Let me tell you a thing or two about working for free.
As an actor, there will be plenty of times (especially in the early days of your career) when you will work for free. I am a seasoned newcomer at this point and I am still working for free from time to time. As writer I wrote for Essence for no monetary compensation. I wrote for HOPE for Women magazine for no money. I have done plays that didn’t pay. I have written for another blogger for no pay. I have done countless film projects for no money, including one just this past weekend, which brings me to the premise of this blog.
IF YOU AGREE TO WORK FOR FREE, WORK LIKE YOU’RE GETTING PAID.
This past weekend, I knew the project was unpaid when I submitted for it. I figured it would be a ten hour day, because filming can take a long time. The call time was 6am (I wasn’t expecting that), but I showed up on time as if there was a clock for me to punch. We didn’t wrap until 9p. You got it. I worked for 15 hours on set for no pay, and as a stand-in. That means my face will never even be seen on the footage. Let me tell you why it was worth it:
· I moved from LA to Atlanta. So I’m in a new city. I have to start from scratch with networking. I don’t know many filmmakers here so being on this set gave me 15 hours of making around 30 first impressions with people who work in Atlanta and know other Atlanta filmmakers.
· The director is award-winning.
· Columbus Short of Scandal was the lead actor.
· Columbus Short of Scandal was the lead actor.
· Columbus Short of Scandal was the lead actor, like dude. It was hours of free acting class.
· One job leads to the next. It’s too soon to tell right now, but I can guarantee that working on that set will lead to a job in the future.
Don’t believe me?
After serving as a stand-in for My Black is Beautiful on BET, I was brought back to work on the show as a model, networked with a photographer and got a free photoshoot, and the casting director cast me in several paid projects after that. Because I have written/write for Essence, I am invited to exclusive events with just the hopes of gaining exposure. After writing for HOPE for Women as nutrition writer, I landed a paid job with a publication due to having that experience. Not to mention that years later, I am now the Online Content Editor for HOPE. I wrote for a blogger, and now I have a bigger (paid) position in her company. After doing an unpaid play, I learned from the playwright and wrote my own show, which generated income. I did a couple of unpaid shoots for another director and we became friends and now she does all kinds of stuff for me for free, including film/edit my comedy reel. I’ve met people on set who tell me about jobs, opportunities, and casting directors, etc.
Networking is not an activity you set aside time to do. Networking is the result of putting yourself in amazing situations to meet people with similar goals.
I take business cards to set and events (with my face on them) so that people can find it in their pockets later and learn more about me. Everything anyone wants to know about me can be answered at this website. That is the way it is designed!!!
Understand that there is more than one way to be compensated. I believe that education costs. I’m willing to pay with my time, which is why I will work for free. I will act for food.
So if you show up for a job that does not pay you in cash, behave like it’s the biggest paying job you have ever had. Submit your work on time. Show up to set on time. Behave professionally. Be excited to be used. Your performance and enthusiasm will lead you to other projects. I promise you! And if it doesn’t, you haven’t done enough free jobs yet.
Have you heard??????!?!?!?!?!?! I wrote and starred in a new webseries, Tiffany Last Name Hustle!! More on that later! Check out the opening.
Being the blessed gal that I am, I got to attend a couple of brilliant film festivals over the last couple of weeks here in Atlanta. Last week was the Atlanta Pitch Summit and over the weekend was the Bronze Lens Film Festival. As an actor and writer, I seized these opportunities to meet key industry folks. I made some excellent contact and before I delve into my film reviews, I have a few tips for how to make a film festival work in your favor.
1. Be prepared. Have business cards ON DECK. And make it a good business card. If you’re an actor, make sure your face it on it. People forget names, but they don’t forget faces. Hit up my girl Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s EVERYTHING on the graphics tip. She’s also an actor, so she has great prices! If you have a reel, headshots, or DVDs bring those too!
2. Talk to everyone. You just never know who you are standing next to. Don’t discount anyone.
3. Follow up with everyone you meet within two days. I only say two days because festivals are usually a week long. I like to give people time to settle, but not forget me.
