So You Want My Job: Actor

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 19, 2009 · 18 comments

in Money & Career, So You Want My Job

eitanloewenstein

Once again we return to our So You Want My Job series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can live their dream.

Eitan Loewenstein is a professional actor who has been seen on “Ghost Whisperer,” “iCarly” and Lifetime’s “Final Justice” in addition to his commercial work for “Saturn,” “Las Vegas, “AT&T” and “Hertz” among others.  Eitan lives in Los Angeles, CA with his wife and daughter. You can become a fan of Eitan on his Facebook Page. All right. Lets get this shindig started. Quiet on the set. Annnnddd…. action!

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, ect).

My name is Eitan Loewenstein and I’ve lived in Los Angeles over half my life, but didn’t start getting into acting professionally until after I graduated from college.  Before that I’ve lived in Bethesda, MD, Sharon, MA, and very briefly Tel Aviv, Israel.  I am 28 years old, so that means I’ve been a professional actor for almost seven years.

2. Why did you want to become an actor? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I’ve been acting in some capacity (school plays, student films, shows friends asked me to be in) since I was in second grade but only during college did I decide I wanted to do this professionally.  When I first went away to college I wanted to be an engineer.  So for three years I studied electrical engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara.  In my third year I realized I really hated what I was doing.

The prospect of living in a cubicle for the next several decades sounded pretty unappealing, and I had stopped enjoying even learning about engineering.  The only thing I enjoyed was acting.  I had gotten involved in the school’s drama department as well as with some independent productions on campus.  Some days I’d have six hours of physical rehearsal but I never once complained.  It was then I decided I wanted to do this professionally and to stop being an engineer.  My parents threatened to shiv me if I changed majors or dropped out of college so I spent the last year of my education preparing to move to LA after graduation and finishing up my degree by taking the “Intro to…” course load.

3. Did anyone ever try to persuade you not to take up acting as a profession, to do something more practical instead?

Someone tries to talk me out of being a professional actor almost every day.  Even when I have a national commercial running someone asks, “So when are you going to get a real job?”  I thought it would end when I started making some money, but it didn’t.  Until you’re a regular on a TV show or starring in a major movie people assume you’re just doing this to get it out of your system.  Hopefully that level of success isn’t too far off for me; I’d hate to have to keep coming up with witty answers to these questions.

4. If a man wishes to become an actor, how should he best prepare? Do you recommend going to acting school or going to college and majoring in theater?

I hold a minority opinion that almost all acting classes are a waste of time.  In my years I’ve seen very few people improve from taking an acting class, and I’ve found almost nothing I’ve learned in a class to be applicable to the job of being a professional actor.  The only exception to this has been my improv classes.  I studied improvisation at The Groundlings, and it has been worth every penny.  I’m constantly asked to improvise lines or actions and classes can really help give you a structure to do that.

Acting classes where you read scenes and perform them in front of a super-critical teacher can be a gigantic waste of time.  Most of the teachers are failed actors or run their classes in a way that is completely dissimilar to any professional job as to be more harmful than helpful.   Teachers aren’t looking for your work to be good, only to be bad so they can critique it.  Casting directors and directors watch acting with the opposite view; they are looking for you to be good.  This is my personal opinion, and there are more people who disagree with me than agree.

But most people agree that to some extent acting can’t be taught.  You either have it or you don’t.  The best (possibly only) way to get better and to hone your natural acting talent is to perform.  Starting out that’s going to involve doing a lot of very bad theater and no-budget films.  Everyone does it and it’s the best way to learn.  You have to focus not only on making the show you’re doing good but also improving yourself.  Don’t pull out your hair about how unprofessional everyone else is, how the director doesn’t give you enough to do or how the scenery looks.  Only focus on improving your acting and doing an amazing job.

I know many actors who studied acting in college and personally I feel like it didn’t prepare them for the world of TV/Film acting.  My school’s theater department was focused on students leaving the school to get a Masters in Fine Arts in acting or going to work in regional theater.  There was very little encouragement to students leaving to work in TV/Film (even though Los Angeles was a mere 90 miles away).

5. So a man decides he wants to be an actor. What does he do next? Take some headshots? Move to LA? Get an agent (how do you get one, or do they get you)? How do you know when there is a casting call for something? In short, how to you go about breaking into the biz?

