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Rising Star Mark Terry: “Learning self-reliance skills will take you further than you would imagine and help you avoid terrible pitfalls”

Self-Reliance. I don’t think people are born inherently bad. Surroundings and experiences change or reshape the wiring in a person’s head over time. We are all going to face negative issues during our life. Some more than others. Learning self-reliance skills will take you further than you would imagine and help you avoid terrible pitfalls. […]

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Self-Reliance. I don’t think people are born inherently bad. Surroundings and experiences change or reshape the wiring in a person’s head over time. We are all going to face negative issues during our life. Some more than others. Learning self-reliance skills will take you further than you would imagine and help you avoid terrible pitfalls. Around 20 years ago, I was taking math and science classes that have zero practical use. What happened to auto shop class? Why won’t someone admit that drugs and alcohol will make you feel great but there is a price to pay? I’ve never participated in either, but I wish people would explain the negative and medicinal effects in realistic terms. No one in school ever taught me how to set up an LLC. I had no idea what Equifax, Experian and Transunion were until well after high school. How can student loans or buying that brand-new car hurt you as an actor down the line? Being self-reliant in these situations or just taking the effort to learn can help you go a long way in life. Watch the film Rocky Balboa. There is an inspirational speech in that film where Rocky is talking to his son. Check it out and you will know what I mean.


As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Terry. Mark is a 10+ year SAG-AFTRA actor and stunt performer. He graduated from Saint Leo University in 2001 with two BAs in Theater and Writing. In addition to acting and stunts, Mark has produced films that have sold to Warner Bros, Netflix, Amazon and international territories around the world. He is the producer/creator of the genre classic “Live Evil” (2009) starring Tim Thomerson and Ken Foree. Mark recently acted in Blood Brother with Trey Songz and Fetty Wapp as well as appearing in AMC’s television show Preacher. Other recent bookings and productions include a commercial for San Diego County Credit Union, Good Morning Antioch, Protocol: New Orleans, The HerO and Alex & Me. The last three are currently streaming for free on Amazon Prime.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

All my life I have been a fan of filmmaking and telling stories through a visual medium. Genre films and action stars of the 1980s inspired me to make similar stories that maybe went a little bit further. My favorite movie of all time is They Live.

Growing up in Florida I remember being at Universal Studios Orlando in the early 90s and watching the filming of Clarissa Explains it All. I thought I could see myself doing that. While my focus was always more on athletics as a teenager, I did start making my own VHS shot short films at age 16. So, the interest was always there.

While playing college basketball at Saint Leo University in Florida, I first broke my nose and then blew out my knee, less than 8 months apart. I stopped playing competitive sports, and re-focused my energy on theater, stunt training, writing, and producing films.

I started acting in local and regional commercials, indie films, booking stunt jobs, and producing my own (shot on film) features and shorts. At the same time, I worked on live TV at Home Shopping Network. I was told I was the youngest person ever allowed to work on their stage at age 19. By 22 I graduated from Saint Leo University as the school’s first ever double major in Writing and Theater.

When I was 26, I moved to Los Angeles not knowing anyone except the guy next to me in the car. I didn’t even know the freeways in L.A. Three years later I sold my first Los Angeles produced feature to Warner Bros. which is of course, “Live Evil.”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

When I hear the word Interesting, I also think of the word Crazy. Stick with me on this story because you won’t believe it.

To see “known actors” or even someone who was in the Screen Actors Guild in Florida (at least my circle) was somewhat rare in the early 2000s. There was no way to tell what projects were legit or not, unless they were booked directly by one of the 12 agents that I had in the state.

If you’ve seen the The Room or The Disaster Artist the Franco film based on the crazy story of how The Room got made, then you will understand what I mean when I say that I met the Florida version of Tommy Wiseau.

One day I read a casting notice in “The Weekly Planet” (a local Florida freebee newspaper) for a feature film. It said it was a paid job with “known actors.” I thought that sounded odd, but I was intrigued.

I contacted the number of the man who was running this production and met him at a TGIF Friday’s on Fowler Blvd near the University of South Florida. This director cast me on the spot with no audition. He told me the “known actors” were two B-Movie actresses that were largely known for Troma-style movies.

The director had 1 tooth, looked like Charles Manson, was almost a crazy man, and was a truck driver by trade. His lifelong dream was to make a film.