Throughout the Bronze Lens Film Festival there were so many heavy hitters. That’s what I love about Atlanta: People are either snails or jaguars. There is no in between. They’re either in the way or they’re paving the way. Because the snails don’t know the value of these festivals, they’re filled with pavers. I met executives from Bobbcat Films, Aspire TV, Bounce TV, and so much more. Atlanta STEPPED out this weekend. Despite the fact that I HAVE to sell myself as an actor, I also love to watch films. The BLFF screened new holiday classics, Black Nativity, and The Best Man Holiday. I’m not cleared to review Black Nativity just yet, but go see it! As far as The Best Man Holiday, it’s an incredible sequel. I’m still invested in these characters and it’s not at all what you will expect. I probably love this film so much because it’s filled with pure, true actors. These people are not brands. They are not selling perfumes, clothes, and reality trash. They are trained, tried, and true actors. It was an ensemble cast that was not distracted with tons of celebrity cameos. It was a story about a group of friends we already know and love. I’m so invested, I caught myself praying for them. See this film with someone you care about.
The soundtracks for both are beautiful and will make a lovely backdrop this holiday season.
We’ve been blessed with quite a few brilliant films this year that showcased black talent. I’m grateful for that.
Finding jobs for acting in Atlanta is not as easily done like it is in Los Angeles and New York. In LA and NYC, you can throw a rock and hit an actor. In Atlanta, you can throw a rock and hit a beautician or real estate agent. Since moving here to pursue acting six months ago, I still struggle to find actors that want to network and filmmakers creating their own work. And while I’m grateful to be signed to a reputable talent agency, I know that I still have to find my own acting auditions and acting jobs in Atlanta, just like I did in Los Angeles.
The general consensus is, folks in Atlanta just aren’t cranking out as much work as those in LA. This could be a variation of lack of resources and access to talent. Despite these trials, there are some people acting in Atlanta. You just have to get creative!
This weekend I was blessed to be invited to the Atlanta Pitch Summit. Lucky for me I’m a writer and an actor in Atlanta, so I have the advantage of knowing how to think like a hustler. To me it made perfect sense to bring my actor business cards to a writer’s event.
Duh!!! A slew of writers will be there pitching their shows to television executives??? They’re going to need a cast when the show gets picked up. I exchanged cards with everyone I saw. They all left with a shiny picture of my face and website. And they all received a cute email from me and links to my work. They don’t call us actors for nothing! We have to be creative when it comes to networking and finding work. Opportunities won’t just come falling in our laps.
All in all, the event was fantastic. I learned a lot from the workshops, met some amazing people, and I ended up pitching one of my show ideas to a couple of TV executives. Some passed but one said, yes! All we really need is one YES!
Build it and they will come.
God bless the child who has his own.
If you create a job, you’ll never have to look for one.
When I think about Tyler Perry and Jay-Z, it’s mind-blowing that they started their companies as a result of not being recognized by major companies who could have propelled their careers. Sometimes we’ve got to have the same tenacity about our own careers. That’s part of the reason I joined Fearless Rock Projects. We committed ourselves to doing just that: creating Fearless Projects that rock! Below is the trailer for a short film I wrote after being inspired by Prince’s I Would Die 4U. There is an undeniable religious undertone in the lyrics and it made me think of the goodness of God. In the film, I play a girl who breaks all Ten Commandments and eventually finds Jesus, who forgives all of her sins through his grace.
The Trailer is below. I’m working on getting the film online, but Prince is a stickler for keeping his music OFF Youtube and Vimeo! Enjoy it while you can!
Learn more about FRP at www.FearlessRockProjects.org and CREATE YOUR OWN WORK!
Let me set the tone for this one.
It’s Labor Day 2013. Partly cloudy in Atlanta, GA around 12:44 Pacific Time. I left my computer clock set to Los Angeles so I can keep my head space in the busy city. Weirdly, it helps.