The first thing to do if someone decides to be an actor is to start acting.  I’m shocked at how many actors I meet in LA who’ve done almost no acting before deciding to be a professional.  No one would dare dribble a basketball a couple of times and decide they want to be in the NBA, yet with acting this is oddly common.   Do something.  If you live in Iowa, do some theater in Iowa.  It’s going to be terrible (probably) and no one’s going to come see it, but you have to keep working.  I did a sketch show at a dingy theater upstairs from an ice cream shop for an audience of two.  I did the work, got better and moved on.

Don’t even think about moving to LA unless you’re ready to compete with the big dogs.  To even get an audition you have to best thousands of people who look exactly like you, have more credits than you and have personal relationships with people in the industry.  When those opportunities come (and they do come, eventually) you have to be at the very top of your game.  You can’t explain to the casting director that you are new to town and that’s why you flubbed your audition.  They don’t care; they simply want someone who will be the best in the role they’re trying to fill.  If you can’t perform in an audition, they assume you can’t perform on set.

Agents are tough to crack.  The old adage of “you can’t get work without an agent and you can’t get an agent without doing any work” is true.  The solution is to spend some of your time trying to get an agent interested in you and some of your time trying to get work.  You’re probably best with a 25/75 split.  It’s easier to meet a casting director and get them to bring you in for an audition than to convince an agent to sign you.  An audition takes five minutes while agents spend hours a week per-client trying to get them work.

There are three ways to get an agent.  The worst is to mail out headshots/resumes to their offices.  They look at them but rarely call anyone in.  The agents that do call people in tend to be on the lower end of the pecking order.  The next best way is to meet the agent through a friend or business contact.  This is how I got my commercial agent.  A friend who worked at a manager’s office met this agent and suggested we meet.  I went in, charmed her and I’ve been working with her for the past four years.   The absolute best way to get an agent is to have them find you.  This is how the really big agencies get most of their clients.  Someone books a part on an independent movie and is generating some buzz, the agent gives them a call and they come in for a meeting.  This is far and away the hardest way of getting an agent but it does work, and it’s the only way to get signed by one of the top agencies.

A note about agencies for the newer folks: You should NEVER pay for an agent to represent you.  Agents take a percentage of earnings from work booked and THAT’S  IT!  A real agent will never require you to sign up for a specific class, go to a particular photographer or pay any sort of “management fee.”  These classes/photos are worthless and will in no way further your career.  If someone approaches you at a mall and says you (or your kid) are perfect for modeling or acting work take some time to Google their company name plus the word “scam.”  They’ll almost always pop up as scam artists trying to rip off the hopeful.

If you’re in Los Angeles or another major market there are various ways to access casting notices (called breakdowns).  There’s a wonderful service run by the same people who post notices for agents/managers eyes only called Actors Access.  This is where the best notices are posted.  It’s mostly full of low/no paying work but occasionally a TV show will need something very specific and open the notice up to the general acting population.  My yearly subscription to Actors Access is some of the best money I spend on my career.  There are only two other legit sites in Los Angeles (LA Casting and Now Casting) but their pickings are slim by comparison.

There are many sites on the web that claim to post notices for major TV shows/films.  If they’re not called “Actors Access” then they’re scams.  Those notices go out only on Actors Access or the agents/managers only version “Breakdown Express.”  Occasionally these sites will copy/paste the casting notices from Actors Access or Breakdown Express and charge people money to read them.  They tell the actors to mail in headshots to be considered for roles that were only going out to name actors anyway.  All but a very small number of submissions are now done online, so mailing in headshots to these companies for roles that may or may not exist is a merely a waste of time and money.

A casting director friend told me a story about this practice.  She had posted a notice for a lowish budget independent film and posted it on Actors Access.  She got submissions online, had auditions, the film was cast and shot.  Months later she received submissions from actors for this exact film.  She was confused as the film had already been shot.  Apparently one of these scam sites had taken her casting breakdown, changed the date the film was shooting and was charging actors to access it and giving them her mailing address.

6. What do actors do to supplement their income while they’re waiting for their big break? Do many give up after giving themselves a certain number of years to try it?

Actors do everything and anything to supplement their income.  Here’s a short list of some of the things I’ve done when I didn’t have much acting income:  Tutoring, part-time teaching, substitute teaching, making coffee at Starbucks, data entry, temp jobs, receptionist, telemarketing, sales, reading scripts and market research surveys.  I’m sure I’m forgetting another half-dozen.  I know actors with even more obscure jobs like making fake versions of famous paintings for people who want something that looks like a Van Gogh but don’t have $10 million lying around.  Then of course many actors I know are living the cliché and are waiters.  Some actors even have very flexible “real jobs” where their bosses are cool with them leaving for auditions.   I find the majority of those actors tend to be a little less motivated about their careers since they’re making a comfortable living and don’t “need” the acting work.

