Wendy Alane Wright is a Hollywood Talent Manager with WAW Entertainment. Her clients have appeared in numerous national commercials, movies, webisodes, short films, and on television networks such as ABC, NBC, Comedy Central, BIO, Lifetime, plus many more. Previous to being a Manager and a Talent Agent at Burn Down Entertainment, she assisted many high profile Managers, Agents and Publicists in the careers of Neil Patrick Harris, Johnny Galecki, Sarah Michelle Geller, The Four Tops, The Bee Gees, Meatloaf, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Guttenberg, The Cranberries Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers, and Neil Diamond. Wendy is also a Recording Artist, Actress, Author and Music Producer all giving her a 360-degree perspective of the industry.
Every year approximately 50,000 hopefuls come to Hollywood to try and "make it" in show business. Some are successful, most are not. Many actors come here with good intentions and big dreams, but it is up to each one of you to learn how this business works. Read industry books, ask managers, ask other actors, join support groups, ask actors who have made it, read actor biographies, read the entire IMDB page of the actors you idolize and you can see their entire journey laid out in their credits. To have an agent or a manager means you need to be manageable and take direction that you are given. If you fight your reps you won't get far. You must do what is necessary, consistently and without hesitation.
You are filled with talent and energy. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Don't let anyone hold you back. There are very specific reasons many actors fail. Here are 8 deadly sins that will kill your career. I want to help you avoid them.
1. Lack of talent. You may think this is a no brainer, but I sit in on casting sessions and auditions and I am stunned by how bad some people are. Some actors may think they are more talented than they actually are. You've seen it on American Idol. Yes that's real some people are really that bad. One time I was in the casting room of a NBC Singing show and 1/2 the people they were auditioning could not sing. Make sure you are really talented and get the training you need. You are going to be competing with great talent. You don't need to compare your self, but you do need to be your best, at the top of your game. If you aren't, go do something else. If you are serious about succeeding, get yourself the best training you can. Develop your talent thoroughly and you will be noticed.
2.Lack of preparation. Actors try to wing it in auditions and don't understand the importance of intensive and continual cold reading and acting training. Having poor audition skills will stop you from getting anywhere. You may be able to act, but auditioning is an entirely different skill set. Don't waste your time trying to get into the audition room if you don't know how to work the room once you get in there. Poor impressions on casting directors are hard to erase. Train, train, train. If you haven't you are not likely to book.
3. Missing opportunities, not showing up. Actors skip auditions and say no to opportunities that could lead them to new contacts and potential work. In the beginning, no job is too small for actors who really want to get ahead, gain experience and make contacts. Some actors won't go to auditions they feel are beneath them. What!! Really? Casting Directors work on all kinds of projects. You may not be right for a specific project. But believe me, they will remember if you are good. Each good impression on a Casting Director is you getting ahead. You need any and every project you can get for experience, strengthening your skills, making contacts, getting footage and being paid at times. An actors acts. If that isn't you, maybe acting isn't your calling afterall so go do something else. Don't sabotage yourself. You have talent, the world wants to see it and enjoy it. Stay positive and keep doing your best.
4. Can't handle the rejection. Some actors take rejection personally and run away back to where they came from or into another line of work. Rejection is 90% of this business. Get used to it. While pursuing acting, fill your life with fun, friends, sports, concerts, prayer anything that validates and fulfills you. Don't wait for this business to do it. I suggest you read the "Four Agreements" by don Miguel Ruiz to learn all about taking things personally.
5. Can't take direction or be managed. Some actors are "know-it-alls" and can't take direction from those wiser and more experienced than they are, which results in missing opportunities that managers and agents are trying to give them. Other actors get these chances instead. You are better than this!
6. Can't figure out to how to make money to survive and pay for their acting expenses. Some come to LA broke without saving up money before coming. Some actors won't or don't realize they may have to work two jobs to be able to put money aside for acting expenses which are about $8,000 per year. College costs money and starting a business costs money. That's the price of doing business. You are an adult now, figure it out or someone else will.
