Jyn Hall is a SAG-e, Atlanta-based actress signed with People Store talent agency. www.jynhall.com. She is also a writer and producer, and has her own educational webseries, The Dinner Project, which guest stars casting directors from all over the Southeast. www.thedinnerprojectshow.com.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor and how did you get started?
I started acting on stage when I was 6-years-old. My mom always knew that I was going to be an actor. When I was in high school, I took a career class — the test came up that I should be an entertainer. My mom said, “See, I told you, you’ll be great.” I don’t know if it was the combination of just being a rebellious teenager and not wanting adults telling me this is what I was going to do. Or, at 16, most kids think they know everything. I thought, “A career in acting — that’s not conducive to a family lifestyle.” I really wish I’d listened to my mom. There, mom, I said it. I didn’t know really what I wanted to do — I had so many passions and interests — but I didn’t pursue acting. In college, I started as a Psych major and ended with a degree in Elementary Education. I thought I might teach, possibly all over the world. I went back for a Masters in English Lit and Drama, when I realized I was pursuing a career I didn’t want. So I entered the business world. And then I just really missed acting.
When I moved to Atlanta in ‘97, I started acting in community theatre — just as a hobby — never even considering it as a viable career option. But it just kind of snowballed. I was asked to audition for more theatre and an improv troupe, and then I did the Unifieds in Atlanta. From the Unifieds, I was contacted by 13 theatre companies, and one of them was The Academy Theatre. The Academy Theatre was the oldest professional theatre company in Atlanta and founded/directed by Frank Wittow, considered by most to be the Grandfather of theatre in Atlanta. It’s my understanding that The Woodruff Arts Center and 14th Street Playhouse was built for him and The Academy Theatre. I accepted a position as one of the four actors in a traveling troupe performing social issue-based plays to elementary schools/high schools throughout the Southeast. We had six plays covering different things like bullying, teen pregnancy, issues like that.
Before and after The Academy Theatre, I started studying all over Atlanta. I’d figured out this really was what I wanted to do for a career, as crazy as it was. I was engaged at the time to my now-husband, Steve, and he knew that’s where I was headed. I didn’t want to work in a cubicle anymore. Right before The Academy Theatre hired me, I decided I’m quitting everything. I’m doing this full time. I haven’t looked back since.
Are you originally from Atlanta? Where were you brought up?
I was born in San Diego but lived all over the west coast, in California and Oregon, and moved to Atlanta in ’97.
You’d done some theatre in school? What gave you the confidence to go for the Unifieds?
I did do theatre all throughout my school years and was on a sketch team in college. The Unifieds was a scary set up. At that point, I was still only doing theatre and hadn’t branched over to on-camera work yet. A lot of my friends were participating in the Unifieds and said this is a great thing, you have to do it.
The Unifieds is where all the theatre companies come and audition talent in one location?
Yes. They divide you into union and non-union actors. When it’s your turn to perform — in front of about 50 Atlanta area and regional theatre companies — you have two minutes to do two contrasting monologues. And sing 16 bars of a song, if you want. And I think I remember bringing a ton of headshots too so every company gets a headshot package.
Did you have to sing also?
If you want to. Oddly enough, I can’t remember if I chose to sing or not. It was a while ago…Probably not. I was nervous enough as it was for my first time.
When you decided that you were going to go into this full time, what kind of jobs were you working on at the time?
Before acting, I was working 60-80 hours a week at a leadership development company. I was so burned out. I didn’t want to be in a cubicle anymore and under florescent lighting. I felt the life was being sucked out of me. I was in my early 20s and I was dying. I couldn’t do it anymore. I remember one time, it was 2 am in the morning and I was the only one in the building. I kept hearing a noise in the conference room. I thought, “I can’t just sit here scared all night — I’m going to confront whatever it is.” So I took a pair of scissors to defend myself and walked into the room. And of course it was nothing. But it was a turning point for me. I was done. I was done working 60-80 hours a week at a job that I disliked, with a boss that kept responding to my request to hire an assistant to help with my workload with: “Work smarter, not harder.” I’d wanted to leave the company and pursue an acting career full-time, but I was scared to take the leap. This deserted conference room night was the kickoff, the lift that I needed to do it. So I put in my two-week notice. After I left the company, they hired 13 people to replace me…
Eventually I joined The Academy Theatre, which was a full-time job rehearsing and then traveling. After my year with The Academy Theatre, I didn’t want to travel because I was a newlywed. I continued to pursue acting full-time. But it takes a while to build up momentum and I didn’t realize that at first. I think I just thought I’m going to head out and it’s all going to happen the way that it should. I felt that this was what I was really supposed to do.
