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Working Actor: Breaking in, Making a Living, and Making a Life in the Fabulous Trenches of Show Business

Working Actor: Breaking in, Making a Living, and Making a Life in the Fabulous Trenches of Show Business

by David Dean Bottrell


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Veteran character actor David Dean Bottrell draws on his 35+ tumultuous years of work in the entertainment industry to offer a guide to breaking in, making a living, and making a life in the fabulous trenches of show business. Covers every facet of the business, including: 

-        Capturing the perfect headshot
-        Starting (and maintaining) your network
-        Picking an agent
-        Audition do’s and don’ts
-        Joining the union(s): SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity Association (AEA)
-        On stage vs on screen
-        Paying the bills
-        Self-promotion
-        Late bloomers
-        When to get out 

David Dean Bottrell has worn many different hats during his decades in showbiz: television actor with appearances on Boston Legal, Modern Family, The Blacklist, Mad Men, True Blood, NCIS, and Days of Our Lives; screenwriter for Paramount and Disney; respected acting teacher at UCLA and AADA; and regular expert columnist for esteemed acting site Backstage. In Working Actor, Bottrell offers a how-to manual jammed with practical information and insider advice, essential reading for any artist (aspiring or established) in need of insight or inspiration. Mixing prescriptive advice ("Getting Started," "Learning Your Craft," "Finding an Agent") with wisdom drawn from Bottrell's own professional highs and lows and those of his acting compatriots, this book's humorous, tell-it-like-it-is tone is a must-have guide for anyone hoping to successfully navigate show business.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399581908
Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed
Publication date: 02/19/2019
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 453,629
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Known for his versatility and quirky characterizations, DAVID DEAN BOTTRELL is a critically acclaimed actor who has guest starred on many TV shows and is primarily known for his portrayal of Lincoln Meyer on season three of Boston Legal. In the last decade, David has become a highly popular humor columnist (Metrosource magazine); industry blogger (Huffington Post), spoken word performer (Comedy Central Stage), and respected acting teacher (UCLA, AADA). For 13 years, he was a popular screenwriter for the likes of Fox Searchlight, Paramount, MTV Films, and Disney Animation. He is currently a regular expert columnist for Backstage. Learn more at

Read an Excerpt

A few years ago, I put together a few of my funnier spoken word stories and created a comedic solo show about my tumultuous love life entitled David Dean Bottrell Makes Love: A One-Man Show. Much to my surprise, it proved to be a big underground hit and played for eighteen months in L.A. A couple of months into the run, the Los Angeles Times showed up and gave the show a very kind review. Needless to say, I was thrilled, but there was one comment that really bugged me. In the paragraph that introduced me to their readers, who’d perhaps never heard of me, I was referred to as “an L.A. actor-comedian-writer on the fringe of success.”

“The fringe of success”? Were they freaking kidding?

I had (for the most part) supported myself as a working professional in the enter­tainment industry—the world’s toughest industry to make a living in—for over thirty years. Yet apparently I was only on the “fringe” of success? Okay, granted, I was living in Los Angeles, a city utterly convinced that the only definition of a successful performer is a famous performer, but this unasked-for career assess­ment weirdly stung me to my core.

It got me thinking about what “success” in show business looks like. I suppose that, like a lot of artists, I’d been existing in that perpetual state of waiting; doing job after job while holding onto the idea that one of these days a very special, very particular gig would show up that would be the game changer, the job that would firmly plant me on the magical list of people who could expect to keep working consistently until they died. Of course, I knew that no such list actually exists, but show business is an industry fueled by far-reaching and seductive dreams.
That’s when I asked myself the big question: Had my dream already come true? Was I already living it?

Since I began this journey (over three decades ago), I’ve been fortunate to land enough writing and acting gigs to pay my bills, contribute to my retirement account, and take a modest vacation each year. In short, I’ve clawed my way to the middle. By most people’s standards, I guess that makes me a success. Like many of my peers, I leaped into the entertainment industry early in life without the slightest idea of what I was getting into. Having been at this for a while now, I actually know a few very famous and successful people. Because I also teach and mentor, each year I meet and work with a talented crop of hopeful newcomers, all champing at the bit for their shot at the big time. I consider myself lucky. My career choice has, for the most part, worked out well—but not without a few hard-learned lessons along the way. I am now (in the grand pecking order of show business) considered a veteran. And like most vets, I have a few war stories to tell.

So, after a fair amount of nail-biting, I decided to write this book about what to expect if you are contemplating a career in show business. Here on these tear-stained, blood-spattered pages, I’ll try to share the bigger lessons I have learned, along with a few things to avoid if possible. This is a book about making a living (and making a life) while trying to pursue a very particular dream.

I happen to love show business. Even with all its ups and downs, it still strikes me as a swell way to spend one’s life. If you approach the industry with a clear vision—to make your living creatively—I happen to believe it’s an achievable goal. As you will see in the upcoming pages, I’m probably one of the least-qualified candidates imaginable, but somehow, I did it—and continue to do it. Assuming you have tal­ent and a lot of determination, and you genuinely enjoy challenges, you can too.

Table of Contents

Introduction Why I Wrote This Book 1

Part 1 Finding the Door

1 The Big Question Should I Do This with My Life? 7

2 They Say The Neon Lights Are Bright Starting in New York 13

3 Welcome To The Hotel California Starting in Los Angeles 21

4 Ignorance Is Bliss Everybody Starts Somewhere 29

5 A Class Act Where to Study 37

6 Picture This Capturing the Perfect Headshot 45

7 The Friend Zone Starting Your Network 51

8 Perfect Strangers What Is an Agent? 57

9 The Dating Game How to Find on Agent 63

10 A Particular Courage Becoming Employable 69

Part 2 Opening the Door

11 Role Call The Wonderful World of Auditions 77

12 Liftoff The First Gig! 85

13 Labor Day Joining the Union(s) 91

14 The Discovery Channel Who Exactly Are You? 97

15 Up In My Business Paying the Bills 103

16 Crazy Is As Crazy Does Working with Interesting People 111

17 Happy Medium The Difference Between Stage and Screen 117

18 How Bad Could It Be? Writing That Script 125

19 Star Of David The Elusive Fifteen Minutes of Fame 131

Part 3 Keeping the Door Open

20 And Speaking Of Me Self-Promotion 141

21 Scheduled Maintenance Keeping It Together 147

22 The Turn Signal How and When to Change Lanes 153

23 Lucky You The Science of Getting a Break 161

24 People Who Need People Navigating Relationships 169

25 Death By Resume Jealousy and Competitiveness 175

26 Roadside Assistance Asking for and Accepting Help 183

27 Exit Strategy When to Get Out 189

28 Just Past Famous Late Bloomers 195

29 Border Crossings The New Frontier 201

30 Burning Questions FAQs from the Freshly Launched 207

Afterword Is It All Worth It? 212

Resources Programs and Classes 218

Acknowledgments 224

About The Author 229

Index 230

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