Sometimes people ask me for advice on breaking into acting. I often don’t feel right giving that advice, because I started acting before I was in Kindergarten, and the child acting world and grown-up acting world are completely different. I was a slightly bigger fish in a much smaller pond, and I believe I got lucky. I also grew up in an industry city, where everyone knew someone who worked in Hollywood in some capacity.
But there is one piece of advice I would give to any working actor, because it has worked well for me, and many people I know: Be in a holiday movie.
It is one of the most practical pieces of advice I can give. People love holiday movies, and because there are a finite number of them, they are shown every year on TV and streaming — even the really terrible ones. That means residuals every year. That means people seeing your face every year.
Most of these are probably going to be Christmas-themed. There are more Christmas movies and commercials than there are any other holiday movies. (This is admittedly from my limited Western, English-language speaking world perspective; I don’t know what the holiday movie situation is in Mumbai, Cairo, or Hong Kong. I do know this is the case in LA, New York, Atlanta, Toronto, Vancouver, and London.) But they also make a good deal of Halloween, and even Valentine’s Day-themed movies and commercials. Many of them have had a surprisingly long shelf life — everyone knows Hocus Pocus, and many even still know Halloweentown. Everyone even knows that damn Sears air conditioning commercial, and that wasn’t even for a holiday, it was just seasonal! You can make good money by just doing something seasonal. Do something seasonal!
This doesn’t just apply to actors. I know a lot of musicians and dancers who have been paid well for holiday performances and commercials. I dated someone who did the visual effects for a snowy iPhone commercial that shot in July. One of my friends qualified for SAG after she was in a commercial playing an instrument behind Josh Groban. There’s a reason so many popular musicians put out Christmas albums, they always sell! And they always need extras for Halloween-themed movies — or at least they will, when people can congregate in groups again. Yes, this is all working within the capitalist framework of Hollywood, and some point in the future, in a better world, actors and musicians might only ever get paid for the work they truly want to do. But that’s not the world we live in.
You, of course, absolutely should not do this if it is personally offensive to you and your beliefs. You shouldn’t do something against your values, or that will piss off your family in a way you can’t deal with. But it is is worth remembering that Jewish songwriters gave the world Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, White Christmas, and most twentieth century Christmas songs. Josh Groban, who did that commercial my friend was in, is also Jewish. I was a Jewish kid who was in a Christmas movie, and yes, I got a bit of grief from some of the Jewish side of my family for that. But I also got and still get residuals, residuals I often use to make donations to Jewish organizations. I don’t celebrate Christmas, myself, but I can celebrate making people happy. To me, it balances out. If it balances out for you, be in a holiday movie.
Ultimately, most of us who make stuff are lucky if we get to make something people enjoy. You don’t need to be in a classic like It’s a Wonderful Life, or dance in The Nutcracker. Many holiday movies are corny, but lots of people enjoy them. These movies give people permission to be sentimental, to have something to put on at a party, and maybe this year, they will make people get some escapist fun and feel a little less lonely. Being part of one means giving people happy memories. It may not be pure art, but it’s a good experience. I know there are limits to “let people enjoy things”, but some things aren’t bad, they’re just fine for what they are.
And if what you do does turn into a classic, you are in major luck. Think about all the Die Hard-is-a-Christmas movie discourse! Or people finally putting it together that Continental Treasure Catherine O’Hara is not only Moira Rose, but both Kevin McCallister’s mom in Home Alone AND Sally in Nightmare Before Christmas! Or how, despite all the people who love to talk about how Love, Actually sucks, actually, it’s still on TV every year and you probably still know people who love it. There’s a reason even prestigious British actors like Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are in holiday movies. Hell, Emma Thompson even co-wrote a holiday movie! Do you think you know more about film and acting than Dame Emma Thompson?
You probably don’t. So, if you ever have the opportunity, take my advice, and be in a holiday movie.
Stuff I Did This Week: So. Many. Podcasts. First, my episode of Merritt K’s The K-Hole came out! We got weird and deep, talking about what we thought death would be like when we were kids, a screenplay I wrote when I was nine, “sword guys,” and many esoteric things.
Dyking Out had me on to talk about musicals, which as you know are some of my favorite things in the world! We talked about the Cinderellas and Peter Pans of our youth, relating to pining young men characters, and Sondheim’s leading ladies.
I was thrilled to be on Why Are Dads? to discuss A Christmas Story and I was even more digressive here than usual, bringing up my grudge against the state of Indiana, what I call the “Christmas Isn’t About” trope, and a terrifying baby who said his nickname like a Pokemon. Also we talked about the movie!
Fake BBC Show of the Week: The Bramley Clones (actually just a type of apple, but it sounds cool)
That wordless choral montage featuring "Coventry Carol" in the sad scene from Miracle where Santa goes to Bellevue, was pure art. I was reminded of it again years later, when I first heard "That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!" on the Sufjan Stevens holiday album.
And as always your writing is a total joy.