I wish this article had been around when I was graduating. My first year out of school was the hardest year of my life. I quickly learned that my BFA meant nothing in LA. I had an edge for getting temp jobs because I had a degree, but that was about it. I got very lucky landing my agent. He just happened to have his BFA from University of Miami as well. Small world, right?
So what exactly is that degree worth?
This past weekend, I spent most of my free time enjoying an annual event we all know as spring cleaning. After dusting and shining and sweeping every inch of my townhouse, I started digging through the closets, making a list of what can stay and what must go. It was during this phase that I came across an 11-by-16 frame that held a document I haven’t seen in ages. Yes, I’m talking about my college degree. It’s a Bachelor of Fine Arts from a well-known film school on the East Coast. My major was cinema, which sounds much cooler than film, and I also minored in theater.
Beer in hand, I sat down and stared at this old friend. College was a long time ago. My mind drifted back to those years, and fond memories washed over me. I remembered my hunger to learn, my need to succeed against all odds. Even then, my young mind knew I had chosen a difficult business, one that’s hard to crack. That’s why I was in college. I also knew those four years would be crucial to my future success in the entertainment industry.
When graduation day arrived, I had a sense of entitlement that cannot be measured on any scale. My education was finally complete. I was ready to take Hollywood by storm.
It took me less than six months to realize I knew nothing.
I’ve been an agent now for more than 10 years, and during those years, I’ve met countless young actors, fresh out of school, who remind me of that time in my life. They’re all the same. After years of training and winning awards, they look like racehorses that can’t find jockeys to ride them. I always try to explain that the business of acting is about taking two steps back before you can take one forward, but they never listen. And I totally get that. I didn’t listen back then either. That’s the folly of youth. You think you know everything.
An actor’s first year out of school is always the hardest. That’s the time you first encounter indifference. Soon after that, you meet rejection. How can this be? Surely, all those teachers who praised your talent couldn’t be wrong. The ones who are wrong are all those stupid agents and managers who are too ignorant to know a good thing when they see it.
As that first year slips away, your confusion will only grow as actors less skilled than you start to catch a break. How can that hot young blonde with almost no training land such a great agent when you continue to walk the streets unrepresented? And now she’s testing for a network pilot when you can’t even get seen for a few lines on a sitcom. This doesn’t make any sense. You graduated from Yale!
Reality checks are hard to cash, aren’t they?
It took me a long time to understand that my fancy college degree wasn’t going to open any doors. All those years of studying and paying tuition bills got me a job as an assistant answering someone’s phone. The only reason I succeeded was because I learned to find my own way, knowing that everything I was taught in college would pay off when the time was right. Trust me. A good education is never a waste of time. It’s just one of many tools you’ll need to survive in this industry.
Here’s what all young actors must understand: Graduating from a respected program (or taking classes here and there) doesn’t entitle you to work. It entitles you to pursue work, but that’s about it.
Accepting this simple little fact will make your first few years in the business much easier. It will also save you a fortune in therapy bills.