Rejection for Actors – It’s Really Not Personal

Dear fellow actors,

Doesn’t it just suck to go out on audition after audition and not get the gig? Or even a callback in many cases? Sure it does. But, despite all the teachers and coaches and articles that tell you not to take it personally, it’s really difficult not to. Because acting is what we do. For many of us it’s how we define ourselves. So, even though we know that they don’t mean anything personal when they don’t cast us, we can’t help but take it personally.

So, let’s try a thought experiment and see if it helps:

You are now in a hypothetical reality where you are perfect for every major role out there – commercial, film, TV, web, etc. You can literally pick any role you want and it’s yours. Your email inbox is flooded with  offers from every casting director, director & producer. You got 100 of them in the last hour. Sounds nice, right? So, what do you do?

Do you go through every role offered to you and read it carefully and then make a conscious decision to turn it down or take it? Keep in mind while you’re right for every role, you still only have seven days in a week. So, if you accept the movie that shoots next week you can’t also take the TV show that films the same days. My guess is that you will not spend your entire day in front of your computer meticulously reading every word in every offer. So, what do you do?

Here’s what I would probably do:

I would scan the emails and see which ones pay the most. I’d set aside the top twenty paying gigs to look at later. Then I would quickly look at the rest for any names attached to the projects to see if there’s anyone already on the gig that I really wanna work with and set those aside also. And then I might scan through the remaining offers and see if anything jumps out at me that I like. Anything like, ‘shoots in Hawaii’ or ‘you will work with real dolphins’ or ‘one scene is at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.’ If any of those examples I just gave are in the descriptions, I’m putting those offers to the side.

After I’ve set aside approximately 50 offers in total I select all the remaining hundreds in my inbox and I delete them.

Now, I go through the 50 that I flagged and I read them more carefully. I make a spread sheet  of every project with the plusses, the minuses and any other interesting notes I can use to help weigh my decision. After I’ve combed through them all I look at my spreadsheet and I pick my top five. I call the contacts involved with those top five and have a brief discussion with them. I ask them questions about the project – anything I’m not 100% clear on. If I discover something new and off putting about any of my top five choices I notate it in my spreadsheet.

Let’s say my top five choices happen to not conflict with any shooting dates. Let’s say that I liked everything I had to hear from the people I spoke with on all five projects. In that case I say yes to them and put the subsequent dates in my calendar.

If I’m feeling not too mentally exhausted by this point I may write a personal note to decline some of the offers in my remaining top 50 that I really liked but didn’t wind up accepting. But honestly, I probably won’t do that. I’ll probably just call it a day.

So, what essentially did I just do? I summarily dismissed the lion’s share of the offers right away. I set aside a few to look at more closely. Of those I narrowed my favorites. And of those I made a choice that I could live with.

If I flagged fifty projects or even just twenty then I still turned down a minimum of fifteen that I thought would be good projects to do. Those projects didn’t lose out in that I looked at them and said, “absolutely not” or anything like that. I liked many of them. But I had to make a choice.

And in that hypothetical world where all those projects wanted to cast me, I meant nothing personal to the director, writer or producer of the projects that I didn’t accept.

The sad reality is that we’re not getting turned down because we’re not talented. We’re not getting turned down at all. They’re simply choosing someone else over us. They have too many choices and not enough time. Just like you did in that wonderful hypothetical reality.

We – as the acting population – flood the market with all of our talents. The filmmakers out there treat us as replaceable, because for the most part we are. Personally, I think I’m good at this whole acting thing. But if you’re in the market for a 30 something, bald, average sized white guy who’s really funny chances are you have more options than just me. I’m probably one of hundreds or thousands of viable options for any given role. And that’s true for whatever type you’re looking for.

So, the solution is obvious…have three quarters of the acting population stop acting all together and let the remaining quarter enjoy a more balanced market. So, who’s gonna quit? Shall we draw straws? Nah. That’s unlikely to happen. So, instead we just have to face the facts that we’re part of a very unbalanced system of way too much supply with a little demand.

Unlike high jumpers or weight lifters there’s no level of ability we can achieve that will make us clearly the best in our field. Acting is subjective. Those who succeed usually do so because of a mix of hard work, raw talent, tenacity, longevity and plain ole luck.

Keep doing good work. Keep showing up super prepared to your auditions. Good talent will not go unnoticed forever. If it’s worth it to you to make it in this world then you’ll stick it out. If it’s not, then you’ll quit one day. Hell, maybe I’ll get fed up and quit one day. But whatever you do or don’t do, please understand that it’s really not personal when they cast someone else for that Pepsi commercial. And it wasn’t your fault for not being talented enough.