There is a reason that “It’s who you know” has always been a common cliché in Hollywood. Quite frankly, to me, I’ve found in my life that the concept of nepotism or closely well-placed friends in high places applies to every industry in the world. That said, the business of acting, may be the most unique when it comes to both family, friends and intelligent networking. The evolution of technology has been all the rage for over two decades now, so I’m not exactly breaking ground with this subject, but I do feel that we, the actors, do need to be reminded sometimes how valuable human connection is per a great deal of intangible career opportunities.
First, whether you’re old enough or not, let’s go back to around ‘03 or ’04 or so. I honestly stood before members of The Actors’ Network on multiple occasions while presenting my monthly “Topical Discussions” and began to express the dangers of the digital firewall. Now here we are, 20 years later, and I’m coming out of participating in the most unique, seminal and historical contract negotiation in SAG-AFTRA history, of which a great deal, was predicated on the abuse of digitally-produced auditions aka Self-Taping. I’m one of those hybrid actors who absolutely LOVED being in the room for my auditions, and yet so very much appreciate the flexibility not having to “book-out” provides with the advent of digital simplicity.
However, digital technology, just like any other techno advancement in human history, comes with its upside and often times unanticipated downsides. Within the business of acting, in my opinion, over the last 20 years, if we surveyed active auditioning and working actors, I think the upside would win maybe 70 to 30. If the survey was limited to “newer actors,” between the ages of 18-25 globally, that might even go up to say 85 to 15. Oddly, at this moment in time, 2024, we may finally have enough data, enough frustration, and enough lack of career movement for actors worldwide to realize…this is a people business. You HAVE TO MEET people. Yes, there is tremendous value to the digital world we live in, no question, and just the amount of paper we no longer have to print in show business, or headshot printing etc. and still I feel there is a heavy consequence we’ve been paying for a couple of decades when it comes to truly “knowing” how to network and engage!
What we now have is a digital firewall between us and them. The “them” are the people that we need to know and who are considering us on a daily basis. The tragic and ugly paradox is this idea of doing digital networking. We view this in many ways as just social media, but I am purposefully splitting THAT hair for a very good reason. For actors who are not fortunate enough to be born with stunning looks, nepotism, or who didn’t happen to land a top representative quickly and “hit it” quickly, this is your fate. The fate of having to hope through electronic submissions you can find a really good representative who actually creates legitimate actor activity for you that is consistent enough to be working and building a career. When that doesn’t necessarily work, we default to self-submitting electronically in hopes that “our look” will be enough to get enough auditions to then book enough jobs to begin building a career. This is a serious conundrum.
As per usual with me and my articles, I’m all about telling you, the WHY, of my purpose. We, the general acting community at large, view far too much of this business as PERSONAL REJECTION when it is not. But we are human, and it is quite normal to feel rejected after a submission that fails to receive a response. Therefore, in ways, we’ve assisted in creating our own digital frustration and lack of knowing people. The very firewall that the internet has given us to lessen that direct emotional feeling from an in-person audition has now also created an accepted environment of almost zero human contact in the acting profession. Just stop for a quick moment and let that sink in. Yes, who you know matters, but as I coined back in 1991, “It’s who knows YOU.”
The Internet is truly one of the greatest tools ever created by human kind, but as many of us have discovered over the last 24 years and certainly through the COVID pandemic, it does not replace human interaction, no matter how little human engagement you seek or need.
Now, let us consider our profession, and the real business of acting: We are human products – bought ‘n sold – like it or not. While we certainly want our talent and skill set to be a key part in hiring, any agent, manager, casting director, producer, director, executive or showrunner will tell you that talent isn’t everything. Sadly, and far too often, it is not EVEN “the thing” that gets someone hired. Simply put, there is a lot of subjectivity and intangibility to working as an actor beyond your craft and talent. Ironically, it is the in-between space of engagement in person where a lot of what makes you unique as a person can have the greatest power over someone in a position to represent you, audition you or ultimately hire you…but that cannot be SEEN nor FELT fully in a picture, a slate, or a demo reel.
Your personal vibe, aura, essence or as I like to call it, “the way you idle”, is so very individual and is of paramount value to your acting career when you’re meeting people in person in the acting business, regardless of where, how or why you’re meeting them. If you’ve had a headshot for at least three years, and you’re still trying to “start working” or you’ve been working for some year, but you do not seem to be moving upwards, I would encourage you to do everything you can to put yourself in a position to meet more people face-to-face. The word “trust” has its obvious value in life, but in global Hollywood, it has more meaning than you may realize as we don’t tend to think about working from the “other side of the desk.” So, STOP and pretend you are them and now insert the word, “trust.” Imagine how crucial having a “sense of you” can be, per professionalism, the way you are just being you, and how important that may be to them per the chemistry of their film set, or how disruptive it could be when around three to four days of an eight-day television week. No, you don’t have to talk with or engage with other professionals for hours or days, only for minutes, and as I’ve said for three-plus decades, to me, it’s worth more than 100 unrequested and blind electronic submissions.
At some point, in the future, I will write a piece about “how to” truly WIN when networking as a non-star and non-working actor, but for now, this is my reminder that it truly matters. Watch interviews of stars, listen to podcasts with star actors and take note of all the little moments where they reference being “pals with so-and-so” or having met Person A at one moment in time, and then it turns into something positive on down the road. True, well-executed networking is the greatest and yet most under-utilized pursuit tool we have today. Why? Because we’ve become institutionalized by the digital–firewall addiction. Actors often say to me, when I work with them on truly pursuing their career, that there are no options and no “other way to do it.” Ahhh, I so disagree, as it’s just a matter of seeing the value and being willing to make the effort.
In conclusion, please keep in mind the quote that I wrote for myself decades ago about almost every element of like, including the acting business: “Just because something is possible – doesn’t make it a good idea.” Sure, the intelligent use and value of digital technology for your acting career is ABSOLUTELY a good idea. Any of us would be foolish not to utilize every ounce of what is available via the Internet. However, it doesn’t make it the ONLY good idea, and that is my point. This is a people business of trusted friends, and personal connections are still gold on any day, in any era, across global Hollywood. I’m always on your side. GO KICK BOOTY!
Kevin E. West is a veteran television actor with nearly 70 credits including guest starring on The Righteous Gemstones, Hawaii 5-0, Criminal Minds, Bones, Castle, CSI: Miami, Justified, Leverage, Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives, NCIS, Alias, CSI, and dozens more, as well as a former stand-up comic.
Kevin has been a national speaker since 1991 including: the WGA, SAG-AFTRA, UCLA, and A Date with Hollywood panel (Swedish Film Institute-Stockholm). As the Founder of The Actors’ Network, Kevin is an expert on the ‘business of show business.’ The Actors’ Network is the most endorsed actor’s business organization in the U.S., with consecutive BackStage West “Reader’s Choice” awards (06/07). Alums include Emmy Nominee Masi Oka (Heroes), Chelsey Crisp (Off The Boat), Chris Gorham (Ugly Betty), and Maggie Grace (Taken).
Kevin is considered by many to be the top educator for the Business of Acting. He created, the interview series ActorBizGuru, voted the #1 online educational resource by BackStage West and co-Authored the audio CD, The Actor’s Guide to GETTING THE JOB. You can read more of Kevin’s “The Acting Biz” columns here.