Lessons Learned

Making it in the Entertainment Business: Acting

So you’ve got the acting bug — you, and everyone else in Tinseltown. But do you have what it takes, or are you in dreamland?

“Nothing is more desirable to people entering the job market these days than becoming a working actor,” noted Scott Paulin, who, with his wife Wendy Phillips, teaches “Acting for the Camera” at UCLA Extension. “But apart from a career as a supermodel or rock star, nothing is more difficult to achieve.”

A successful acting career takes just the right combination of hard work, intuition and good luck. And with the proliferation of acting programs throughout the country and the waves of international actors coming stateside, the environment has never been more competitive. “Readiness and passion make a great starting point,” said Paulin, an actor and director who been in dozens of TV shows, including “The X-files” and “24,” and movies such as “I am Sam,” “The Right Stuff” and “Turner & Hooch.” 

Part of being ready, especially if you’re looking to make it in film and television, is becoming comfortable in front of a camera. Paulin and Philips combine several approaches in their courses, but their main technique is to put people in front of a rolling camera during every class. “There is far too much theory being taught in the college and graduate school acting programs and not enough practical immersion,” said Paulin. “Like swimming, eventually you have to get in the pool. In our experience, the learning curve really takes off when the director says, ‘Roll camera.’” Even working actors benefit from taking acting classes as a way to hone their skills; Paulin likens his and Phillips’ class to “a performance gym with the camera running.”

“Building an artistic view is also enormously important,” said Paulin, who has directed live theater and more than 40 hours of television. “Watch and discuss. If it’s TV you want to do, watch TV. Hang out with other people who do the same. Having a strong sense of what is good and what is not is really essential to developing a way of working.”

There are, of course, easier ways to make a living than acting, and feeling discouraged at times is unavoidable — “this is the natural state of the career actor,” said Paulin. But if you’re really determined to give it a shot, “then do it full out,” he said. “Live your life as an artist — study hard, get in the best physical shape you can, put together a group of friends and make your own films.” Even for those who succeed, difficulties await; but so do great payoffs. “The hours are brutal, the pressure enormous. But there is nothing more fun than being on a film set, ready to work, surrounded by professionals, waiting for the director to say: ‘Action.’”

— Andrea Kahn for UCLA Extension

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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