I just didn’t realize how long the process would take. In fact, it took me three years to get in with People Store! I kept submitting to top agencies in Atlanta and I kept getting their rejection postcards (or silence) –“Thank you so much, we have too many of your type, keep checking back in.” So I did. I was persistent. I kept checking back in. And finally, after about three years, I got an audition with People Store and got in with them. So then I thought, “This is it, my career is finally taking off.” I didn’t realize that it takes a while for you to get to know your agent, your agent to get to know you, and keep submitting you and then the casting directors have to get to know you and want to call you in.
I started temping. Most actors in Atlanta have a part-time job, but temping wasn’t it for me because you’re expected to commit to job for a day or a week or so. But in our industry, we have to be able to drop things at a moment’s notice to go to an audition. I needed to find a flexible, part-time job.
Your husband, or your fiancé at the time, was supportive of your decision to go do this full time?
He was. And if he wasn’t, we probably wouldn’t have gotten married. He’s the one who puts me on tape now that we do self-taped auditions. And he takes up the slack with family, our slightly needy rescue dog, friends, etc. when I have to be at a rehearsal or I’m on a 16-hour shoot.
Although, even after knowing him for about 14 years, as a businessman, sometimes he still doesn’t understand how we in the industry can still be so underpaid. I don’t act for free anymore, even for a great project, but I still might act in an ultra low project. And now that I’m also producing, there was a lot I did for free. I’ve gotten to the point where I need to draw some lines, but then another friend approaches me about a project and I think, “Ok, this will be the last freebie.” I really do need to draw better lines.
Regarding getting a good agent, basically its persistence that really paid off?
For me it did. It is interesting, as far as submitting to agents. For some people it may be easy for them to get an agent. Some people, it may not be. It’s important to understand how to submit. Some new actors ask me if they can just drop by an agency. No, that’s not how it works. Follow the agency’s instructions. It used to be you mail in your headshots, many now accept submissions via their website or via a certain email. And then they’ll eventually, hopefully, call you in to audition.
My agency, People Store, was very good about sending out rejection postcards. With other agencies, for me, it was crickets. I appreciated that about my agency. And I actually saved those rejection postcards. I taped one to my wall to motivate me. “I hear your rejection, but I refuse to accept that as the final word.” Because I’m one of those people, and I have lots of stories, that if someone tells me “no,” or “not now,” and it feels like they’re discouraging me — there’s part of your soul that gets discouraged — but usually I try to get past it — to prove that I can do something in spite of the odds. I decided, a little bit ironically, that I’m going to overcome this. And People Store was the only agency I got a rejection postcard from, so they’re the agency I want to get into. And I finally did. Persistence did pay off.
Every no we get in this industry — it’s not a rejection of us. That’s an important concept to understand. It’s not a rejection of me personally. It’s more about maybe this isn’t the time or this isn’t the agency or this isn’t the role for you. It’s not a rejection of us. And I think when actors get burned out and quit, it’s when — this is probably one of the industries where we get the most no’s — we just have to realize that it’s not a rejection of us.
Did you do any more training after you decided to get into this full-time?
I’ve taken a lot of classes in Atlanta. Atlanta doesn’t have, unfortunately, what LA has in classes, but I have tried to take advantage of what classes there are. There are positives and negatives about a lot of classes in Atlanta. One of the dangers in Atlanta is that actors can pop around to workshops, like a day workshop or a weekend workshop and think that they’re studying when that’s more repeating of knowledge or meeting people. It’s important for people to get in and almost always be studying somewhere. I’ve been taking a study break lately for time and financial reasons. I am looking for my next serious class; I’m not sure where that will be yet.
You mentioned something about it not being like what’s available in LA. What are we lacking?
There’s a bit of discontent here in Atlanta with what we can study under and whom. We have some teachers who are no longer acting and that maybe puts them a little out of touch in an industry that is rapidly changing. There are more people moving from LA — teachers that look at Atlanta as this place that’s ripe for growth. Or people coming that say that they’re from LA but they don’t really have a big resume either teaching or acting. That’s a little scary to me. So actors just need to do research before getting into a class.
Do you do anything else outside of acting for extra income?
