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As I sat at the bus stop this morning, a blonde man in his 20’s—with a classic surfer look but wearing a cowboy hat—stopped to ask me how long I had been waiting.

“Five minutes,” I replied.

“When do you think the bus will be here?” he asked.

“Probably another ten minutes,” I said.

“Okay,” he responded, “I’ll keep on truckin’.”

Ten minutes later, the bus arrived and a couple stops away, Cowboy Surfer got on the bus. A short time earlier he had been a stranger but one quick exchange at the bus stop made him feel familiar. That, my new actors, relates directly to the casting process we’re about to discuss.

Many of us begin our acting careers seeking roles. We want the opportunity to audition. We want work. Let’s not forget the fame, fortune, and deep-seated need for attention craved by a great many actors, too. But the point is, we enter the business seeking something specific to meet our needs and getting “the role” is a primary goal for us.

The problem with the role-seeking approach is we miss the opportunity to get on the ground floor of a project. To be the actor considered before casting has begun. Once everything is ready for the casting process to get underway, we’re often just one more person competing for a role. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a proverbial foot in the door earlier?

A few years ago, a filmmaker wrote a short with his two leads already in mind. I played one them, a naive software developer who meets an attractive woman online and discovers on their first date she has some disturbing ulterior motives.  At yesterday’s SAG-AFTRA Houston Conservatory event featuring local filmmakers, one of the panelists, a screen writer and novelist, shared a story about struggling with a script for a long time until he met THE ACTOR who he instantly recognized could play the title role. The writer explained how the two of them collaborated for months and the actor’s input about the character led directly to shaping the script.

This is a very different approach than actors, especially newer ones, tend to use. We wait for the casting notice then zealously submit (or have our agent submit us) and hope we get invited to audition on tape or in person. In essence, we’re waiting for permission to audition and act. We have it backward.

The reverse involves a bit of work, of course. You can’t wait for the work to come to you. You must identify the roles you desire then seek them out. But before all of those roles even exist, it’s vital to begin creating relationships with all kinds of people in the industry. Attending a workshop hosted by a casting director could lead to getting asked to audition for a future film role. Going to a screening of a local director’s film could lead to being on a short list of actors for a future role, too. Showing support for your local producers, writers, and other filmmakers and content creators could begin opening some doors for you as well.

It’s not all What’s In It For Me?, though. Your choices to invest time and support in fellow actors and filmmakers serves a greater purpose. It’s about building community. It’s the reason I advocate carpooling to auditions whenever you can. Spending time with other actors outside of the audition waiting room is a terrific way to get acquainted and truly connect.

So where do you get started? Social media makes it easy to find, like and follow filmmakers. Consider starting with these three people: one writer who is creating short film scripts, one producer or director who plans to make a feature film within the next 12-18 months, and one person who routinely casts feature films in your area. Track what each person is doing so you stay in-the-know and a step ahead of your competition.

There’s no need to wait to get started. Go for it now. Make it a routine to check in with each person’s social media pages or contact them directly, if that feels appropriate. Then, follow up with me here when you have success stories to share. I wish you all the success you’re willing to earn.