometimes, being too ambitious can make you stall if you are not meeting your own expectations.
3) Learn how to prioritize. That’s a tough one, and easier said than done. It’s also so personal that it’s hard to teach someone that. When you’re starting out, you don’t necessarily realize the importance of some decisions you make that may seem minor but can actually make a big difference. You really need to weigh the pros and cons in every situation, and no one can do that for you other than you.
4) Be less trusting. Assume that if you don’t look out for your own interests, no one else will. If you operate too much on trust, you will get taken advantage of. I speak from personal experience, being cheated even by people who are supposed to protect your interests. I grew up in a very safe environment, and while that’s a good thing, I wasn’t really prepared for the shark mentality in business. And people like me who are trusting are easy prey. Or at least used to be (I hope). I was deceived by big companies and people who appear reputable. And it’s crazy when you think about it, and often hard to wrap your mind around it. But it’s sadly the reality, so always be extra cautious. The devil is in the details.
5) Create your own work, and learn about all aspects of the industry. You know how MFA directing programs for example have acting classes so that directors know about the process an actor goes through to be better directors. The same is true for performers, writers, etc. It helps to know all aspects of the industry you’re in. You don’t need to be an expert in everything, but having basic knowledge about everyone’s process gives you an advantage. And when you’re creating your own work, you have the freedom to do it exactly (hopefully) the way you want to and showcase your skills and talents in the best possible light. -Stella Velon