At this point, I am fortunate that I do not have another non-industry job. After I traveled with The Academy Theatre, I was hustling with low-paying industry jobs and promotional modeling. But after we were married for a couple years, my husband said, “I support your acting, but what do you think about a flexible, part-time job?” So I looked for a long time for the perfect part-time job. And again, I tried temp work, but again, it wasn’t flexible. I finally landed on this personal assistant job where I worked 20-25 hours a week. They were pretty understanding about auditions. This was around 2004/2005. I worked there for about five years. At that time, actors were still going in person to all of our auditions — before self-taping. As the industry started to pick up — which is phenomenal and I really hope that this growth keeps happening — even my part-time job was too difficult to manage with so many auditions. So I left that job around 2009.
Since then, I have not had a non-industry job, but I have expanded to casting, writing, and producing too. A couple years ago I optioned a non-fiction book written by a U.S. prosecutor. I spent almost a year writing and rewriting my screenplay. It was a huge creative outlet and I loved pouring everything I had into it. My first screenplay was a finalist in the Oscar-qualifying Atlanta Film Festival screenplay competition!
If I ever end up making it, I’ll probably shoot it in Morocco. I have a couple friends in the industry there and it would be the perfect place to shoot it. I’m also open to selling it. I had my first pitch meeting in L.A. with a major production company. I’m not going to name them but you would totally recognize the production company. It was a good meeting. The screenplay is very political and because of the scary international political climate, I’m letting the screenplay rest for now. I backed off of that, but it was such a fantastic creative endeavor.
And you’ve done some casting too?
Yes. I sort of fell into that because being in the industry for so long, you meet people and filmmaker friends ask, “Hey, do you know an actor like this, do you know an actor like that?” Absolutely. I love networking and connecting people. And now I get paid to cast industrials, short films, and independent films.
Then there’s the producing. That all started a few years ago with a fellow actress friend, Elisabeth Andre, who was an incredible go-getter. She started Off Off Peachtree Theatre. She and I would have long talks about how I was thinking about getting production experience too. Maybe something with a little more creative control than most actresses are afforded. She talked to me about directing and producing film. Now I’d directed stage plays, but not films. And at the time, I’m not sure if I was too nervous or too busy — or a combo of both — to take the jump.
But Elisabeth kept encouraging me. Tragically, she ended up with cancer that eventually took her life, way too young. But before she died, I was over at her house and she said, “Jyn, I really think you should start producing. I’m going to connect you with a friend of mine. We’re working on a project together.” A couple of weeks later, she passed away, and I didn’t really think about that part of the conversation anymore.
Then a few months later, her friend contacted me and said, “Elisabeth said that I should contact you about being the producer for this short film. Do you want to go to lunch?“ So we went to lunch. I told him that I was “very interested, but I have to be honest with you, I don’t know a thing about producing.” He said that was okay — that he’d walk me through it. And he did. So Elisabeth, from beyond the grave, gave me that boost that I needed — someone to empower me, to believe in me for half a second that I could do it.
After that, I started producing with writer/director Vandon Gibbs. I’ve produced a few projects with him, including the award-winning feature film ‘Solace,” which was an incredible experience. Working with Van greatly increased my confidence. Now I produce my own educational web series called “The Dinner Project.” [http://www.thedinnerprojectshow.com] We interview Southeast casting directors about the industry. It’s a great little show. I am also a contract producer working for Amber Sky Records producing music videos and I love, love, love it.
Doing all this keeps you sharp. And just seeing things from different perspectives, does it make you a better actor too in the long run?
Yes, absolutely. It would be fantastic if every actor could be a casting director at least once. Actors tend to get really down on themselves about not booking an audition. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard friends say, “I felt like I did such a great audition, why didn’t I book it? Aren’t I good enough?” And it goes back to what I said about the rejection of a booking not being a rejection of you as a person.
One of the things I learned in the early stages of casting when I brought in talented friends and acquaintances — I know them and their work, and I know I could cast any of them without an audition and the director would’ve been happy. But how well do people work for this project — how do they fit together as a family, as a couple? I was bringing in all these people who I felt would be right for the part, and are truly great people to work with, responsible actors and work on their craft and show up on time. But there’s only one person per role that’s going to be cast and you look at all these people that could be cast. And again it’s not a rejection of them. It’s just how they fit the role, who is the best for the role. And so getting to see that and even having some of my friends ask, “Why didn’t you cast me?” We could’ve cast any of them and it would’ve been a good project, and a different project. It helps me as an actor to let it go just a little bit more when I don’t book a job. I think most actors understand that in their heads, but not in their hearts.
