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Chi Lo of ‘Mastering the Business of Acting’: “Don’t pick the horse, let the horse show itself”

In terms of management: Don’t pick the horse, let the horse show itself. You may not always be right about who you think will become your best asset so let them show their potential to you. Don’t hire family. Don’t tell someone they can never be fired no matter how good they are at what […]

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In terms of management: Don’t pick the horse, let the horse show itself. You may not always be right about who you think will become your best asset so let them show their potential to you. Don’t hire family. Don’t tell someone they can never be fired no matter how good they are at what they do. Give people a goal to work towards; don’t just offer them a title they have not earned. And again, have someone to answer to.


As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Chi Lo.

He has over 30 years of experience as an actor, director, writer, and producer along with 19 years as a major talent manager in Los Angeles. He has seen how young actors have been exploited in the entertainment industry and should not have to overpay to get the information and knowledge they need for success. That is why Chi created the new program Mastering the Business of Acting (launching February 23rd) where he isn’t teaching acting, but methods on how to conquer the business as an actor.

Chi covers a variety of topics ranging from how to break into the business to knowing how to maintain a successful acting career, including the art and business of auditioning, the constantly changing business of acting, and the new technological advancements that now all actors are expected to be experienced in. Mastering the Business of Acting includes interviews with top agent Todd Eisner (A3 Agency, APA, Innovative), casting director John Frank Levey (ER, Shameless, West Wing), episodic director Nancy Hower (Teachers, Quick Draw) and award-winning actress Karen Malina White (Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, Mom, Malcolm and Eddie, Shameless, Lean on Me)


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I knew I was destined to be an actor since I was 10 years old. I grew up with 12 brothers and sisters and I was the only one who wanted to be in show business. I joined a repertory in Jr. High, as well as a summer stock theatre. I attended The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. I was awarded a full scholarship from The Governor’s School for the Arts and from Dr. Glory’s Children’s Theatre as well. I went to Temple University for one year, took all their acting classes and then accepted a full scholarship from American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. I graduated from there on a Saturday and drove down to LA the very next day. Fortunately, I landed an acting gig within 2 weeks, but in the span of nine months, I was fired from 7 different part-time jobs. Acting was definitely the only thing that was keeping me afloat mentally.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

There was honestly never really an “Aha Moment” for me. The need to produce my film Catfish in Black Bean Sauce was what drove me to create my entertainment company, Black Hawk Entertainment. And acquiring Allen Edelman Management was needed to gain more access into the industry and control my own acting career. I had been planning on making these types of moves since I was in high school, so it’s almost like it was always a given.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I think the key thing is that I never once considered giving up. Acting is my life, my oxygen, and my love; there was never a Plan B. When you feel that strongly about something, there’s no question about what you’re willing to put yourself through to make sure you achieve success. The drive was and still is second nature, so it doesn’t ever feel like I need to convince myself to keep pushing forward because this is all I’ve ever wanted.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

I never questioned my talents or was occupied thinking about whether or not I was “good enough”. The roles I was cast in were pretty much written for me. Because I never really had a guide or advisor to lean on, I kind of had to manage myself. Creativity and determination were the only things that kept me moving forward. When jobs weren’t coming in, I kept myself busy creating new projects and I do believe that that is what set me up for success. Projects like Mastering the Business of Acting and my upcoming show, Life in Threes, are examples of that. It took 15 years to get here from my last big project but I had to learn how to tackle everything as it happened because I didn’t really have that guidance from anyone else.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Because I wear so many hats as CEO of a smaller company, we have the freedom to make sure that Black Hawk Entertainment does not produce anything that I would not be proud of. I’m extremely proud of Catfish in Black Bean Sauce, for instance, because the film was way ahead of its time and it wouldn’t have been able to make it to theaters or have crazy big home entertainment rentals and sales numbers had it not been for me pouring my heart and soul to make that happen. The same can be said about any of the projects we work on. (Shameless plug: Catfish actually just celebrated its 20th anniversary and is currently available on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play so check that out if you’d like!)

Allen Edelman Management is also so small and we only work with people we want to work with. The five clients that I manage at the moment are people I care about very dearly. They’re my friends and some I even consider family. We choose quality over quantity and have no intention of changing that. Life’s too short to work with crazies!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I was still in school when I got the chance to audition for a supporting role in Gleaming the Cube. They flew me out in first class for a screen test. The hotel and everything was paid for so it all felt surreal. After I was back home, my agent and I had been playing phone tag for a while before I finally got to her. I remember I was standing on Polk St. in San Francisco. It was the middle of summer so it was hot out. She said the director had thought I was so well prepared and a very good actor but he felt that I hadn’t been vulnerable enough. Before she could add any more negative comments, I told her I had to call her back and sort of rushed her off the phone. I hung up, took probably two steps, and I fainted. I woke up with like 20 people surrounding me and it was really just embarrassing. I had fainted because that was the first time I had gotten rejected from auditioning or from competing or anything like that.

