An Open Letter to Family Members of An Actor

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Photo Credit: Andy Smith via cc
Ben Whitehair is an actor, web designer, and an entrepreneur living in Los Angeles. Ben has starred in films that have premiered at film festivals all across the country. You can check out his reel, headshots, contact information, and embarrassing baby pictures on his website or connect with him on twitter @BenWhitehair
Dear (Concerned) Parent/Brother/Sister/Lover/Mistress/Stalker/Dog Walker of an Actor/Actress/Singer/Dancer/Ventriloquist/Artist:
So your son/daughter/sibling/pool boy/waiter has decided that they want to be an actor, or otherwise pursue a career in “the arts.”
I imagine you have either gone through, or will soon, a number of varying emotions.
At some point or another you will likely experience grief, excitement, jealousy, devastation, concern, sexual arousal (?), consternation, and dismay at the choice of said to actor to go down a career path where only a minute percentage of working professionals in the field make a living wage.
And to your credit, you’re right.
The choice to pursue a career in the arts is not altogether logical. As an artist, unless your mother is the head of a studio or you have a twitpic of Steven Spielberg in a compromising position, success is anything but certain.
But really, is that any different than any other industry? If you have a nephew who wants to be a doctor, you wouldn’t tell them not to try because it was going to be hard. And you wouldn’t ask them on their first day of undergrad if they’re a doctor yet.
You would, however, try to be encouraging and find ways to understand and connect with your nephew.

Homework for the concerned family of an actor

So, I have a homework assignment for you.
The goal here is to learn about how long it takes for actors (or other artists) to get to the point in their careers where you in Topeka know their name. For film and television, the easiest way to do this is through the website IMDb.
That actual task is to go to IMDb, type in your favorite actor’s name, and then look at the year of their first credit. Next, look at the year of the first credit you actually recognize. The time between those two dates will start to tell you how long it takes to build a career.
You also need to take into consideration that any given actor was probably around for a few years before they got their first credit.
To go even further, pay attention to how many years are between the first few credits on any actor’s resume as they were building their career.
As you do this–and please talk about your experiences with your actor–you will hopefully begin to get a firmer grasp on the industry. Your foundation of knowledge will increase, and if you’re like my Dad you will start to notice celebrities doing itty bitty roles in movies that were made decades before they were walking the red carpet.

Connecting with Your Artist

What actors need to remember is that when anyone asks any question, (normally) this person is just trying to connect with you, and watching TV is really all they know about the industry. The questions below, however, will generally lead to a more fruitful conversation.

Questions NOT to ask

  • Are you on a show yet?
  • Did you get an agent?
  • How’s pilot season going?
  • Did you join SAG (Equity)?
  • How many auditions did you have today?
  • What shows have you been on?
Armed with this knowledge, you are already better prepared to understand the life of an actor.
It turns out that many of the questions people often ask actors (see below), in general, will automatically put them on the defensive. Obviously, if you’ve been having an ongoing dialogue about the industry (yay!) and these are topics you are now discussing, that’s great. But especially when asking someone in the first few years of their career, these types of questions are a bit like asking someone who just got a job as a barista at Starbucks, if they’re the CEO of Starbucks yet.

Questions TO ask

  • Did you get that cheque I sent?
  • Are you working on any cool projects?
  • Have you had any interesting meetings recently?
  • Have you found any good artistic communities?
  • What’s the favorite thing you’ve done for your career in the past few weeks?
  • Do you read Playbills vs Paying Bills? It seems like an AMAZING blog.
  • Are you having FUN?
Hello there.
Thanks for making it all the way to the end of this here “letter,” I really appreciate it.
You clearly care about your fire juggler/tap dancer/performer if you’ve gotten this far, and hopefully the above will help you better understand and connect with them.
This article is reprinted with the kind permission of Playbills vs Paying Bills and Ben Whitehair.
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