After an excess of eight times, It’s safe to say I’m listening to Drake’s’ Hold On, we’re going home’ on repeat. I’m a good girl and I know it.
Sometimes it’s just nice to have my anxiety relieved though. I am constantly reassured that I have chosen the correct professions for my life. Now I’m just waiting for the success to catch up to my work ethic and sacrifices. It made me think back to my chat with one of my favorite actresses, Jenifer Lewis, on behalf of www.PlentyPennies.com (a subsidiary company of Tiffany Classics, LLC). I asked her what advice she’d give to her 25 year old self. Her response:
I would walk over to her and I would hold her so tight and I wouldn’t let her go. I’d whisper in her ear, hold her still and tell her, ”I’m going to take care of you. Everything is gonna be alright.”
This is around the time she was promoting her new webseries, Jenifer and Shangela. It’s a hoot if you haven’t seen it. Click here to catch up on episodes.
She even had some advice for new comers:
Find your passion. When all else fails, the dream will sustain you. The elevator to success is broken. You must take the stairs: step by step. I took the steps. even if the fans’ comments weren’t what they are, I still know who I am.
I realize that I have been afforded some great opportunities over the years to actually meet and talk with some amazing actresses who have given me nuggets to help me along with my journey. And now, I’ll share some of them with you.
Think of your age in Hollywood as the number of years you’ve been pursuing your career. Tiffany you’ve only been here for 2 years. As a two year old, you can walk but you’re still stumbling and falling from time to time,” – Joy Bryant, Circa 2009.
“One of my favorite verses is Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” If you give up, you get off your mark and you make it easier for the next person to come and get your spot. Don’t quit. Don’t get off your mark,” Tasha Smith, Circa 2008.
“If it doesn't feel right in your gut, don’t do it. You’ll regret it every time,” – Nia Long, Circa 2007.
“What’s going to make me more interesting than the next chick that’s coming in the room? Average is never ok. Make it difficult for them to say no. Use everything. Give everything. EVERY TIME,” –Tisha Campbell-Martin, Circa 2009.
To read my entire interview with Jenifer Lewis, click here.
Have a little vision
2007 was a groundbreaking year for me for several reasons: I graduated from college, moved to Los Angeles, and I was introduced to The Secret. All of those things worked together. My sorority sisters and I were all in transition and one of my best friends, Jemier, introduced us to The Secret. We all set aside time to watch it together. It was quite overwhelming at first but the principles have stood with me.
I am a devout Christian and many of the principles line up with what The Secret teaches. One is particular is being visionary. Despite your profession, you have to know where you’re going even before you arrive. I think this is particularly true with artists. The odds are against us as performers. There is always the “WHAT IF” in the back of your mind. You have to have faith in you before anyone else can. Here are a few scriptures that support this idea:
· The entire Chapter of Hebrews 11
· Mark 11: 23 “Truly[a] I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.
· Galations 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
· The entire Chapter of Matthew 6
· 1 Corinthans 2: 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
It is my best advice for you to make a vision board and put it in a place that you will see it every day when you wake up. It serves as a compass for the rest of your day. I also wrote myself a daily affirmation, with the advice of fellow actress friend, Lisa B. It helps keep my goals and dreams in perspective.
Even if your dreams are wild, you have to make yourself believe them. Seeing is believing. Speak it to yourself every day and it has to come to pass.
So you’re a struggling actor. You’re a broke artist. You ditched a week of groceries to buy your headshots and you don’t even think about going to acting class.
There’s still hope.
I’m not sure if you heard about this little thing called, YouTube University, but class is in session 24 hours a day, the classes are not crowded, and the tuition is free. Get into this.
If you’re strapped for cash and in between classes, don’t let yourself get rusty. You never know when that next audition is around the corner. Here are a list of some of the BEST videos an actor can watch, all for the bargain price of FREE ninety-nine.
There is never an excuse to not be getting better. Save this blog and refer to it often. You’re welcome.