Almost everyone I know who’s said “I’m giving myself X” number of years to make it as an actor quits.  The people I know who make a living at this only say, “I’m going to be an actor and do whatever it takes to get there.”  The common number thrown around is that it takes 10 years to make a living as an actor.  Some people do it in less, some in more but the ones who do it rarely have an “end date” in mind.

7. What are casting calls like? Any tips on doing well at them?

Casting calls are a weird combination of very fun and very stressful.  Typically you show up to an office where there are half a dozen people who look just like you waiting outside.  You are eventually called in and for a first audition are typically put on camera for a producer, head of casting or director to view.  You say your lines, are sometimes asked to do it again slightly differently and then go home.  You then have to do your best job to forget about the audition and any possibility that you might be called back.  If you’re called back you do it again for more people who may or may not have the power to hire you.  Sometimes you’re called in multiple times and each time to read for more and more powerful people.  Early auditions typically take less than two minutes and when the director/producers come into the room it take around five or so.  They’re usually pretty quick.  The longest I’ve ever spent auditioning is fifteen minutes.

When approaching auditions I think of myself like a closer in baseball.  A closer is called in during high-stress situations and is expected to be amazing with little prep work or prior notice.  When I’m called for an audition I have on average 24 hours notice.  There’s no time to meet with a coach or ask my wife to tell me how amazing I am.  You have to walk in that room, deliver the lines almost perfectly and be better than anyone else doing the exact same thing.  You have to do all of this knowing you’re up for a commercial that could make you $25,000 or a film role that can help get your career rolling.  There is a lot of pressure to be incredible on a moment’s notice.  The actors who tend to do the best at auditions have learned to distance themselves from being result oriented.  They go in, try to do their best job, learn what they can from the experience and then manage to forget the whole thing.  It’s a skill that has to be developed either by experience or drugs.  I’m half-kidding.

8. What is the best part of your job?

I really love so many things about my job.  Getting to work is amazing.  On almost every project there’s a real feeling of community and a drive to make the finished product as good as possible.  I’ve found this even to be true with some of the bigger names I’ve worked with.  With rare exceptions everyone simply wants the audience to really enjoy the end result.  That spirit of collaboration and drive is super-fun.

It’s also a huge kick to see yourself on TV.  Commercials are especially fun because you never know when they’ll run.  It’s always a thrill.  Then you get dozens of e-mails and phone calls from people who were sitting in an airport or their house when your face came on the screen.  Once a friend even pulled a “Hey, I know that guy” at a bar when one of my commercials ran and it helped him pick up a girl.  That’s fun.

Probably the coolest thing about my job is that there are no rules.  There’s common sense and etiquette to follow but tonight my phone can ring and tomorrow I could find myself auditioning for the next Spielberg movie.  The odds are slim but it does happen, especially when you put the time and energy into your career and cultivating important relationships.

9. What is the worst part of your job?

The worst part is that there are no rules.  Tonight my phone could ring for a huge audition, but it could also not ring for another month.  In the early stages of a career it’s easy to go years without landing a paying job.  The competition to get even the smallest role is insane; you really have to fight for everything you can get.  If in another five years I chose to give up (I won’t, but I’m making a point) I’ll be 33 with very little on my resume but “Actor.”

10.  What’s the work/family/life balance like?

Being an actor gives you a lot of plusses and minuses in the family situation.  When my daughter was born I got to spend a lot of time with her.  I brought her to auditions when she was too young to interrupt and when my wife was a student we got to spend a lot of time together during the day when most of my friends were at work.

On the minus side it’s very hard to raise a family not knowing when you’ll make money again.  Every city that boasts a good amount of acting work is also incredibly expensive to live in.  Not knowing if I’m going to make a single penny for the rest of the year is incredibly hard.  I can assume I’m going to make some money, but I really have no way of knowing how much.

Also, if I am fortunate enough to get work, I could end up in another country for weeks (or even months) on very short notice.  My wife would be happy to have the money but that can put a real strain on a relationship.  When I’m doing theater I can be out all night and only get to see my family a few minutes each morning before they leave for work/school.  That can be rough.