What else do you do outside of the industry itself just to keep your sanity?
I love to read. It’s one of the ways that I calm down or let the world go. I read about 50-100 books/year. I also love, of course, seeing movies and theatre. And I’m a big outdoors person. I love white water rafting, horseback riding, hiking, scuba diving, traveling.
What do you do for marketing and networking?
That’s such a big undertaking. The industry is changing so much. Sometimes, my friends and I talk about how it’s harder and easier to be an actor in these times. And one of the harder things is we’re not just actors anymore. We are actors, but we are also our own PR and social media managers, our own audition tapers, our own managers, sometimes our own agents. There’s just so much to keep up with in this digital age with everything changing. So many casting websites we have to pay for and continually update. I have to say, I’m not as good with marketing as I would like to be. But who has the time?
I originally got on Facebook for two reasons. First, to keep up with some young friends in Morocco who didn’t email. And the other reason was everyone at that time — 2008 — was pressuring me that you have to get on Facebook to do your marketing, for acting. And so I did. But I don’t know how effective social media really is for that. I can say maybe I’ve gotten two jobs from things that I’ve posted. I don’t have a fan page, just my personal page. I try not to be too crazy about posting industry stuff or too obnoxious about multi-posting about one job, if that makes sense. I feel other actors don’t want to hear about auditions and callbacks, etc. — that looks desperate — we all have auditions and callbacks. Why post those? And then, you have casting directors, like one in town I know of that never ever wants you to post about any job that you’re on that you book through her. In fact, she’s said that if she ever sees you post anything about any job that she casts you for, she will never bring you back in again. So we have to manage our social media carefully. And then there are other things, like being on set and taking selfies or photos with famous actors. That’s a huge topic actors are discussing now because what we’ve heard from bicoastal actors is that it makes Atlanta actors look green— it makes us look unprofessional.
On the other hand, you have most of the Atlanta actors doing that. I personally don’t. I have one picture of me with a producer and Burt Reynolds but that was at a read-through that included a meet-and-greet and Mr. Reynolds was encouraging us to take photos with him. That’s the only photo I have of me with someone famous – who’s not already a friend — because I’m not the type to go on set and start snapping away on my iPhone. I don’t want to come off as green and unprofessional. But it comes at a price, because I do miss having photos of me with all the famous people I’ve been on set with. But there are respected Atlanta actors much farther along in their career than I, booking more, at a different level and some of them still do it, so…
Back to marketing, part of that is a relationship with your agent. People Store says to feel free to check in once a week. I don’t check in that frequently, but if it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve had an audition, I will check in and see what projects might have a role for me. Or I send them a copy of recent work that they haven’t seen yet. One friend suggested — and I’ve done it a couple times — to take the types that you frequently book and ask if there are any of those roles in breakdowns – like: “Are there any mom, teacher, nurse roles this week?” Sometimes that’s gotten me an immediate audition and other times they say no, but they’ve been submitting me and I’m on their minds. Which is still nice to hear. Did I mention I love my agents?
Do you go to any events around town?
Yeah, I do try to go to industry events. There’s not one that I attend regularly. But I do try to sometimes hit GPP [Georgia Production Partnership]; WIFTA [Women in Film & Television]; Film Bar Mondays; Eat, Drink, and Be Indie; ATLFF events. If my agency has a mixer, I’ll definitely attend that and I try to see plays too, as well as local film screenings. I like to be around and be involved. I enjoy networking on both sides of the camera and I feel that in an industry where it’s so hard to stand out, relationships are paramount. Sometimes just being present in the community and building relationships is what eventually works.
Which reminds me — back to social media — one of my friends says that on Twitter, for every tweet you tweet about yourself, you should tweet three or four about other people and give them shout outs. Another actress friend, Samantha Worthen — in Banshee — she’s great at this. She shouts out and celebrates people all the time. I learned from her and I try to do that. If I see a friend on a TV show or in a film, I will post on Facebook, maybe even take a screenshot, “Hey, I saw you, great job.” I always try to shout out people in the community because I think trying to promote yourself on social media can be a tricky thing because you don’t want to come off as too braggy but you also don’t want to come off as fake humble. If you praise other people and draw positive attention to them, celebrating other people’s successes, it’s a huge thing. I posted a meme recently about there being enough success for all of us to go around. I really believe that. And so I try to celebrate other people as much as possible. I find when I do that, people also shout me out and celebrate me. It’s that whole “A rising tide lifts all the boats” — which is The Dinner Project’s motto — and it’s the same thing that you’re doing with this e-book. We’re all trying to contribute to this rising tide in Georgia, so we appear more professional and projects will cast bigger roles in Atlanta because we’re rising to a higher level.