He had written a script about Aliens coming to save the world’s population of dolphins. The script centered around a meeting at the White House of political brass discussing what to do about the impending invasion. My character (a 22-year-old writer) was invited because he had written science fiction books that mirrored the invasion. Don’t ask me, I didn’t write it.

The script was 51 pages, but the director insisted there was 90+ minute movie in there. It was so meandering and insane I got headaches reading it. Let me just say, it was a far cry from the Tennessee Williams I had just finished working on, in college.

This director’s master plan was three-fold.

1.) 1 camera angle.

2.) 2 days of rehearsal and 3 days of shooting.

3.) 1 take to do 51 pages!

We shot it in a boardroom of a hotel. God bless this director, but he didn’t even know to have water or a few snacks. It was his first time doing anything like this. The rest of the crew consisted of one camera operator and a sound recordist who hung lav mics from the ceiling with scotch tape.

The boardroom had a giant photo of the St. Pete Pier bolted to the wall. The director covered it with a too-small American flag and black electrical tape. You can see the tape and the Pier frame sticking out behind the flag. I don’t know about you, but that’s totally what I think, when I think of the interior of the White House.

The actors banded together, and we convinced the director to shoot it in small sections because even Al Pacino couldn’t do that script in 1 take. Even so, there was one take that we did that lasted 11 minutes! As the final hours were ticking down, actors were literally reading the script off the table. You can see the highlighted lines of the script and the actors eyelines pointing down in the final version of the movie. At one point the director himself fell asleep during a take and woke up yelling, “Cut!” In typing this I realize I cannot fully write out the insanity of these 5 days. Everyone did get paid and it ended up being one of my first IMDb credits, but thankfully the film never had any kind of real release.

When I finally got my copy of the completed film, we had a screening at my house. Everyone in my family was there including my Grandma. About 5 minutes into the movie my 80-year-old Grandma turned to me and said, “Mark, what is this shit?” It was the first and only time I ever heard her cuss.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ll start with what I learned from it, then tell you the story. Always turn a negative into a positive, because every bad situation can be a learning experience.

When I first started, I met an entertainment lawyer from St. Pete, Florida. He was mostly a divorce lawyer, but he was getting more into films or, so I was told. A friend of mine (at the time) and I would travel down to this attorney’s office. The attorney was and still is a great guy, but his interests were… different.

We would go to his office and the attorney would buy us lunch. We’d work on our production company’s website, but the goal was always to generate funding. The attorney would pick our brains for filmmaking ideas.

Sometime later, I find out this attorney is deep into representing pornography producers. No pun intended. He told me, “Porn is one of the few things in Florida entertainment that actually pays.” Or at least it was at the time 20 years ago. I am not sure if this guy was grooming us or what, but I found out his goal in life was to make a “porn bootcamp.” He would give legal advice, have filmmakers offer advice, and adult stars would give their experiences on working as the talent.

I made the mistake thinking that this porno lawyer could find legitimate funding for narrative features. Obviously, it wasn’t happening.

A few years later that buddy I mentioned, was actually hired by someone who went through that lawyer’s porn bootcamp. Unfortunately, this buddy, was such a terrible filmmaker that he managed to make porn unwatchable and not interactive, let’s say.

The positive aspect of this experience, was that I learned to say, “No.” I also learned that the Porn 2257 compliance model release was really similar to actors’ releases and contracts. Indirectly, I was picking up legal aspects of the business without even fully realizing it.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Right now, I am restoring a film I did called Live Evil. The film was released in 2009 by Warner Bros on VOD and had a Netflix run. It almost unreal feat for a film of its type in that kind of economy. My partners and I have spent the last two years restoring the film negative for a rerelease. We’ve even shot some new scenes.

I recently wrote an article for Film Maker Magazine on the restoration on the film. The article is called, “The Movie that Wouldn’t Die.” The article can be found online on Film Maker Magazine’s website.

We expect the new version of the film to release in 2020 and it will be rebranded as Samurai Priest Vampire Hunter with a completely new direction and footage that’s never been seen.

I am also in pre-production on a Alien film that we are tentatively calling Grey. That will also begin filming in 2020.

