Prepping for the Move
Let’s face it. Moving to a new city can be daunting, to say the least. If you’re an actor, moving from a small market like Chicago to THE market, Los Angeles, can feel like an impossible feat, and yet thousands of brave souls do it every year. So what’s the secret? How can we best prepare ourselves for a massive transition like this one?
I want to be careful with this post. There’s a fine line between being a slactor (mad props to Bonnie Gillespie for coining that term) and an obsessive compulsive worrier. Sitting on our butts won’t get us anywhere, but searching for a color-by-number approach to tackling the business can feel restricting. So instead of dolling out advice, why don’t I just talk about what has worked for me so far? This is what I’ve done leading up to my big move that has gotten me where I am today, with only 10 days until I head out west. Feel free to pick and choose what may or may not work for you!
Before my move to Chicago, I was seriously considering moving straight to Los Angeles. After talking with several people and reading a few books, I decided Chicago was a better place for me to start. From the beginning, I thought I’d spend two to five years in Chicago before moving to LA. This allowed me enough time to build up my resume, take classes, and become SAG-AFTRA Eligible. I’ve been told becoming eligible is more difficult in Los Angeles, and some agents don’t even look at you if you aren’t eligible there; I’m very happy to say I became eligible in Chicago. Eligibility tells agents in LA that you are not in the union, but that you are ready and willing to join as soon as the right gig comes along (assuming you have the money to do so).
After a year in Chicago, I took a trip to Los Angeles to check things out. I took a workshop called Self Management for Actors with LA Casting Director Bonnie Gillespie in which I learned some fantastic tips on how to sharpen my target and work in the LA-biz. This was a great workshop that set the foundation for a lot of the tools I currently use, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t convinced I was ready for LA just yet. After another year and a half, I took another trip out west. This time, I took two Casting Director workshops and intentionally visited various neighborhoods to see if I could see myself living there. (Check out my post about this trip here!)
When I came back, I knew I was ready. I was so ready that I didn’t even want to come back at all! This was in January of 2016. At that time, I had 5 more months on my Chicago lease. I figured this was just enough time to get a few more credits on my resume and do some of that SMFA research Bonnie was talking about back in my first LA trip. I knew I wanted any work in these last few Chicago months to really sharpen my brand, and so I took it upon myself to write two short films. I cast myself in these two projects, and they let buyers in on who I am and what my brand is.
I’d say the most overwhelming part of my preparation has been the pursuit of an agent. In Chicago, there are roughly 20 reputable agents. In LA, there are hundreds. It’s just a completely different ballgame. You simply cannot send out a mailing to every single agent in LA, and even if you could, why waste your time? Instead, I chose to do some major research and narrow my list down to about 15. In the months leading up to my move, I spent hours doing this research. I made a list of TV shows I could see myself on based on my brand. Using iMDBPro and CastingAbout, I took a look at the last couple of seasons from my target shows. I focused on Day Players (these roles usually don’t have a name, but rather a role, like “Judge” or “Neighbor.”) In doing this, I ensured I was only focusing on agents that work with actors who are in the same tier as myself. I would be wasting my time competing with actors who are booking Series Regular roles on shows. I’m just not there yet. The best part about this research is that over time, I began to see the names of agencies repeating over and over. This meant I was doing my research the right way! I compiled a list of agencies I ended up seeing several times over the several shows on my target list.
From there, I wrote postcards with my head shot on them to my target agents and sent them out at the beginning of May. This wasn’t too complicated. I simply let them know I will be moving in a few weeks and can’t wait to submit to them once I’m there. This is a great way to get your face in front of target agents for the first time. Think of it like a billboard. When you drive by a McDonald’s billboard on the highway, the odds of you pulling off at the next stop to get a Big Mac are extremely slim, but the image of a Big Mac is now in your head.
After my move, I will send out personalized cover letters with my head shot and resume to my target agents. Because of the postcards I’ve already submitted, this will be the second time they’ve seen my face (hopefully).
As Chicago actor and coach, Janelle Snow, says “How has your prep served you?” I am hoping my prep these past few months has served me well, but only time will tell!