What do you see the future of acting being in Atlanta?
I hear actors who’ve been in the biz in Georgia longer than I have talk about “In the Heat of the Night” and about how there were a few great things being filmed here and everyone was very positive about it. But then it just kind of dried up for a long time. I’ve heard there are a couple reasons for that. But I just hope lessons were learned and that all the work is here to stay. I’m grateful for the people who were very active in campaigning for more projects to come here and campaigning for the tax incentives. I joined many industry people in the march on the Capitol when a senator was trying to remove our new tax incentives. We all need to be active and proactive about keeping projects here. I hope that this isn’t some kind of flash in the pan thing. It’s been going great for several years and it keeps growing, so that does make me hopeful. It’s not just one or two TV shows here. There’s a lot of TV and film and they keep building new studios all over town.
You don’t anticipate a move out of Atlanta any time soon for yourself?
I don’t, and if I do move, it will not be for acting. Steve and I, in the back of our minds, we always talk about moving back to San Diego to be near my family and the ocean. Also, Steve and I thought very seriously about moving to Morocco last year. We both had job offers. And if I did that, it’s possible I could get my film made there. My screenplay is set in Saudi Arabia, but I’d never be allowed to film there. Morocco’s a good stand in for KSA. But Steve got a great new job in Atlanta at the same time I started producing for Amber Sky Records. And again, with the political climate and everything, I don’t think I’m going to make that film in the near future. But every once in a while, we do think we could pick up and move anywhere. Where do you want to live? Anywhere in the world. The sky’s the limit for creative people.
What do you wish someone had told you at the beginning of your career?
People don’t really talk about how hard an acting career is, but you can’t really know how hard it is until you get in. I’m not sure I wish I’d known that because maybe I would have never pursued acting.
People get very emotional talking about following their dreams. I was like that in the beginning. But this industry is less about dreams and, like other industries, is about hard work. And it’s less about the actual craft and acting and mostly about the business side. That’s another thing I wished I’d known. Or maybe not. Maybe I wouldn’t be here doing this interview about acting, if I’d known that actual acting is about 1% of being in the business. It’s definitely a journey, not a destination. In most other industries, the way that you move is up – up to the next level, to the next position, to the next title. It’s not always that way in acting. There might be different stages, different levels, but I feel that with so many hurdles, when you hit a hurdle, you feel like this is it, now my career is going to take off. But there are always more hurdles. My first hurdle was getting an agent. But then I soon realized I wanted a top agent –another hurdle I spent three years getting over. When I finally got in with one of Atlanta’s best agency, I thought, “My career’s going to take off!” But then it took about a year to even get casting directors to see me. And when they did see me, another year or so for them to trust me and ask for me. It’s a much longer process than I ever expected. Now I know there are some actors who are young enough, unique enough, and gorgeous enough that they just ride that shooting star up. But that’s just not normal. For the most of us, that’s not reality. It’s much more of a daily grind and bettering ourselves and our craft. I wish I would’ve known that. Because after I booked my first TV show, after I booked my first movie, even earlier after I booked my first industrial, commercial and voice-over before movies and TV shows. After each one I thought, “This is it. It’s all up from here.” But it doesn’t always work that way — for some it does — for me and others, we can book a great role in a great show and then…crickets. It’s just not a straight up trajectory and I wish I had understood that in the beginning so maybe I’d experienced a little less discouragement.
I wish I would’ve known in the beginning what I know now about how it’s not a rejection of me. I wish I could’ve understood that concept at the very beginning. But I think no matter how you say that to people without being in the industry, they won’t understand it. It’s a tough concept to get.
My first piece of advice to people who want to pursue acting used to be: Get in a great acting class. Now my first piece of advice to people is: If there is anything else that you are passionate about in life, pursue that first. Because you will probably be happier doing that and probably be more successful. If there’s nothing else — you still come back to acting, then that’s when you pursue it. When I say this now, people look at me like I’m jaded or cynical. No, I’m not jaded. I’m just being realistic. If there’s anything else you’re passionate about, do that. But if you still want — need — to act, then jump in and give it your all, but be ready for a tough ride. If being a storyteller — and that’s what acting is, storytelling — is where you will find your passion and your creativity, then pursue it wholeheartedly.