Making the transition to Hollywood

Tara Jade Borg
Tara Jade Borg

Many of us Aussies have thought about making the big leap to the Big Apple to pursue Broadway or Hollywood to purse a career in film.

Bobbi-Lea took some time out to speak with Aussie girl Tara Jade Borg, who has done just that. Tara explains the differences between the Australian and American film industry and gives some helpful advise for anyone thinking of making the big step.

What prompted you to make the trip to Hollywood?

I have wanted to come to America since I was ten years old. It has been a life-long dream to see Hollywood and experience the American culture exhibited in pop culture. I have spent many years since I graduated from my drama degree at QUT trying to be a working actor in Brisbane, whilst maintaining a decent day job to pay the bills.  By the end of 2010, I had become fed up with my current situation and was considering a move to Sydney to start a business.  I had even put down a deposit to secure a franchise when I had this moment of “What the heck am I doing?”  I have wanted to be an actor my whole life and I’m buying a business that, whilst financially a good idea, would move me further and further away from doing the one thing I have wanted all my life.  So I bit the bullet, bought a ticket, quit my job and just did it!

Why not Sydney or Melbourne?

For me, I needed a really big life change. I needed an adventure and to push myself to the limit. This marks my first trip outside Australia and fulfilled my childhood dream of coming to America. From a career perspective, I did not seriously consider Sydney or Melbourne for two reasons. First of all, I don’t look ‘typically Australian,’ if there is such a thing and have been told throughout my career that I am too ethnic for commercial work in our country. Of course there are Mediterranean women represented on our small screen, but these roles are few and far between. I have a much better chance of securing work in the United States where casting directors have a more ethnically diverse mindset. From another perspective, what a lot of Aussie actors who come here don’t realise is that unless you were a big name from Australian TV or film, you still have to start from scratch and work your way up. Casting directors here don’t really care that you did a season of Home and Away or were a supporting role in an Australian Feature. Don’t get me wrong, it helps, but you are not going to be in a position where you will be offered roles. You’ll be back where you were at the start of your career doing the studio rounds auditioning. So for me, it was a question of why do this twice when I can go straight to Hollywood and start my journey there.

How does a predominantly theatre actor make the transition to film and television?

I love theatre. I was raised, both as an actor and audience member, on theatre. But there are many stories you can tell via film and television, that cannot be told on stage. The beauty of the film medium is that you are directing your viewer to the exact thing you want them to see.  It is generally a more realistic medium in terms of the settings available and you are able to reach a greater audience. As to how do you make the transition? Like everything, you need practise.

In Brisbane, this might come by working with film students at Griffith or QUT. In LA, you have this enormous melting pot of talent that is hungry to work and if they are not getting work through the usual avenues, they will go out there and make it themselves. This is not so easily done with theatre as there are too many overheads. Cutting edge technology is reasonably affordable now and with YouTube and Vimeo, anyone can create a webseries or showreel. So find a collective of creative individuals with a shared interest or get out there and start telling your own stories. I think it is also important to take classes that are geared towards film and television. A lot of teachers both here and at home use plays and scene study to teach acting technique. Whist this is a very valid way of learning technique, stage craft is very different to camera technique and the motion picture industry is exactly that, creating interesting, inspiring real pictures. Look at your favourite actors in film and TV and the ones that stand out, both in the past and today, are those that understand how the camera works and how much of themselves they need to shown in a role.

[pull_left]I have had an amazing time in Los Angeles. There are so many things available to actors here as the city really is an “industry town”[/pull_left]

What has your experience been so far?

I have had an amazing time in Los Angeles. There are so many things available to actors here as the city really is an “industry town.” There are amazing classes and workshops available here that are not offered in Australia and you get the chance to work with acting coaches who literally wrote the book(s).

Is it different auditioning in Hollywood as opposed to Australia?

[pull_right]Culturally, it is seen as bad form to memorize your sides as they want you to come across as a work in progress, not a finished product[/pull_right]

Absolutely. In Australia we are taught to memorize our scripts and come in with a prepared piece. Here, they only use cold-reading technique and are encouraged to use the page in an audition. Culturally, it is seen as bad form to memorize your sides as they want you to come across as a work in progress, not a finished product. If you are lucky enough to receive a call back and go to read for producers or a network, then you may want to learn your lines, but here, script out of hand is not necessary.