Two weeks later, my agent called and told me about another role that would be mine if I knew how to drive a motorcycle. Of course, I lied and said I could. They said they would film me on the bike that coming Saturday. I immediately called everyone I knew and finally found one person who would teach me how to ride a motorcycle and we filmed it and I got the job.

The lessons learned? Don’t take things so seriously. I could’ve gotten myself killed on the motorcycle or endangered my life somehow for being so dramatic and fainting on the side of the street. It should never get to that point so don’t let it! Rejection is inevitable, but know that you can only control how you handle it and where you go from there.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

I wish I hadn’t listened when someone told me to direct Catfish when I did. I could’ve directed it way later on in life. It took away some 5 years of my acting career working on it, and I lost a lot of momentum because of it. Of course I always wanted it to be shared with the world, but I could’ve waited until I had really established my acting career to do so. Pick a lane and stay there until you’re absolutely sure you can switch to another.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I would say the three traits are passion, commitment, and making sure to have fun.

In order to get Catfish to theaters for example, passion needed to be present all the way through until the end. Throughout the experience, I learned where to place that passion. It took about 15 years to get to the completion of Mastering the Business of Acting and producing Life in Threes, but that was after dumping 7 other projects that I knew were not marketable or had a chance. Passion is knowing when to let certain things go and still find a way to keep creating and keep working because there is no other alternative.

Committing to my projects and my clients and not taking no for an answer is similar, but also very different. The sad truth is, sometimes my commitment to my clients is the one thing that pushes them across the line. It differs from passion in that it is more about a moral imperative than emotional fire.

I took a kid under my wing a few years ago. He had no SAG card, no credits and I still managed to get him lots of work. By the time we got to the fourth year of our partnership, there was a breakout role that came up that he didn’t want to audition for. The role itself did not really call out to him and he also didn’t have anyone to practice with on the weekends. I finally convinced him to audition for it and offered to coach him on the weekends. He ended up landing that role and it also got him 3 series regular roles in three other shows. To this day, we both laugh about it and I still ask myself, “What if I let him have his way?” Commitment is knowing there can be more to obtain and not letting anything get in the way of that.

The third is equally important. Without fun, all of this is just a job, just a paycheck. I don’t believe I’ve ever worked a full-time job where I wasn’t having fun. I’ve also never worked a full-time job as an adult in the traditional sense. It’s always been show business and if you’re not having fun here, then what’s the point? You have to have fun if you want to live a happy life that keeps you satisfied and excited about living everyday.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Have a life outside of the industry, have a place to go to recharge, and always remember that tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Too often, I see so many people not listening to the professionals that they themselves hired. Don’t hire people if you’re not going to believe in them. Also, never use your own money unless you can afford to lose it without a worry. Why share the profit? Most important, always have somebody to answer to. It could be as simple as your producer, your business partner, or a spouse etc. This ensures that you never lose sight of the big picture, and the purpose of it all.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

I’ll give you three. Having a personal assistant, a trusted advisor, and trusting your gut instincts. Sometimes personal assistants are like a second spouse; pick the right one and a lot of good things will come your way, pick the wrong one and there’s no limit to how many mistakes can be made. If you’re lucky, your advisor is someone you can really trust to tell you what you don’t want to hear. You can’t put a price on the value of that. If you’re opening a business, I assume you’re good at whatever it is that you do in that field, so trust your gut instincts when it comes to decision making for yourself and your business; there’s probably a good reason why you feel the way you do about something.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.

In terms of management: Don’t pick the horse, let the horse show itself. You may not always be right about who you think will become your best asset so let them show their potential to you. Don’t hire family. Don’t tell someone they can never be fired no matter how good they are at what they do. Give people a goal to work towards; don’t just offer them a title they have not earned. And again, have someone to answer to.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Encourage everyone to get acquainted with at least 5 people who don’t share the same culture, race, sexual orientation, etc. I think the world will become a better place when people are not only introduced to different mindsets and lifestyles, but to actually open up to different people and truly understand their perspectives, fears, and desires. I think about the phrase “You never know what it’s like to be someone else until you walk in their shoes,” well this way you can create real bonds and produce a sort of support system for people you never thought to interact with in the first place. Tolerance is like 10 years old; to simply tolerate someone was never enough.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Visit: https://www.masteringthebusinessofacting.com

You can follow us on:

Facebook: @masteringthebusinessofacting

Instragram:@masteringthebusinessofacting

Twitter: @MasteringActing

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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