Omer Mughal is represented by Houghton Talent in Atlanta. More information can be found at his IMDB page, http://imdb.me/omermughal, and at his personal website, http://omermughal.com. He also runs an audition taping service: http://www.actorstapingactors.com
When did you decide you wanted to be an actor and was your family supportive?
I had no idea growing up that I wanted to do this specifically, but mid 2009 I made a decision to quit my corporate job and do something meaningful to me. I knew I wanted to do something artistic and creative. I never thought I could pursue this as a career unless you moved out West. But after college, I was working an office job for too long, and was burned out on the job. I went on Craigslist looking for gigs and I was trying to find something that was fun to do that might bring me back to life. I came across a post – Extras needed for a Zombie movie. I said I’m going to do it. A few days later, I got a call to audition. Turns out the movie was Zombieland. In hindsight, it wasn’t like a normal extra gig. I actually had to audition, not just submit a current photo. They gave me a breakdown of what they were looking for. With no expectations, no training, I gave it a shot.
A couple of days later, I got a phone call saying, “Hey, they want to book you. Are you still available?” Yes! And that was my first opportunity to get on a real film set. I went through two and a half hours of makeup and I worked for one day but I got to see how the business worked. That was my foot in – getting on a professional set. I gained an understanding of how the job worked. The bug bit me, and I decided to start taking classes right away.
Where did you start classes?
I started training at The Company Acting Studio mainly because they are the only nationally recognized acting school in the Southeast. They’ve been around the longest, they have a full curriculum, and I wanted the full training. I jumped in their level one class and audited a couple other places to learn. I also became a full-time extra. I quit my day job. I did that for about 8 to 10 months. I was just taking classes and I was working on set as much as I could as background. And then, I got a stand-in gig. I got asked to be a PA (Production Assistant), and then I got asked to work as a camera PA. So all these opportunities essentially came from just being on set and trying to work and learn as much as I could. That was my internship. I’m not making a lot of money, but I’m learning how this works, what the expectations are, what people want from you and what’s the job. Knowing your job and what the other jobs are, when to do your job and when to get out of the way so other people can do their jobs. Then I got an agent, started auditioning, and here we are.
You knew you weren’t happy in your corporate job but what made you think of acting? Have you done any acting at all in school or done anything related to this?
No. In middle school, I did a play and I was in chorus. I took a class in college. But I’m left-handed, I’m artistic and creative. I was looking for a job that was creative. There was a hole in my heart that I couldn’t fill with my current job. But you’ve got to make a living. You have to support yourself somehow. That’s why it’s tough to live as an actor, especially an untrained one! So I focused on training. I streamlined my expenses. I moved in with my sister and her husband. I was basically living rent-free for two years, and that allowed me to stay in class full time, learn as much as I can. Not having that burden of paying rent was a huge thing for me. I could focus on training without totally struggling, even though I was still waiting tables. And I still had to do that in between gigs for a few years, a couple nights a week, to supplement my income.
Your family overall has been supportive in this?
Oh yeah. I could not have done this without them. I think a lot of people don’t really understand how it works. It’s not the normal 9-5 job. But overall, yeah, my parents were cool with it. My parents were strict growing up – you need a normal regular job and blah blah blah, I did get a little bit of that. At the same time, I was trying to figure out who I am. I was doing whatever I was doing previously just to make other people happy. But you have to make yourself happy first before you can do that for other people. My sister obviously was supportive, letting me live with them when I was in a bind and I needed money. I couldn’t have stayed in class without them. I was always independent. I paid my way through college. So for me, it’s hard to ask because it’s just not something I do – borrow money for whatever reason.
What else do you do outside of acting right now?
I like working out, playing golf, eating, watching movies, and hanging out with friends and family. I am always up to try something new and fun.
What about staying positive? How do you handle rejection or the stress in trying to be in this business?