7. Won't spend money on great Headshots, Demo Reels, Business Card, Workshops, Training so they don't have the tools to compete and succeed. Some actors spend years tring to get by with the least they can. Usually due to shortage of money, stubborness or sometimes they just don't realize how important these tools are and how good the tools have to be in order to compete with prepared, working actors who have been here for years and years and have their materials in order. Recently an actor who has been dragging behind on getting me his marketing materials told me he only had $75 left each month after his bills were paid. I asked him, "what are you making a week?" He said, "$350." "What!!!! I cried." Why the hell is he still at the job? He has been there two years. Did he come to Hollywood to work as an accountant or be an actor? And on top of that, he could only audition after 3:00pm when he got off of work. I told him get another job, or I would not be working with him anymore. I hate to say that because he is so flipping talented. But talented people who don't make it in Hollywood are a dime a dozen. Don't be one of these. You are capable of so much. Give it all you've got and don't let your media hurt you.
8. Lack of understanding about how the business works. This is certainly one of the biggest reasons. Actors, you are the CEO of your own company. If you don't understand how your business works you are doomed to fail, no matter how talented you are. GO to every show business seminar you can. Read book endlessly. I have been in this business since 1990 and I never stop reading. Knowledge is power.
Personally, I hate it when actors fail over things they can control. I hate it when actors can not be managed. They have this amazing talent going to waste because they refuse to take direction from people who know more than they do and end up losing many opportunities. They suffer from "I know it all already" syndrome. Almost nothing kills a career faster than this. I hate this because I so love creative people and want everyone who comes here to succeed. I truly want people to achieve their dreams. That is why I became a talent manager in the first place, to help them do it.
These "know-it-alls" can come along and put a damper on your day. They simply don't understand that before we became agents and managers we gained experience and paid our dues in this business working many other jobs. We have actually been around a minute. I will give you my personal background to give you an idea of what I mean by experience.
I came to LA in the 1990 after college and I started as an assistant to Publicist Ken Amorosano. He was a smaller PR firm who represented Keith David, Andrea Evans, Elizabeth Pena and Francisco Quinn. It was the first time I ever saw a headshot. I learned about pitching the press, promoting films, scheduling interviews with media and I got to attend a lots of screenings and went to bunch of Hollywood parties. I fell in love with this business right off the bat. Here I was just 23 years old and I was having lunch with Andrea Evans who I had watched on "All My Children" all the way through high school and college. Okay a little start struck at first. I celebrated Francisco's birthday with his family, and met superstars like Daryl Hannah, Jackson Browne, Billy Crystal and Alfre Woodard at the Oscars After-Party that year. It was exciting and new!
I made a decision to work no longer than 1 year at any given company for the next 10 years. My goal was to learn the entertainment business inside and out, in every aspect. So for my 2nd year in Hollywood, I went to work one of the largest agencies in Hollywood; The Agency For The Performing Arts (APA). I began as an assistant to Jerry Kalajian in the Literary Department where he represented Writers and Directors. I met Director/Actor Anson Williams from Happy Days (cool!) and many other working Directors. Every day I was involved in the daily workings of their careers and observed the meetings and deal making that took place. I was on the set when Anson Williams directed an episode of the original Melrose Place. He put me in as an extra and gave me a SAG Voucher. So sweet!
I was a really efficient Assistant, so much so that I soon worked 2 desks at the same time. I was also assisting Agent Larry Masser in the Casting Department where he repped huge stars. I worked side by side these two powerful agents with polar opposite personalities. Jerry was calm and kind, and Larry was an angry, raving maniac. Whew! But I learned a lot about how Hollywood worked in the big leagues. I learned about clearing the call logs and determining whose calls are important enough to return first and why. I answered questions from actors who needed clarification about money, scripts, rehearsals. I distributed huge paychecks, gave driving directions to Christine Lahti when she need to get to the Mark Taper Forum for a show she was in. (She called 3 times, still lost.) LA can be very tricky down by the 101 and downtown with lots of 1 way streets. But remember, this was way before car's had navigation systems! Maybe I was a lousy direction giver or she was...?