In addition, I am writing a “How To” or Survival Book about actors getting into the industry. I am calling it “The Actor’s Armageddon.” The book teaches things that actors need to know outside the acting class in order to last in this industry. From credit scores, to survival jobs, dealing with agents, casting directors and even filing for food stamps, nothing is off limits. Right now, that book is about 65% complete. I don’t have a set date or timeline of when this book will release because I want it to be perfect.

Other than that, I am always auditioning and stunting for other people’s projects.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

In 2014 I booked a feature as an actor called Sticky Notes. Small but cool role. Perfect character type stuff for me.

My agent at the time asked me to go to the table read. I ended up reading the entire script the night before and was interested in who in the world could pull off the crazy cancer-stricken father.

I went to the table read and noticed that Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) was playing the daughter. There was a guy at the table read with grey hair, big grey beard, and glasses. Whoever this guy was had the heavy lifting of this script and I could tell by the read this man was a tremendous actor.

After we finished up, I went up to the man and told him that he has the coolest part in the movie and asked his name. He told me his name was Ray. Very cool. I shook his hand and left.

I get home that night and one of my buddies (who was also cast) posted on Facebook that he was excited that he just did a table read with Ray Liotta. My heart dropped. I felt like such an idiot.

Typically, I am great at spotting actors in everyday life. I was shocked I had no idea it was him. Now every time I see the commercial for Chantix and I hear him say, “Hi my name is Ray and I quit….” I am like ughhh, I can’t believe I didn’t know.

Two final tid-bits about that movie. After my scene shot with Ray Liotta and Rose Leslie, I told Ray that my brother and I loved the film No Escape. I am sure people mostly talk to him about Goodfellas. No Escape was something that we enjoyed, felt that it was under-appreciated, and it was one of the films that inspired me to make my own movies. He was really pleased to hear that.

My lines were cut out of that movie 100%. So, my producing partner (Cherrae L. Stuart), a small crew, and I snuck back into the hospital where we shot my scenes. I ended up reshooting my coverage with the same camera the production used and cutting it back into the movie for my reel.

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

1.) This is the hardest thing to do. I can preach it but it’s even difficult for me to do myself.

DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN OTHER PEOPLES PROBLEMS OR BURDENS WITHIN THE INDUSTRY. FOCUS ON YOURSELF.

It’s very easy to waste time complaining about this or that. I love telling stories, but I do my best not to let anything from the past or present burden me.

2.) Surround yourself with the best people possible. I realized that acting in Z-Grade non-union movies in Florida was not going to take me to my ultimate goals.

Along the way I met good and bad people. The bad had a way of weeding themselves out and many are no longer in this industry. Some of those bad people are still living with their parents at age 40+ years old in Orange County.

3.) Trust your gut. If someone tells you something that sounds too good to be true, it likely is. If you are coming into something feeling negative, get away. There is always tomorrow.

These three things can reduce stress and ultimately help you from burning out.

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. 🙂

Self-Reliance.

I don’t think people are born inherently bad. Surroundings and experiences change or reshape the wiring in a person’s head over time.

We are all going to face negative issues during our life. Some more than others. Learning self-reliance skills will take you further than you would imagine and help you avoid terrible pitfalls.

Around 20 years ago, I was taking math and science classes that have zero practical use. What happened to auto shop class? Why won’t someone admit that drugs and alcohol will make you feel great but there is a price to pay? I’ve never participated in either, but I wish people would explain the negative and medicinal effects in realistic terms. No one in school ever taught me how to set up an LLC. I had no idea what Equifax, Experian and Transunion were until well after high school. How can student loans or buying that brand-new car hurt you as an actor down the line?

Being self-reliant in these situations or just taking the effort to learn can help you go a long way in life. Watch the film Rocky Balboa. There is an inspirational speech in that film where Rocky is talking to his son. Check it out and you will know what I mean.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1.) JOIN SAG ASAP — There is this idea from non-union agents that you should stay non-union until you have “enough credits.” This is utter horse manure. These agents just want to make a buck off you in non-union commercials.

The SAG Foundation and the guild itself have many great programs that can teach you from people who are doing it right now.

I’ve learned that experienced people in this industry tend to roll their eyes when they hear SAG-E or a non-union person trying to pass themselves off as experienced. The attitude of these folks is “If you ever booked anything substantial you would have had to join.”

I got my SAG card on the TV show 24 in 2005.

