And thanks for reading! What is in a name? After last year’s strikes ended, we thought the industry would come roaring back. Well, think again! The industry seems to be in some sort of contraction or correction this year. Looking through the few available roles can be discouraging, especially when many of them look for “named actors only”. This week let’s talk about the jobs that are only looking for “named actors”.
Just a reminder here that when I use the term “actor” I mean it to encompass all forms of acting including voice, stage, and screen. Yeah, I know I say this every week, but it falls under the heading of “The things that go without saying are the things that most need to be said”. What follows applies relatively equally to all of these forms of acting.
Last year’s strikes by the Directors Guild of America (DGA), Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild- American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) slowed productions to a trickle, limiting them to only non-union independent projects and a few union projects that were authorized. The strikes began in May of 2023 and lasted until November. Fully half of the year was spent with one or more of these unions on strike.
As a result of these strikes, obviously, productions halted. Most crews, writers and, more importantly for this post, actors spent half the year out of work and struggling to make ends meet. Shows were not released; new shows were not begun and for consumers that meant either re-runs or digging deep into the portfolios of streaming services to find entertainment. Since productions were halted and new scripts weren’t being written that also means the landscape in 2024 is going to look pretty bleak for consumers as well.
A couple of other things happened as well. Notably, funding began to dry up as investors looked elsewhere for places to put their money to make a profit. Studios began to scale back, reducing their workforce. The inventory of available projects to produce at best stagnated and at worst contracted. Things were not looking good for Hollywood.
And then the strikes ended.
That’s good, right!? Well, of course it’s good. It means Hollywood can get back to work. Or can it? Yes and no. Yes, they can all get back to work…if there is something to work on. Projects have to be written, reviewed, green lit and production begun. Those things take time. Add to that the reduced workforce and funding, and this year (at least) it will take a lot more time than usual.
We all know that Hollywood is a behemoth. It’s huge and has a lot of moving parts. Imagine a long train sitting still on a track somewhere. When you want to get that train rolling you have to staff it, fill it with cargo, then get the engine running and finally put it in gear and get it rolling. But the train is huge and heavy and overcoming the inertia of all that weight takes a ton of energy. Even when it begins to roll, it starts out very slowly and builds speed gradually. So too with Hollywood.
We all just imagined that the end of the strikes meant that productions would all just re-start. OK, maybe not all of us thought that, but many did. But here we are 3 months post-strike, a full quarter back into “normal” and things are hardly back to normal. In terms of the train analogy what is happening right now is staffing the train and looking for cargo to fill it. That train is just beginning to get to the point where it will, slowly, start to roll. Some people are predicting it will take a year, or several years, to get back up to speed…and some are predicting it will never be back to the way it was before the strikes.
The industry may even be contracting.
You would have expected the end of the strike to cause the industry to expand, but the exact opposite may actually be happening. Check out this Deadline Hollywood article which may explain what is going on in the industry.
What does that mean for actors?
In short, it means fewer available roles, and far more actors competing for them. Since revenue has been down (because of no or limited new releases) it also means reduced funding to green light projects, further compressing the number of available roles. The studios are presently in a “protected mode” when it comes to new projects, meaning they are looking for blockbusters to, as quickly as possible, start the money flowing again. It’s a vicious cycle.
So, what is “named talent”?
I mean, I have a name, right!? Simply put, named talent are actors whose names are widely recognized. Think to yourself about all the lead actors you like and can name. Those are named talent. When a production is asking for named talent, they are asking for someone recognizable by a large group of people who is popular and will bring in viewers.
What makes something a blockbuster?
One of the ways studios know, or at least can expect something to be a blockbuster is to attach a “name” to the project. What does it mean to “attach a name”? It means hiring an actor that a lot of people recognize and enjoy. Those are the actors who draw people to the theater just because they are in the film or TV show. Attaching a name to a production means that people are definitely going to pay to watch it, sometimes a LOT of people. At the end of the day, people paying to watch something is what generates revenue and puts money back into the studio so they can afford to fund more projects.
Named talent only…
This phrase is one I, and probably many of you as well, dread seeing on a role we are a good fit for. It generally means that the role is an important one in the project and the producers want a recognizable name for the role to draw in viewers. It’s discouraging to find an available role you are a fit for, only to see the phrase “named talent only” in the spec. it makes most of us pass that role by.
No, not don’t submit. Don’t pass it by! For me, and my agent BTW, I see no downside to submitting for roles that are looking for named talent. The worst thing that can happen when you submit to these roles is what usually happens anyway; you hear nothing. The best thing? You get asked to audition. The VERY best thing? You book a role! If you are a good fit for a role and they are looking for named talent, submit anyway. The CD has a delete button and can ignore you if they want to. They are not, contrary to popular belief, creating a list of un-named actors who submit to named actor roles.
And here is why…
If you can see the role as available, they are still searching. Many, if not most, named talent are at the point in their careers where they are “offer only”. What that means is they are not typically auditioning for a role the way you and I do. Productions are searching them out (versus them searching for roles). When a production really needs a name, they give the CD a list of actors they envision in the role, the CD then reaches out to the agent or manager for those actors and asks if they are interested. When they exhaust all of those options, they have to widen the search. That’s why you see them as available.
They don’t know what they don’t know…
They think they want a particular actor, but they haven’t seen YOU yet. It’s possible they are struggling to fill the role, and if your submission fits, they’ll ask for an audition. They don’t know if you are perfect for the role unless they see you on tape. Frankly, this is one of the ways un-named actors get to be named actors to begin with. You’ve heard of actors getting their “big break”, right? This is how you get a big break.
At the end of the day…
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by submitting for these roles. Every named actor you know of was once an un-named actor struggling to get booked just like we are. Even if you get no response, which is pretty typical anyway, you are in the same position as if you had not submitted…still searching. But when you do submit, at a minimum your name and likeness is in front of a CD. There is no down side, so go ahead and submit anyway!