Assistants had to do everything. We read tons of scripts and gave coverage, delivered scripts to clients and agents homes, set up appointments for Casting Sessions with Casting Directors for our clients to audition. Every day I spoke with Hollywood Casting Directors many of whom I have known now for over 15 years.
I worked for one of the CDs, April Webster at a side job in her office for a week to help move her office from one location to another. It was a fascinating week working inside a casting office. I saw how the casting office was set up and worked internally. I helped sort thousands of headshots into piles back, this was back before online casting and a number system to rate talent. I watched which headshots got tossed out and why. I sat in on a few casting sessions and decided casting was not for me. Actors were always so nervous and unprepared it was unbearable to be around. I felt so sad for them. Today I recommend actors volunteer in a casting directors office so they can see what is it like from the other side of the table. Just be sure while you are there you don't pitch yourself to them for anything. Just show up on time, be professional, assist and do your job facilitating their goals.
Sticking strictly to my plan to get a new job every year, I went to work for publicist Lee Solters who repped A-listers like Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Lionel Richie and Dolly Parton. Whenever I mention names, I don't say this to name drop, I say it to help you understand that I have worked with the best, at the top levels and I know a thing or two about what people who are successful in this business have done, and are doing.
Ok, Publicists are privy to quite a lot of private information, none of which I will ever repeat. But needless to say we put out a few fires and I learned more and more about the business. Mr. Solters loaned me out to John Singleton one summer to help with Publicity on the film Higher Learning. I have to say I was so excited to be working on the lot at Sony. Just driving in every day was a thrill. I walked all over the lot during my lunch hours taking the magic in! With Mr. Singleton, I worked on the NY and LA premieres coordinating celebrity, media and guest invitations. There is a hierarchy. There is a select number of invitation available and their is criteria for who receives them and industry people get angry when they are not invited.
One day Michael Jackson was coming to our office to discus the video "Remember The Time" that John was directing. I was to escort Mr. Jackson to our office when he arrived. Somehow the entire building knew he was coming because every office door had flung open. I met him down the hall and walked him and about 20 Asian Sony executives to our office. Upon leaving, Mr. Jackson had to escape the building through a back door in order to avoid the mass of studio professionals who had gathered out front to see him. I was told he Michael was never able to go out the same way he came in.
The following year I went to work as an assistant at Fox Television in the TV sales department and learned all about MIPCOM which is a content event for co-producing, buying, selling, financing and distributing entertainment content throughout the world. I learned that foreign markets like to buy reruns of our shows because they are already produced, which saves foreign companies a ton of money not having to produce content for their markets and all they have to do is hire voice over artists. I never knew that. I also had no idea how much money was involved with that aspect of the business. Wow. I also remember that year was the tragedy of 911 and our building on Wilshire Blvd was closed for days afterwards because it was across the street from a Government building. We were all in shock.
My next job was assisting President Jeff Syndey at Beyond Music Management. He repped The Cranberries, Meatloaf, The Bee Gees, Tommy Lee and Motley Crue. I experienced tours being arranged, studio sessions taking place, publishing deals being worked out, songs being selected, A&R departments reviewing and often rejecting submissions from new acts. I handled the day to day business of Musicians working and meeting their business needs.
I left at the end of the year moving to the Soundtrack Department at Virgin Records. The Spice Girls were huge at the time and the entire building was filled with energy when they all arrived! It was fun time. I learned how and why songs are selected from artists and placed on the highly coveted spots - soundtracks of films. I lunched with A&R reps like John Wooler and took in everything he said about the business and politics.
Next, I went to assist Booh Schut and incredible talent manager who repped Neil Patrick Harris, Johnny Galecki, Mayim Bialk, Sarah Michelle Geller and others. I larned a lot from her about working with agents to advance a clients career, setting up deals and helping clients in every aspect of their career from communicating with lawyers, arranging coaching, training and even getting their dogs groomed. Booh was very structured and I adapted a lot of what I do now as a manager from her.