Have you managed to acquire representation?

I have met with a few talent agents, but have not signed with anyone just yet. There are so many agencies here that you really have to do your homework to find out who is going to work hard for you and who just wants to take your money.

What has been the biggest cultural difference you have experienced?

Well, Australian culture is quite similar to American culture, but it’s the little things you notice.  For me, it was interesting to learn that they are still very reliant on cheques here. When I moved into my apartment, I assumed I would be able to pay my bills or rent by direct deposit or Bpay like I did in Australia, but that is still considered a new technology here that has not taken off. Most companies and landlords prefer personal cheques and it took me a few months to get used to.

What is the major difference between the acting industry in Hollywood and the industry in Australia?

Here, acting is viewed as a business. As an actor you are a sole proprietor who must be aware of your brand and how to use your brand power to sell your product (you). In Australia, especially in Brisbane, this is a very foreign concept. There are many branding, image or typing ‘expert’s you can go to in order to ascertain what roles you should be going out for and how to style yourself through your headshots and online presence in order maximise your chances of getting an audition. Of course the amount of work is also a stand out and the quality of projects available goes without saying.

What advice can you give other Aussie actors coming to Hollywood?

Make sure you have a decent amount of savings. You don’t want to be constantly stressing about money when you are trying to establish both your life and career. This is a mistake a lot of actors make; they come out with a few thousand dollars and expect to get a part-time job to sustain themselves. When you are coming to America on an 0-1 Visa (working visa for actors and artists) you are not allowed to work in any other field. So that joke about being a waitress/ actor doesn’t apply to Aussies I’m afraid.

The rule of thumb is to have enough money saved for a minimum of six months’ living expenses. Also, understand that you will need to either buy a car or rent one. Yes, you can get around LA using the public transport system, but not when you are going out for several auditions per day. The traffic and parking jokes that are made about LA are unfortunately true!  Buy a GPS with traffic updates, this will save your butt when criss-crossing the city. Have an open mind and don’t expect anything from this town. It will not be what you think it is and will seem smaller than you imagined. Understand that getting an agent is hard work.  Yes there are a lot of them here, but there are more actors!

What is the one thing Aussie actors should do when they get to Hollywood?

Take classes and network. This can be a lonely town and without a network, you will really miss home. You have the best acting teachers (for film and television) at your disposal here.  Audit as many classes as you can and choose the one that you think you can engage with and learn the most from, not the one who is gaining hype in Australia.  There are many different types of classes here too, so expand your skills. Do audition technique, scene study, improvisation, image process – anything you can get your hands on.  Have every experience here that you cannot have at home!

Have you had any negative experiences since you’ve been in LA?

Of course! My life is a comedy of errors, so there’s always a bump in the rollercoaster. For me, the biggest drama has been with my car. I did what a lot of tourists do and bought a car through Craigslist.  Now some people do this and have a great experience with no headaches. For me, I was so eager to get a car and finally discover LA that I trusted the wrong person and ended up with a lemon that has caused me (a lot) more money than its worth and many trips to the mechanic. But, I see this as a blessing now. It was the impetus I needed to start writing and now I am in pre-production of a web series that was inspired by “The Mexican,” the nickname I gave my car.

You are writing a webseries about your car?

Well, it follows the story of a young girl who travels across country to find her best friend, but she ends up finding herself in the process. The initial concept was to write about the car, but from there, the story has evolved to focus on people and relationships. The car does play a part, but it’s more of a metaphor now.

When can we see it?

We are hoping to have a sneak peek up at the end of September so stay tuned!

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

Bobbi-Lea is's QLD Co-ordinator, writer, reviewer, and reporter. She is also an actor, presenter, and theatre/film producer for Drama Queen Productions in Brisbane. Bobbi-Lea holds a Degree in Music Theatre as well as a Degree in Film & TV, and is currently doing her Masters in Screen Production.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

2 thoughts on “Making the transition to Hollywood

  • Great article, and an interesting point of view of LA and good luck to Tara! – there’s a lot of Aussies over here (I’m in NYC doing Music Theatre – and have met a lot of fellow ANZACS) 🙂

  • Good luck to Tara. It’s great to see she’s made the trip to LA. (She’s much more beautiful than the photograph)


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