The Ninja. Shinobi. Shadow warriors. Those guys in the black suits with masks that appear as bad guys in martial arts movies. Very popular in the 80s...not so much nowadays. What do ninja have to do with today's post? Good question. As you may or may not know, the ninja were masters of invisibility. Back in feudal Japan, they operated behind the scenes, generally as spies and gatherers of intel for the various feudal lords for whom they served as mercenaries.
The ninja were never about achieving notoriety or fame. In fact, being known as a ninja could get yourself killed. A ninja was successful if they completed their mission without being detected, and no blood was spilled. This gave them a fearsome reputation. See the book below for more info:
The Ninja and Their Secret Fig (Google Affiliate Ad)
But enough of that. I need to make a connection with acting here. So here's how you may need to be a ninja sometimes:
You may be fortunate enough to get booked on a studio movie, hit TV show, game show, etc. where the producers want to keep it a secret. There's a reason why so many big budget movies & TV shows are closed sets. They want to control the flow of buzz so that they can time it with the project's release. Getting tons of buzz from actors & extras early on can kill public interest in the project down the line since everyone will already know.
It's not just actors who can leak spoilers. Frequently, early movie reviewers inadvertently spoil plot points beforehand. Case in point: well before Star Trek: Into Darkness opened, there was a review that I read online that said Benedict Cumberbatch's character gets revealed in the movie to be one of the most infamous Trek villains of all time. Hmmm...I wonder who that could be? Anyone who's been around long enough to have seen the original Trek films in the 80s knew exactly who they were talking about! Spoiler! (I'm not going to name the villain. If you can't figure him out, go see the movie.)
Another time when you have to be a ninja is if you're auditioning for a very high profile movie. A lot of times the casting directors will post a high level breakdown to agents that doesn't list the exact project, and the cast breakdowns will be pretty vague, not naming characters specifically. If you're lucky to get called in to audition, it's best to keep it under your hat. Especially don't tweet it--again, the producers most likely don't want this leaked until they are ready to announce the cast. It makes no sense to press release about who might be in the movie; that just confuses everybody and then they have to field calls by other hopefuls who want to get seen for the project, etc. Besides, if you tell everyone you're "up for the role" in (insert huge movie franchise title here), and you don't get called back, you'll have a whole lot of "did you get it?" questions you'll have to answer. Use your ninja magic!
In the wonderful world of television, there may be times where you're fortunate enough to know some of the producers or showrunners, and they want to use your services during development. Script readings, pitch meetings, etc. It's a great way to help them out, and also get your face out there as well.
Now if you find yourself in these fortuitous circumstances, absolutely "put on your ninja mask". Resist the urge to post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc. Don't even post on your website. These projects are meant to be top secret.
I know, I know..."but how am I supposed to generate buzz for my career?" It's a fine line to tread. I think that the best way to generate buzz is by engaging your audience. Not necessarily by plugging every project that you're in, but by "giving back". I recently "finally" joined Twitter. While I don't always Tweet, (who wants to know what sandwich I'm having for lunch, anyway?) I will try to reply or retweet something that I think is either very cool, or helpful. In fact, in the business world, social media consultants are telling companies that this is the best way to click with their customers. (More about this in a future post)
But back to being a ninja. Once you've entered into the "inner circle" of development, you may be lucky to be one of the "go to" actors whenever showrunners are developing a new show. Though your participation in development doesn't always guarantee a slot if the show is picked up, it's a great way to build relationships with those folks behind the scenes who make everything happen. Eventually when you get some notoriety (from other movies/TV/etc.) , they'll want to attach you to their new project . And because you were a good ninja, your name will be at the top of their short list.
How do I know this? Am I speaking from experience? Well, like my Navy Captain father always told me when I'd ask about classified stuff as a kid: "I can neither confirm nor deny it, but if I told you, I'd have to kill you."
So remember, sometimes it will pay off in the long run by working in the shadows. While your low budget and indie projects will usually appreciate your generating buzz for them (as they don't have $$$ for advertising), programs with lots of money behind them definitely don't want anybody leaking auditions, bookings, photos on the set, etc.
If your goal is to have a nice lengthy career, then you'll best avoid this "social media Darwinism".