I realized in order for me to understand this business more completely I needed to see what it was like from the artists perspective. After my day job, I started singing at night in local studios doing background vocals. I have a pretty good voice so I got a few gigs and made some extra money. I did a video for Colourblind a band that was signed to Capitol Records at the time. I recorded a few demos at Capital Records Studios on Vine Street. So iconic. These demos were handed to a producer who flew me to Europe and put me in the studio with a female rap group who needed big vocals for the choruses. We were given a record deal. Our first single was turned down by radio. But with the perserverance of our A&R rep Ronald Van Der Meyden, he went back to radio with the same exact song 6 months later feeling it was a better time for the release. And this time radio loved it. It climbed the charts to # 20, same record, top 20 hit.
We suddenly became important and in demand. It was fun. I now had a record deal, my own talent manager, a tour, tv shows, press interviews, radio drops and awards shows I had to attend. We shot music videos that were on MTV, BET VH1 and had another hit off our 1st albumn. Then our label went bankrupt and we were signed to another label Polydor/Polygram who wasn't behind the group like our previous label was. Six months later we were dropped. I learned things like this happen all the time.
I loved the artist part of the business too, performing in front of the camera, on live television in front of thousands of people. I wasn't ready to stop!
I stayed in Holland for 4 years, went solo and began writing for other artists and collaborated with super talented people like Candy Dulfer, Tatjana Simic and Tony Scott. I wrote 3 top 40 hits and made a bunch of money. I soaked up everything I could learn about publishing advances, royalties when music is licensed to territories throughout the world, music publishing deals, pitching songs to labels. I even began licensing music myself to foreign distributors and was so excited when I started closing deals and making money. I made $50,000 on my first deal and I was ecstatic. I bought my dream Porche with cash. And I think during those 4 years I spent over 8,000 hours recording, writing and producing vocals in the studio. So I know all about that process.
Getting homesick, I returned to Los Angeles and went to work as a booking agent for Eternity records repping new bands and coordinating tours across the country, organizing radio play, and marketing materials to promote the live shows. These skills led me to another Music Management company where I had the privilege of assisting Terry Lippman, who discovered and managed Matchbox 20. Terry was one of my favorite people in the business, he was so loving and passionate about what he was doing. He had a new band he had fallen in love with and he was shopping their demo to all the Major labels. He created a huge bidding war and they received a $500,000 advanced for this beginning band which was unheard of. I was involved in every step of this process even down to being a production coordinator on the their 1st music video.
During this ten years of my life, I had received extensive on the job, high level training and had learned how this business worked inside and out. So I became a Talent Agent at Burnt Down Entertainment repping two of my heroes Deniece Williams and The Four Tops. I was now the one negotiating deals and creating opportunities. At the end of that year, I decided I could do more as a Talent Manager and wanted to make sure I could guide my clients through every step of the business to help ensure their success. Like I said, I so love creative people and want everyone who comes here to succeed. I truly want people to achieve their dreams. I grew up like everyone else in love with movies and music and just want to see them continue to be made and touch people's lives and hearts. What a wonderful career I have!
And occasionally I still sing, I was on a series, I've done a few films and pilots, many jingles, released 3 solo CDS' written a book and still record. So with all that, I know a thing or two about this business.
Then here comes a "know it all" who just got off the boat so to speak, and have been here only 1 or 2 years trying to make it. They really have no idea what they are doing, or should be doing and yet...they want to tell me how to do my job. They are talented but absolutely can not take direction which leads them to sabotage their own goals. And because they "know it all" they constantly the miss opportunities you are trying to give them. It's very sad. If you came here to succeed get a good manager and take direction. Watch out for the 8 deadly sins I mentioned. And don't be an unmanageable actor.