2.) Surround yourself with good people who are booking jobs in a major market. This could be a film incentive state. Ideally if you want to be in the major leagues, those two places would be Los Angeles and New York. But, Georgia, New Orleans, New Mexico and a few others, are cool to grab credits and get under 5’s but any true growth is difficult in incentives states.

I lived in New Orleans during final years where NOLA was #1 for studio narrative features. I learned a lot about stunt hustling and film incentives while I was there. Ultimately, Louisiana was not a place I enjoyed living in. I also felt there was a firm ceiling for actors and stunt people who remain locals and do not branch out to major markets.

3.) Learn a trade or survival job that can help you earn a living outside of acting. What jobs are out there like being a nurse, on-call jobs, or seasonal works that don’t keep you handcuffed to a 9–5.

4.) Its ok to say, “No or No More.” This could be saying no to an uncomfortable situation. A job you just don’t want to take. A meeting that will do nothing for you. I said no more to Louisiana after living there for 5 years. In a safety situation within stunts you can always say no. I have challenged many agents over the years. Talent agents as well as international sales agents. If its not working, say, “No” and move on.

5.) Follow the money. Let’s say you are making a film and looking to secure funding. Do you think you will find that funding in Missouri or Beverly Hills? Which is more likely? Go to where people do this every day. There is a reason one of my former Louisiana agents runs her agency out of a garage in Baton Rouge and my current agent is on Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills. This isn’t about being money hungry. This is about going to the places that give you the best opportunity to succeed.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A Critic is a legless man who teaches running.” -Anonymous

This quote used to be on the wall in the locker room of my college basketball team. There were a lot of quotes but this one stuck with me.

I’ve been told I wasn’t college material. Wasn’t athletic enough to play college sports. Not good looking enough to be an actor. Not intelligent enough to make and then sell a movie. I realized these were just critics talking. Many of whom either gave up, or never attempted anything like what they were so certain I couldn’t accomplish.

Face your critics head-on but do it for you. Believe in yourself.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Vince McMahon. I can say that with out hesitation.

If you were to interview anyone from different stages of my life, they would tell you what a fan I have been of the genre of sports entertainment. I watched World Class on Saturday mornings with my brother as a kid. Sat front row at WCW Nitro in the late 90s, watched ECW live at the historic but now town down Bayfront Center in St Pete and was at Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans.

My hometown of Clearwater, Florida is the “Hollywood” of professional wrestling, so I feel as if I been around it and in a weird way, somehow involved with it all my life. There are current performers on their roster that have acted in my films. One of their former performers became eligible for SAG on a project of mine. So, I have gone to the well in using their talent as actors on my projects.

Specifically, I was and always have been an avid viewer of WWE programming. I’ve had The Network since day 1.

Even more specifically, I have really enjoyed watching from a distance the way WWE is run as an organization from touring live events to merch to television production and especially marketing.

I admire Vice McMahon’s tenacity towards his brand of entertainment and his entrepreneurial, calculated risk taking, approach to bring stories to his audience. This is an approached I have adopted in my films.

Like Vince, I would never ask an actor or stunt performer to do anything I am not willing to do which is why I have trained in stunts and even done full fire burns. Being on fire is not really my forte.

In my bio it mentioned that I worked on the Trey Songz film Blood Brother, which was a co-production with Code Black and WWE Films. I got a tiny little taste of what it was like to work with them. WWE Film’s marketing department and even the director, kept me updated to what was the progress of the production and the release dates. That’s a very rare thing. When you hear WWE is a family run company, they really mean it.

If I knew I could sit under the learning tree for even an hour with Vince McMahon, I would be on a flight to Stamford tomorrow.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I would have to say my Mom. She has been my single biggest supporter over the longest period. She also appears as the waitress in the opening scene of Live Evil.

I’ve had some good teachers along the way, but I’ve never really had a true mentor within the industry for any decent length of time. That’s the big reason why I wanted to write a survival guide/acting book. In the book, I pretend as if I have a time machine and can place it in the library at Saint Leo. I was reading all the acting books I could there. If I could go back in time, I would place my upcoming book there for me to read in 1998. This is the very reason why I preach about self-reliance. Expect that no one is going to help you. If they do, it may be for the wrong reasons. If you know you are going to go it alone, then you can never be disappointed in anyone. Everything else is a bonus!

Follow me on twitter @markterryonline or visit markterryonline.com

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