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. 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