What is an unmanageable actor like? Here is an example. It was the 1st week of December and I was working with a client who had some film credits and all of her marketing materials together. I needed to get her an agent right away. The Christmas break was coming in a few weeks and after that agents would not signing anyone or taking meetings with actors for about 4 months. Instead they would be scrambling to try and get their clients booked during what is left of the old pilot season. So we literally had a 3 week window to approach agents, or wait until April. She told me I should start pitching her to Casting Directors for auditions and told me she was going after a voice over agent, a commercial agent, a print agent, and frankly she seemed all over the place. Huge red flags popped up so I told her, "slow down, we will get to all of that but right now we need to concentrate on getting a theatrical agent." She immediately said, "I don't think this is working between us." Not getting her way and a temper tantrum. Uugggh.
So I stick to my plan because after all I do know what I am doing, and I submitted this actress to some of the fabulous agents I work with, including Nathan Habben President of Prestige. I know him of course because one of my clients had been signed to him for the past year and 1/2. I told Nathan about this actress who had a great look, lots of talent and I was pretty sure she could make him money. He agreed to take a look at her stuff so I sent it over to him. That day, I also noticed he was doing a workshop that weekend looking for new talent. I called my client and said get down to his workshop tomorrow and show him what you've got in person, blow him out of the water! He is reviewing your demo and materials right now...go the extra mile." She said, "No, those workshops never get anyone signed." I couldn't believe my ears. I told her she was wrong and that I have 2 clients right now who got great agents in showcases exactly like this. She said, no, I don't think this is working between us. What do you think I did? I dropped her immediately. This is an actress who thinks she knows more about the business than I do. And she has been here one or two whole years!
I hate these kids of situations with actors because they are very disappointing. We managers get so excited and inspired by our clients talent and what we can do for them and then they show us who they really are. Agents, Managers, Casting Directors, Producers, Directors, Writers, we have all come across this kind of "Know It All". Artists with egos that are so big they think somehow they will magically be whisked to the top because 'don't you know who they think they are?' Statistically I would say this kind of actor shows up maybe 2 out of every 30 we work with. They piss off everyone they come in contact with, burn bridges, go from rep to rep, develop a bad reputation and tend to get blackballed in time because no one wants to deal with that type of energy or personality. And let's face it, word travels fast in this town and everybody knows everybody's business. I wish I could open their eyes but I've come to learn, you can't save them all.
We hear stories all the time; I don't have the money for headshots so I had my neighbor take these. I don't have money for classes. I was late to my audition because of the traffic. All of this behavior is self sabotaging and we can't do anything with these types of clients. These people say they want it more than they actually do. This is a business for all of us here in Hollywood. Managers and agents don't get paid unless our clients work. We do our part and expect the talent will do theirs. Throughout the year we see which ones are doing their part and we drop whoever isn't. Like I said, this is a highly competitive business and I am in it to win. Talent Managers look for big talent, charisma, a willingness to do whatever it takes, the ability to take our direction, and never ending commitment to learn and understand how this business works. All of these elements must be present in one person in order to be success in this business whether in front of or behind the camera. You must be likeable.
Actors my advice to you is drop the ego, get humble, follow directions from your reps and on the set, be open like a sponge, soak it all in, study your craft, study the business, take chances, do your best work and in time your work will speak for itself.
Several times a year I offer a workshop called, “The Winner's Circle" for brand new actors which will help you begin to understand the business and start to develop a plan of action for your success. I teach it along with several important industry friends of mine including a top Theatrical Agent, Commercial Agent, Casting Director, Headshot Photographer, Working Actor and including Reel Producer. You will learn so much information in this workshop from top people in the business who are all committed to your success! I have been coaching actors for years, and I know new actors need a mentor and professional guidance, so if you are new to this business I highly recommend this workshop. It will give you the "inside" information you need and it will put you miles ahead of the hundreds of other newcomers that arrive in L.A. every year. At the end of this 4-hour seminar with us you will have a game plan for success. The cost is $179 and it's worth every penny. Visit my website and sign up today for the next workshop. email email@example.com for more info.
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Wendy Alane Wright Smith