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I joined SAG-AFTRA, the US film and TV actors union, very shortly after moving to Los Angeles from Atlanta. The initial joining fee is expensive and you have to pay your dues every 6 months. I struggled for a bit initially thinking whether I’d made a mistake – joined too early, not being able to work the tons of non-union jobs out there and so on.

But in a way, I realize this was one way in which I was focusing my career. I want to be a full-time professional actor in film and TV. And by joining the union, I was forcing myself to up my game and signaling to the Universe that I wanted to take my career to the next level.

Also joining SAG has massive benefits. First of all, you can take your out-of-town, visiting family and friends to Wilshire Boulevard and proudly show them the massive SAG sign on the SAG building. Heh heh.

SAG-AFTRA Building in Los Angeles

The other benefit is that you are now eligible to take free classes at the SAG Foundation, which is also located in the same building. They have classes and workshops around how to prepare for pilot season, branding, getting representation, managing your budget and more. And including the workshop that this blog post is about – how to focus your career.

The thing is most actors, when asked “What do you want to do?”, simply say, “I just want to act.” If pushed, they might say, “I want to act in film and TV.” But that is just not specific enough. There are around so many different kinds of jobs you can do as acting talent in Hollywood. For example, feature films, TV shows, voice overs, games how hosting, web series, theater, improv shows, commercials and such.

You cannot work with generalities, you need to get specific.
If you have a specific goal, you can then reverse engineer and create an action plan for that goal.

So to get specific, answer the question, “Why did I move to Los Angeles? What am I here to pursue?” Everything you do should be in moving you toward what you moved to Los Angeles for.

So now you might say, “Okay then. I want to do TV shows.”

But that’s also not specific enough. What kind of TV? Day time dramas? 30 minute comedies? 1 hour dramas? Cable or network Television or Over-the-Top (like Netflix, Amazon etc.)?

You don’t have time to pursue all the different kinds of TV shows out there either. You still need to focus and choose your top 3 types of TV shows you are going to actively pursue.

This does NOT mean that if your agent sends you out for an audition for a feature film or voiceover,  you are going to refuse. It just means that you are not going to ACTIVELY pursue the other acting job types.

By narrowing down your focus to 3 genres of acting, you then can create a workable, tangible action plan.

So let’s say that you chose the following 3 types of work – TV shows – 1 hour drama, TV shows – 30 min comedy single camera, Feature Films – Independent. Great, now you have specific goals to work toward.

Also note that you must also create realistic goals. For example, while it is possible for you to land that Under-5, small supporting role in big studio feature film, that is not your active pursuit in terms of getting a solid meaty role. Because chances are you are not going to get that role. So it’s better to focus on getting a solid meaty role in an independent or Ultra Low Budget feature.

Now on to creating even more focus within each of these 3 genres. Let us take 1-hour TV dramas to niche down further.

The thing is there are 120+ TV dramas that are casting, in-hiatus or shooting around the country. So we are still not targeted enough. We need to choose 5-10 TV dramas to focus on. How do you filter down to that?

Remember that, as an actor, your job is to maximize the number of times that you are considered by the decision makers of a TV show/movie for a role. It’s not about what shows your mom or friends are watching, it’s about what shows that you are a fit for given your type (ethnicity, physicality, personality etc.) and where you are in your career (i.e., you are not a name brand star yet).

So first, YOU THE ACTOR
Consider who you are and where you are in your career:

  • Your vibe:
    • blue collar (rural) or white collar (city)
    • more outgoing or reserved
    • more quiet or outspoken
  • Are you willing and able to work as a Local hire/ Modified local hire?
  • What type of credits do you have? For co-star level you should aim for LA productions.
  • Physical traits (skin, age range, height) – stuff about yourself that you just can’t control

Next, THE SHOW
Filter 1-hour drama shows by these factors:

  1. Go for long running shows (7th season or more or 100+ episodes): As a show continues to plow through season after season, it’s no longer the hot new thing. Bigger name actors have moved focus to other hot new shows. Friends of the producers and directors have already booked roles here and moved on. Your chances of being seen by the CD are much higher now. Shows like Hawaii 5-0, Grey’s Anatomy etc. all fall under this category.
  2. Go for shows that have more number of guest stars per episode – the more guest roles per episode, the better for you. Look at IMDB Pro for this info. Or better yet watch 2-3 episodes of the show and see how many guests there are. You will get an average for that show. Also if a show has a lot of series regulars, like Big Bang Theory (just an example, I know it’s not drama), then chances are they don’t have much room for guest stars. Generally speaking, procedurals like NCIS and CSI are great for guest roles.
  3. Go for network over cable – Network has more episodes (13-22) per season. Cable has less (say 6-8 typically). So network shows are better to pursue because more opportunities due to longer season.
  4. Look for series regulars who are NOT of your type – shows need diversity if series regulars are not diverse (all female, all white etc). They don’t want you looking too much like the series regulars, typically.
  5. City or Rural – aim for shows that fit your type.
  6. Aim for less popular shows – you don’t want to pursue a show that everyone else is also targeting. So NOT a show that’s super popular, like Scandal.

Hopefully by now, you’ve gotten down 10-12 shows that after applying filters above.

Next, get familiar with the names and faces of the key decision makers for each of these shows – the executive producers, directors, supervising producers, writers and casting directors (CDs). I know CDs don’t make hiring choices but they can still get you into consideration.

Ideally don’t go for Showrunners either because they are typically not involved with decisions regarding costars and guest stars hiring. Instead, focus on supervising producers, writers and directors. Get to know the faces and names of these people.

When you meet these people, don’t give your headshot and/or business card. Speak as one professional to another. Congratulate them about their work, don’t talk about you. But ask to stay in touch and followup. Focus on directors even if they don’t direct another episode of the show, they will most probably shoot something else in the same genre that you are a fit for.

Maintain an excel sheet of these decision makers and track your interactions with them. Or if you’ve never met them, possible places to meet them. Create google alerts for their name and see if any interesting news pops up. If it does, Tweet about this to them. Congratulate them with a postcard.

Networking authentically and getting on the radar of such decision makers is key. But it’s a whole dedicated post by itself.

And there’s a whole lot more to getting focused and related tips that was taught in the SAG Foundation workshop but to get those goodies, I recommend you join SAG-AFTRA 🙂

But at least now you have, hopefully a manageable list of 5-10 shows and related decision makers that you can then plan to get on the radar of. And that’s half the battle.

Because you have focus.

And focus leads to specific actions which in turn maximizes chances of success.

But not guarantee of success. If you want guarantee, buy a toaster.

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If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy my book about how to become a film and TV actor in Atlanta: Acting in Atlanta. Because Atlanta is an awesome place to start your acting career.

And you can always follow me on Twitter: @rafiqactor.

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