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  • James Stranahan

To Have a Successful Career, Actors Must Think Like an Entrepreneur

When you finally make it in Hollywood, it’s a great feeling. You’ve worked hard, you’ve put in some crazy hours, you’ve networked, and you’ve kept going even when you’ve gotten your thousandth rejection. Now here you are, on top, and suddenly it hits you: why me? Why have I made it when so many others haven’t? Is it really because I have more talent than my peers? Why exactly have I been blessed with this fortune when I can point to other people who are just as skilled as I am?


I’ve given a lot of thought to those questions, and I suppose there are just as many answers to them as there are people who try to make it in Tinseltown. I can’t boil them down to one answer that applies to everyone, of course, but after watching some of my peers struggle and give up, I do have a theory: those who make it treat their pursuit of Hollywood success, however they define that, as a true job. They adopt an entrepreneur’s mindset and never drop it as they go from audition to audition and interview to interview.


An entrepreneur has a vision, and they’ll do anything to make it happen. Their goal is perhaps years down the road, but they’re bound and determined to reach it. The entrepreneur will carefully lay out each step of the journey and go after each one, checking it off and keeping the faith that the end result will be their vision coming alive. If they need information, they go out and get it. If they need training, they’ll sign up for classes and get it. If they need people to help them to realize their vision, they’ll go out and find them. Entrepreneurs are always analyzing how the path to their dream is proceeding, watching for bumps in the road, and making adjustments. They just keep going no matter what.


Those people who find success in Hollywood, I suspect, are no different. Whether they want to be actors, directors, stunt doubles, or something else, they put that goal down on paper, commit to it, and begin making plans to reach it. They figure out what’s keeping them from achieving their dreams. Are most casting directors hiring people who know martial arts? The person will go out and get into a karate class. Is there a demand for people who can speak foreign languages? The person will learn to speak Spanish. They figure out what is preventing them from getting their dream job in Hollywood and then find the solution to it.


I have managed my own career like a business, which I think is part of the reason I am where I am today. Nothing has been by chance. I have accepted roles and made movies based on where I want my career to go. It hasn’t, of course, gone smoothly. There have always been times when my plans got derailed because the funding didn’t come through or bad weather canceled a shoot. In the end, though, no matter what happened, I didn’t let it all fall apart. Instead, I regrouped, analyzed what happened and decided on what to do to solve it, nailed together the structure again, and kept going.


It’s also important to follow the example of entrepreneurs and create your own opportunities. There are so few parts in Hollywood compared to the number of people competing for them that it’s only to be expected to see so many actors standing on the sidelines. Don’t stay there! Walk off and make your own opportunities. That’s what I’ve done as an independent film producer, and while it hasn’t always been the easiest road, it’s kept me going. My resume has continued to grow, and the end result is that I can say I’ve been working for years in a very hard industry and have a lot to show for it.


No one can guide your career in the right direction except you. If you haven’t already, I recommend sitting down and really getting strategic about the steps you’re going to take to have your dream job in Hollywood. Getting that kind of mindset in place and laying it all out on paper may very well be what eventually opens doors for you, too.




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