11.  What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

Most people don’t know that there’s a middle-class of actors.  Everyone knows about the tens of millions that Tom Hanks makes and they know the cliché of the actor/waiter begging for a two line role on a TV show.  But they don’t know that there are hundreds of actors who make a living and you would walk right by them on a street.  I’ve only been “recognized” for my work once but I’ve managed to make a respectable amount of money most of the years I’ve been an actor.  I have friends who make six figures that you wouldn’t recognize until they started listing their credits.  This is my dream as an actor, not to make a billion dollars as a celebrity but to support my family and do what I enjoy doing.

Here’s some clips of Eitan’s work

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bob Iger August 20, 2009 at 4:35 am

Very insightful article from someone who’s clearly got some good war stories to tell about the business.

2 enric August 20, 2009 at 5:42 am

It’s funny, I live as an actor in Spain and it’s pretty much the same that Eitan is saying about the US.
Great interview.

3 Paddy August 20, 2009 at 9:26 am

I act in amateur theatre and do some ‘extra’ work for tv. Like Eitan I would like to be paid to do it without wanting the major fame. But I would have to really agree with his point on staying out of acting school. I studied engineering but hadn’t the insight at the time to get out and DID spend the next 10 years in an office cubicle! Ha ha! I only got into acting about 4 years ago. But I decided this year to make more out of it professionally and applied for a masters degree in Drama & Theatre Studies. I was offered a place but had to do a ‘Qualifier Essay’. I decided to base my essay on a book by screenwriter/director David Mamet called ‘True and False – Heresy & Common Sense For The Actor’. Wow!! I have adopted it as a bible for my acting life. I would highly recommend it to any actor thinking of going the acting school/studio route. Eiten echoes what Mamet argues – the only way to learn to become a good actor is in front of an audience. I was so affected by and in agreement with Mamet’s arguements that I decided against the masters and am going to literally act my way to success instead. I want to act – not become an academic of acting.

Thank you for this interview – VERY inspiring!

4 Jay August 20, 2009 at 10:01 am

Insightful! Leaves me with many more questions, though :-)

1) Role/influence of the unions – that strike, was it justified, made any impact etc.
2) Eitan’s take on what makes a really good actor.
3) Politics of budgets: Hollywood churns out so many crap movies, that get financed anyway, whereas “serious” authors (in whatever genre) have to hawk their scripts for years – what are the mechanisms ‘behind the scenes’?

Anyway, great post – thanks for sharing!

5 Eitan Loewenstein August 20, 2009 at 11:24 am

Wow, I look amazing. The article turned out so well, I love it.

Paddy: I read Mamet’s book too and it changed the way I thought about my career and what an actors job is. It’s sobering stuff.

Jay:
1) The strike: I assume you mean last year’s WGA strike, not the 2000 SAG Commercial strike. In that case I think it was totally justified but only achieved minor success. I honestly believe that TV/Cable are going to go away and we’re going to get all our shows delivered on the internet. The Hollywood unions have this weird thing where we’re paid by delivery method so TV is well paid, Cable is cheap and Internet is dirt cheap. It doesn’t really matter anymore how the show is delivered only how it’s shot and we have to start being paid a more balanced rate. I could talk about this for hours but basically some stuff was achieved but there’s a long road ahead.
2) A really good actor is someone who is believable in a role and interesting to watch. Both qualities are important in equal amounts to become a really good actor.
3) It’s all about making money. It’s easier to make money with a crap movie than an serious one. At the end of the day the bottom line rules, especially for the big studios which are merely arms for multi-national corporations.

6 Bostonhud August 20, 2009 at 11:56 am

Eitan- Really great article. I’ve been taking improv classes for two years in Chicago, and I absolutely love it. Jimmy Stewart never once took an acting class in his life, he was much more a fan of living life to learn about how to create characters. He has a quote thas says the best acting class is a job….something like that.

7 Trevor August 20, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Really great piece. I’ve had a couple of friends who moved out to LA to try to make it in the biz and always wondered what it was like for them. Thanks for the insights.

8 Solomon August 20, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Great article! Thanks to Eitan for his insights and great attitude.

As with most things, there are exceptions to the rule: There are some great acting schools out there, too. I looked for one that has working performers as the instructors, has a connection to the community, and focuses on movement. My year at Dell’Arte changed my life and made me a better actor. Granted, this school is focused on live performance and the actor as creator, but maybe it’s right for you…

Having said that, performing and improv ARE the way to become an actor.

