Atlanta has the impressive title of The Hollywood of the South. Matthew Cornwell, a working actor and filmmaker, gives us the goods on how to break into the business.
The Atlanta TV and Film industry has grown exponentially since I moved here in 2000. Things began to take off when the state of Georgia passed a tax incentive to entice Hollywood productions to set up shop here. And it worked. Big time.
Our tax incentive program is still the best in the Southeast, and we are now one of the top destinations for TV and Film production in the world.
This has created a huge amount of opportunities. However, it’s also drawing a lot more actors to the state, which means stiffer competition. So for those who are interested in pursuing a career as an actor, what’s the best way to start? Any actor will tell you it’s training. You wouldn’t go see a doctor who decided to skip med school, would you? Then you should approach your acting career the same way. I started acting in high school and college by taking classes and doing theatre, and continued that when I moved to Atlanta.
And after 4 years of solid training, I booked my first film role in a major motion picture. Four years. That may seem like an eternity for those aspiring actors that want fame and fortune, but it’s pretty typical in this industry. If you don’t cultivate patience, this career will drive you crazy.
And I discovered throughout my early years that you need not only good foundational training (Meisner, Chubbick, Stanislavsky, etc), but also classes that will focus on preparing you to audition for the camera, set etiquette, etc. Luckily, there are now many options for training in Atlanta. Outside of this training, I got my feet wet by participating in the 48 Hour Film Project, auditioning for student films, reading blogs, watching YouTube videos that break down the art of acting AND filmmaking, and I read tons of books on the craft of acting. Additionally, I took tap classes, voice coaching, and improv (which EVERY actor should take).
I was a sponge for anything and everything film related. This created a strong desire early on to create my own content. So I immediately started making my own short films, and entered them into any contest I could. I even won some of those contests. But most importantly, creating my own content taught me a ton about directing, cinematography, writing, and editing.
I think it’s imperative that any aspiring actor learn a little about every discipline in this industry.
By the time you arrive on your first “Hollywood” set (and by that I just mean a full-budget project that will be shown in theaters or on TV/Cable/Streaming), you should know how to hit a mark, understand what coverage means, recognize who is a gaffer, who is a boom op, who is the 2nd A.D, and so much more. If you don’t, all the distractions of a set, combined with the lingo that gets tossed around will serve to distract you from bringing your best acting to the table.
And after ALL that training, there are still zero guarantees in this biz. One day you’re a recurring Guest Star on a popular TV show, the next day you’re doing a one-liner on a movie, and your scene gets cut before you even shoot it (I’m speaking from experience). There are so
many ups and downs that are inevitable no matter how long you stay in this career.
Consequently, the best piece of advice I can give you comes from Steve Martin: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” With that I say “good luck”, and I’ll see you on set!
Matthew Cornwell's Bio: I moved to Atlanta in 2000 to get my Masters in Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. After that, I made the logical jump to full-time acting. Since 2002 I have been pursuing acting professionally, represented by Houghton Talent. I've amassed over 60 IMDb credits along the way, and have produced dozens of short films, including 3 seasons of the web series, Becky & Barry. Additionally, I perform improv on a semi-regular basis, run an audition taping service with my wife, and continue to produce my own content. I'm also a proud member of SAG-AFTRA, and serve on 2 separate committees through our local chapter. www.matthewcornwell.com