By Tom McCafferty
1. Attitude is everything
Be gracious. Have good manners. People may not remember good manners, but they do remember bad ones. Be Enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is contagious. Be confident. And Decisive. People will follow you and believe in you if you act like you believe in yourself. We don’t think of this as actors, but the CD, the Director, the Producers–everyone’s job is on the line. If you come across with ease and confidence, you’ve made the first step to gaining the trust that you can do the job. Above all–be grateful. You are here living your dream. Not everyone gets that chance. Don’t waste it. Even on your worst actor day, you are still in sunny SoCal. You are not sleeping in a dusty hole in the ground in some third-world country wondering how many more days till you get to take a shower or eat hot food. Or being shot at–well, depending, of course, on what part of LA you live in.
2. Use the Buddy System
A buddy is someone who watches your back, and you watch theirs. In combat, your buddy literally shoots at the bad guys so the bad guys keep their heads down and don’t shoot back at you while you move to the next position. Your buddy sleeps while you are on guard and vice versa. Your life is literally in your buddy’s hands. Acting can be a lonely profession. Be there for your close friends, and they will be there for you. A good buddy is honest with you and keeps you accountable to yourself and your goals.
3. Have a plan. And be ready to toss the plan aside when opportunity presents itself.
Before every battle, the military leaders spend a lot of time planning in detail how the operation will take place. Every person involved is briefed on the plan including the end objective and major checkpoints along the way. Almost without fail, the plan changes as soon as first contact with the enemy is made. The good news is that everyone knows the objective, and though there may be detours, the unit still knows where they are headed. It’s the same with acting. You think you are going to write a letter to a director today, but the car breaks down. Then you get an audition for a TV show. Plans change. All the effort goes to the audition and fixing the car. Without a plan, it’s easy to lose track of where you are going. If you have a written plan, you go back to it: “Oh that’s right. I wanted to send a letter to Peter Berg,” and you are back on track.
4. Train for the toughest scenario
Let’s face it. Acting is not rocket science. Under the right conditions, with the right director, with the right script , the right amount of sleep, etc.- (almost) anyone can give a great performance. The truth is that conditions will almost never be perfect. Not only do we need you to give a great performance under the worst conditions, we need it fast. Look at it this way: I did pilot training. It’s actually pretty easy to get a small plane off the ground. It’s a little harder to land, but under ideal conditions, you could learn in a bout half an hour. Pilot training is so long because you need to know how to respond to anything that comes up without hesitating–because your life depends on it. Actors, like pilots and soldiers, need to be ready to respond at a moment’s notice and know how to give their best performance with little prep. When the plane is spiraling to the ground, you don’t have time to check the manual. Get trained as an actor. Be able to deliver under the worst conditions. Otherwise, you will crash and burn.
5. Early is on time. On time is late.
Seems simple enough. Being on time is drilled into military folk from day one. Like the military, the film industry is a well-oiled machine with many moving parts. Not being in the right place at the right time clogs the system and creates problems for the people who you want to hire you. Surprising how many people here can’t seem to grasp the importance of being on time for an audition or even a job. As a rule, plan on being a few minutes early. Having the rep for always being slightly early or on time immediately puts you ahead of the pack. Yes, we have bad traffic in LA. Plan for it. Give yourself extra time. Despite all of this, if hell freezes over and you are going to be more than 5 minutes late, call and let the person know.
Tom McCafferty has appeared in over a dozen studio film and tv projects, most recently as Sheriff Hank on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire and as a voiceover artist in Fury. As a writer and director, his first short film, Battle Scars, won the Audience Award at last year’s G.I. Film Festival. He’s currently part of the Veteran’s Writing Workshop at the Writer’s Guild Foundation. He’s also a founder of the Hollywood Playhouse and member of Veterans in Film and Television.
Tom is a West Point graduate who served 7 years as a U.S. Army Infantry officer.