Also, check out the AoM community page. There is an “actors” group. Join in!

9 Jay August 20, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Hi Eitan,

Thanks for very quick follow up – much appreciated!
Yes, I meant last years’ strike – interesting they use different rates based on delivery method – sounds rather outdated and unfair: the effort remains the same?

Became a fan of yours on FB – wishing you all the best!

10 cory huff August 23, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Thanks for the article Eltan. I’ve been an actor for about 10 years, and I love that you brought up the actor middle class. If I could be that guy making six figures with little recognition – that’s for me too.

I disagree with you about classes. There are lots of really great actors who went through very rigorous training (Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, the list goes on), but I do agree that a purely academic training doesn’t prepare you for the real world.

Being an actor is an amazing job. Tough, but amazing. I’ll be looking out for you in the future!

11 Ashlley Elias August 27, 2009 at 11:55 pm

I had an acting teacher say actors should *always* be in an acting class, I also am not sure that’s the best idea.

Actors get to be their own directors in class, basically doing whatever they want (not what it’s like in real life).

Personally I think classes are important but any activities related to putting elements in place to be in some kind of production seems more important than working on skills you already use in your everyday life.

12 Genyusha September 14, 2009 at 4:09 am

хорошее интервью, приятно почитать

13 Mercutio December 31, 2012 at 7:36 pm

As a guy who’s dropped out of multiple acting schools I share your sentiments, although I’m probably a better actor because of my training. My problem with private acting classes is they’re a cash grab. 50 bucks a class and you’re on your feet for 20 minutes? That’s a 150 dollars an hour. So I don’t take classes, I just hit on girls. Hear me out. If I see someone I like, not matter where I am, I try to go up to her and get her number. This exercise has taught me more about acting than any class has, and it’s free. Another thing I do is read plays. It staggers the mind how many actors don’t do this. Lastly, the money I spend on acting classes could easily go towards renting a space and staging my own work. Crazy, huh? Actual WORK?

14 Raquella February 19, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Ah, Mercutio, you poor, deluded man!

You only THINK it is YOUR acting that is ‘getting the girl’ ( cliche alert! ), and your weighty ego blocks you from seeing that it is the woman who has manipulated YOU. You have no idea, as a pre-programmed male who probably doesn’t care for honest self-analysis, just how much information your body/face expressions are telegraphing to insightful and intuitive women. You might as well have a neon light blinking on your chest that says,”This t-shirt owned by an over-confident sucker!”

They get drinks. They get laid. And all it takes is telling you that you’re funny, smart, and cute.

It’s not your game to win Mercutio. For dudes like you, it never has been.

Spot on regarding the financial vacuuming of actors though. I’ve met actors who spent years, got the degree, love the work but are still wooden and superficial.

Here’s hoping that’s not the case for you, dear Mercutio. Be careful you don’t wind up having to change that carefully chosen handle of yours to ‘Lothario’ one day.

15 Anthony March 6, 2013 at 3:47 am

Real good I like this very important for people like me.
Who want to be a director someday
But I think first befor you can be a director. You must be an actor which I am . Thanks so much for the ideals

16 Mohit chhabra August 22, 2013 at 10:57 am

Thanks Eitan !
I keep on looking for ways to improve myself as an actor and after reading your article, want to focus on performing. The problem is that we have to juggle between odd jobs and doing acting. I struggle here even to payoff my monthly rent but am very positive that step by step I am moving closer to my goal.
Now what you shared its all about doing and keep doing, I really want to focus on Doing. At least even if does not put food on the table it can help me hone myself for the future
Thank you for your frank opinion . Really helpful.
Mohit
Mumbai

17 Alex Dyer September 19, 2013 at 2:16 am

Awesome interview! I’ve always agreed with the ‘no need for acting school’ statement, a real actor doesn’t need to learn how to act. Me being a young New Zealander would love to break into the industry!

18 Elizabeth Wurst April 9, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Hi, I’m Elizabeth Wurst, I am looking to get myself out there in what I want to do. I want to act. I love acting in videos, I love being in video type things, and I want to be in a movie where it goes viral. I want to be someone who everyone tells me I won’t, they just watch, I will be in a movie one day. I will reach my goal. I’m done sitting around waiting for people to contact me, I’m stepping out into the world now, people need to step aside. Because there is a new actress coming your way.

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