The Meisner Technique
Inside the Actors Studio
Tom Hanks: First Visit, Second Visit
Actor’s Access Virtual Channel Network
I’m A “Business” Man
Ok, the rent is paid. It’s time for some housekeeping.
My stylist friend, Chris Mannor (I swear I’m going to introduce y’all to him one of these days), once told me to present yourself how you want to be remembered.
This goes for the way you look on a daily basis, your Facebook profile, and for the purposes of acting, YOU as a product. Believe it or not, when you’re promoting yourself as an actor, the product you’re selling is YOU.
You need some materials, tangible marketing materials to leave with people once you leave their presence.
When CVS has a sale they send you a cute little sales paper, right? How’d you find out about that movie you saw last night? When was the last time you wanted somebody’s phone number but didn’t have time to put it in your phone? How often do you to go to a company website to grade how good their services MIGHT be?
If your answers are yes, a billboard, last night, all the time, and every day... It’s time for you to set up shop.
So… down to the housekeeping…
We already know we need headshots, those are basic. Expensive but basic. For social settings and creating legitimacy very quickly in fast-paced environments where actors thrive like L.A. and N.Y., your best bet would be to get a business card. And don’t be shy, go ahead and slap your picture on it. Add all your contact information. So when that casting director you met at Starbucks is looking for a pen in her next meeting, your pretty little face runs through her fingers. That’s the beauty of a business card with your headshot. Your face is on it, it has all your information, and they’re so cheap EVERYBODY CAN HAVE ONE!
Here’s the business card I had made. It has everything anybody ever wanted to know about Tiffany Black on it. My card doesn’t look like anybody else’s so it’s lending itself to building my brand. Every piece of material I put my name on suggests SOMETHING about Tiffany Black. Every email has my website, www.TiffanySBlack.com, in the signature. Every headshot/resume I leave at an audition. Every event I go to I’m passing out business cards. A night at the club in L.A. is never just about dancing to the music. There is opportunity at the bar and at the grocery store. Anytime is the PERFECT time to promote you!
And if you want to take it a step further, which I always do, send out postcards to your team (your agents, casting director relationships you’ve built, etc.) Make sure they know when you’ve booked a spot on Hawthorne! Let them know you’ve reached SAG status! Emails are quick and great, but they can often get lost in the shuffle if they look like spam. No one can deny this when it hits their desk…
FYI: postcards are a whopping .34 to mail!! Headshots/resumes are a dollar a pop!
And why do you think you ended up liking that stupid song you hated the first time you heard it on the radio? FREQUENCY. You liked it because you heard it so much.
And because having an online presence is just as important as matching a face to a name, I went ahead a set up a website for myself. Doesn’t every other company have a website? Well guess what… you need one too. It needs to have your reel on it, all of your upcoming projects, your resume, and everything else you didn’t get a chance to say when you met that agent while waiting in line at Ikea. Make it easy on for them! And if you can’t afford a website right now, which you probably can, your Facebook page is a good way to start, but clean it up. Make sure you have mentioned in your “info” that you’re an actor and hide those drunken party pictures from college.
Set up shop. You’re a business nooooow! Change that Karaoke style voicemail message to something entertaining, yet professional. You only need one chance to mess up a first impression. Present yourself how you want to be remembered. Remember, as an actor, you are always in a position of needing to be CHOSEN. Don’t give them any reason to choose anyone else!
In closing, (I love that this blog has turned into an essay) I’m sure you’re wondering who helped me set up shop. My business cards and postcards were done by Lifted Soul Graphics. Inquire at www.liftedsoul.com. They have a special going right now: 500 business cards for $50 (that includes the custom design AND printing). PLUS if you tell them you were referred by Tiffany Black’s blog, you get an extra $5 off. That’s right! I got your back! So get on up and punch the clock! Its business hours! It’s ALWAYS business hours!
PS: All of these materials can be written off on your taxes as expenses at the end of the year ;)
New Posts Every Tuesday!