When dealing with constant rejection, you have to change the way you look at it. A lot of people approach the whole process of auditioning the wrong way. If you’ve worked in sales, that’s kind of the way that I approach it. I know it’s a numbers game, and if I go on 25 auditions I’ll probably book 1 out of 25, if I keep doing good, consistently better, work. You have to have a life outside of acting. This will allow you to do better work. Yoga or a good workout does it for me. Find something you enjoy and are good at. This will build confidence and keep you grounded as well. It’s a numbers game. I know that I’m probably not going to get this, but it’s one step closer to the one I will get. You do your homework and put in your best effort every time. And if you just go in there and not approach it as an audition, but approach it like you’re going to set to shoot, you need to be ready to shoot, right now.
That’s what they want to see. And that’s the level of professionalism that they expect. One of my friends will treat himself after every audition. He’ll buy a milkshake or beer, and that keeps him in a positive mind state. And there’s always another audition coming. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t book this one.
What do you think is most important in terms of marketing?
Actors Access, Casting Networks and other actor sites. They are your marketing materials. That’s how casting directors find you. If you already have an agent, that’s how they’re seeing you. So stay on top of it. Make sure your headshots and resume are current. I try to go in every month and tweak. Every time you book a job, go in and update. You have to keep that stuff current. I think Facebook and Twitter are great places to market. Social media is great for all that stuff right now. And even doing YouTube videos. People watch that stuff. If you ever shoot a short or skit, post it to your YouTube page. Share the link on social media.
You mean just create your own work and put it out there?
Absolutely. Anything you can do. There are so many people that are doing little videos on YouTube and they’ve been approached to do their own show. Most of them are just doing it for fun. You have to take action essentially. You can’t just wait around for things to happen.
What do you see the future of acting being in Atlanta? Do you think the opportunity for bigger roles and leading roles are going to eventually come to Atlanta?
Absolutely. I don’t see how it cannot. More and more productions are shooting here. There are big studios in the works right now. And they’re not small time things. They’re big deals like Pinewood that make the James Bond and Harry Potter franchise. I’m getting opportunities to read for bigger things every year I do this. And I’m assuming that it’s just going to continue to happen. It’s just the way the market is going. It’s young and new. We, as talent here, have to step up our game. It’s no longer I’m an actor on the side. It’s a full-time gig and there are people that are working full-time, booking work all the time. It’s because they’ve been in the market for 20 something years. They’re trustworthy, and have proven themselves. They can do the job. They can handle the work.
Are you planning any move right now out of Atlanta?
I don’t have any desire to move to LA or New York. I’m getting really great opportunities here. If I move, I will have to start over from square one. There’s still that stigma of Atlanta not being up to par with LA or New York but that’s not true. It’s just a bad generalization. One bad apple spoils the bunch. But now that wall is crumbling because people are doing the work. People are getting bigger opportunities, they’re meeting expectations. They’re doing what they’re trained to do.
Do you have representation outside Atlanta?
I don’t at the moment.
What would you give as advice to somebody starting on a career in Atlanta?
Take your training seriously. A lot of people think they can just wing it, because anyone technically can get in. But you’re not going to get the bigger jobs just winging it. I say get in class and learn the craft until you have a solid foundation of technique. And then you can continue to grow but you must get your basics right. The biggest mistake people make is just waiting for an audition. They’re not reading anything in between. They’re not working on anything in between. It’s your job to read. Pick up a newspaper, book, script, anything. You have to find a way to practice and get in the acting gym, work out those muscles.
What about investing in marketing material or not being willing to?
Some people overdo it. You must have patience and moderation. Don’t blast everyone everyday with your marketing stuff. Eventually you’ll just turn people off if you do that. For example, I have an actor friend who sends out a monthly or bi-monthly email. It’s not that often that I’m annoyed about it, and I want to read it because it’s an update about her. It’s not always about acting. But if she is sending that kind of email out every day or every other day or weekly even, it would be annoying. Once you start getting too much of that, then I start deleting it without even looking at it. I don’t even care what it is. Some people have a tendency to blast things on Facebook. I don’t know if that’s a mistake or not. There’s no rule to this game. Everyone takes a different path. Find your path, and have fun along the way. That’s what matters most.