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The business of show business

It's called show business "Business!" I hear you exclaim. That's a corporate word, one they use on The Apprentice, along with project manager and strategy! I'm a creative, I don't understand or want to understand business! But don't stress yourself. Whether you realise it or not, you are already running your own business and the product being sold is you. Once you recognise this more clearly the easier it will be to make a success of it. In every day life, from the moment you get up in the morning (or afternoon!) till the moment you go to bed, you are conducting business; transacting, managing, corresponding, organising, planning. You are already conducting yourself as a business person would/should. As an actor, when preparing for a role you have a professional mindset. You read the brief, you plan, you investigate, analyse and see it through in a timely manner. It may help to explain what I mean by business and for the purposes of this discussion I will cover two distinct but connected points:

  • you as the product, and

  • the market in which you operate

You may not like it but you are a product. You are something which people will choose to buy or not, one which someone else is also responsible for selling (your agent), one which, if useful and practical enough, will initiate repeat business (more work). You have to ensure that your product is as easy to buy as possible, is up-to-date and up to scratch. So, you need an online presence - a website, membership of Spotlight and other professional sites - so your customers can find you. You need to train and improve your skill set. If someone needs to buy a device to write scripts it is more likely they will buy a new computer rather than an old typewriter. When the purchase is made everything should be in the box. It should be ready to go without having the need to spend days or weeks learning how to use it. Likewise, if they are casting for a lawyer embroiled in a banking corruption case and that is your type, then you need to have a suit, a suitable haircut and a knowledge of the language used by lawyers, preferably in the banking arena (more fully covered in the previous blog onknowing your type). If you are selling a product you must know the market into which you are selling. Who is your customer, where do they conduct their business, what is their spending power etc etc? Knowing who you are, maximising the skills you have and ensuring they are readily available and advertised is essential but unless you know your industry and are up-to-date with trends and everything else that is going on then you are acting in a vacuum. Many actors wear it as a badge of honour that they do not watch TV. However, when you ask them what they want to do in their career they say work on TV. I'm sure you get the point without me having to go any further! If you don't know the style of a regular show you would like to be considered for it is very unlikely you will reach 2nd base let alone feel at ease on the set. If you haven't researched the main characters and the types of issues which arise then you are 10 steps behind. Know who casts for the type of projects you want to be involved with and target them. It may be of interest to send out mass mailings with the hope that some mud will stick, but if you choose 10 or so casting directors who cast for projects specific to your skills then it will be easier for you to develop a relationship with them through targeted and relevant contact. If you believe that the future of the industry will be computer-generated then study motion capture and find out which projects are in the pipeline and what skills you will need in order to be considered. You may even target agents who represent many of the actors already working in these specific sectors. If you want to work in film watch smaller indie movies to see which directors are up and coming. Buy the Hollywood Reporter and keep up-to-date with who is doing what. If you model yourself on a well known actor research how they got to where they are. The list is endless and should actually be motivational and fun! Like any business, you don't have to do it alone. Employ a coach to help you work out where you want to be, how you will get there and by when. Someone who will help you draw up a strategy, decide upon your target market, work out your marketing, your budget, contingency plans, trusted advisers, lists of people who can help, and work out your timeframe. You are a product and a project manager whether you like it or not. Your agent is there to help but that is in addition to what you must bring yourself. And don't forget that business is often about relationships as much as talent. Why do you buy your milk for 2p more from the guy who smiles and says hello? Be creative but easy to work with. You understand what professional means in your show so also work on it in your business.

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