LOOKING AHEAD : Seminar Advises Youngsters on Casting a Spell in Hollywood

Times Staff Writer

Having performed in three community theater productions, Angela Thomas, a 13-year-old from Anaheim, feels that she has the determination and the talent to succeed in Hollywood. "I believe in myself," she said.

"I'd like to be in commercials and then go all the way to the top."

Robin Orahood, 16, of Laguna Hills said she considers education to be less important than getting started in show business. She said she can sing and write and is hoping to get an agent as soon as possible.

"The competition is tough. I know that," she said, "but I think I can make it."

Thomas and Orahood were among nearly 40 youngsters and parents who showed up at the Buena Park Hotel Sunday for a seminar on "Breaking Into Show Business." Coordinated by Loretta Stamos, the mother of TV actor John Stamos, the panel included a commercial casting director, a youth talent agent, a representative from an actors union, an entertainment attorney and two photographers.

Stamos, who lives in Cypress, said that after her son was cast as "Blackie" in the daytime soap opera "General Hospital," she received several calls from parents and children asking her advice on how to get into show business. She arranged the seminars because she "figured if my Orange County kid can make it, then I want to help other Orange County kids to make it, too."

Sunday's seminar, the fourth she has arranged, emphasized not just the opportunities but the pitfalls. "A lot of rip-offs take place because people don't have the knowledge" needed to start a career, Stamos said.

Members of the panel advised would-be actors to avoid talent agents who ask for cash in advance. "All legitimate agents ask for no money until the actor receives a role," said Bob Preston, who directs the youth division of a Los Angeles talent agency.

Preston, a former child actor who has been an agent for 10 years, said agents should be sought through the Screen Actors Guild. Agents usually ask for 10% of a client's income, he said.

He warned that breaking into the business is not easy, noting that of the 30,000 SAG members in Southern California, nearly 90% are unemployed, and the average income of members is less than $2,500 a year.

"There are no guarantees in Hollywood," he said. "Promises are not made in Hollywood, they are broken."

He also warned youngsters that talent agents and casting directors rarely consider acting talent when making casting decisions but rely mostly on the look of the actor. "If you come into my office it will be like three vultures looking at a piece of meat," Preston said.

Karen Divisek, a casting director who has worked on commercials for McDonald's restaurants and Pepsi-Cola, said that for commercials usually 100 people are auditioned for every role and that competition continues to be tough even after a child has become established. "It's always a shot in the dark," she said.

Divisek, who has been a casting director for 18 years, said the industry is looking for young people who have a look of clean-cut "mid-America real." Because of California's strict labor laws, she added, directors and producers are looking for people who are over 18 but who look much younger.

"It's dynamite if you're 18 and don't look it," Preston agreed. "That's what we're looking for."

Divisek also warned the parents and children about the difficulty of succeeding in show business. "Nothing is in concrete in Hollywood except the footprints in the Mann Chinese Theatre," she said, "and they are even changing that."

John Stamos, who currently plays Jesse in the ABC prime-time series "Full House," said in an interview that the most important advice he can give aspiring actors is to be confident. "If they don't believe in themselves and know that they are number one," he said, "then no one else will."

"It's a great, great, great business and it's fun," he told the audience. "But it takes determination. If you don't get the part, you've got to say to yourself 'I'll get it next time.' "

Actor Brian Tochi, who began his career as a child with Yul Brynner in "The King and I" and who later appeared in the movies "Revenge of the Nerds" and "Police Academy," said in show business "the lows are lows, but the highs are a terrific feeling." Still, he said, many aspiring actors and actresses are used and demoralized in Hollywood.

"There are plenty of people out there," he said, "who are just trying to get a woman in bed by showing them a business card and saying 'I see something in you. Let's talk about it over at my place.' "

At a question-and-answer session, Preston stressed the routinely short notice given to actors who are called in for auditions. "When we say, 'Don't call us, we'll call you,' it's not because we are rude," he said. "It's because we are busy."

A young man asked if studying drama in college would help him get roles in television. Preston replied that college theater usually does not provide the experience needed to get roles in TV or commercials. He advised that young actors instead attend workshops provided by people in the industry.

Loretta Stamos said she would arrange more seminars if interest warrants them.

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