Friday, September 7, 2018

Finding an Agent in Los Angeles

Okay, you’re in Los Angeles and looking for representation, that key factor in getting a shot at roles in top-of-the-line film, television, commercials, etc. Thousands of LA actors are looking for agents, and even among union actors fewer than half reportedly have one. People in this business will tell you it’s hard to get an agent – especially a union-approved agent – and it is. That shouldn’t deter you. Many factors enter into an agent’s decision to represent you, including your age and type (and how often those come up in casting), as well as acting talent and experience. Don’t second-guess the agent, or yourself.

A terrific resource on the LA actor’s experience is An Agent Tells All by Tony Martinez, a long-time pro in the Los Angeles market. You can get it in hard copy or for Kindle and I recommend it highly. It makes sense and Chapters 7 and 8 speak specifically to this issue of getting an agent. You’ll find much more information there, including how to handle the all-important agent interview.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What to send:  If you don’t have a referral, then you’re doing a blind mailing. You’ll want to include your headshots (I send mine unretouched), résumé (you can find appropriate formats online or in Martinez’ book), and a short, typed cover letter addressed to a specific agent (keep it professional).

Also include a demo reel with five minutes or less of your best acting in roles in which you are frequently cast. I send mine as separate clips identified as drama or comedy, rather than run them all together. Many agents will tell you not to send a demo, because if they’re interested they’ll ask for one. But Martinez points out that if the DVD is on his desk he’ll take a peek. Again, don’t second-guess the agent. If one picture is worth a thousand words, a clip of good acting is worth even more and gives the best example of what you actually look and sound like. An agent can always toss it in the round file if he/she is adamant about not looking at unsolicited demos.

That’s all you need. No gimmicks, no gourmet food baskets, no touting yourself as the next Meryl Streep/Tom Cruise. Avoid cuteness in the cover letter. This is a business. The only reason for taking you on as a client is if you have earnings potential. So ask yourself what kind of information the agent needs to determine your marketability. For example, in what kind of roles are you typically cast? You might point that out in the cover letter.

Where to send it: You’ve got your headshots, you’ve compiled a respectable list of film, television, and theater credits, and you’ve got clips you’re proud to show. Now you’re ready to start submitting your material to agencies. But which agencies? Not every agency is suited to your specific type and goals.

SAGAFTRA posts a list to their website of union-franchised agencies all over the country, often with coded indicators as to what kind of performers they’re looking to represent (children, adults, comedians, ethnic types, etc.) or projects for which they’re frequently submitting (commercials, daytime drama, foreign/international, and so on). Start your search there.

Another strategy is to make a list of strong supporting actors who are in your age range, but not the same type (you don’t want to be in conflict with an established client). Look up each one on IMDb. Are they getting more work? What kind? How often? If you’re impressed with what you see, find out who represents them (if you've subscribed to IMDbPro you'll see the agency). Note the agency’s ratio of clients to agents; more than a hundred or so could be a red flag. This is a business for them AND for you. You want an agent who has the time to work with you to build a lucrative career for you both.

Referrals: If you can get a referral to an agent, open your cover letter with that. It has to be genuine because the agent will check. It can be a referral from those inside or outside of the business as long as they know the agent personally. It can be a referral from the agent’s assistant, if you two have developed a friendly relationship. Martinez says that a referral from an acting teacher only counts if the teacher is willing to pick up the phone and call; in other words, put their reputation on the line for you. If they’re not willing to do that, leave teacher referrals off. That makes sense to me.

When to submit: Tony Martinez says agents are always looking for new faces, but the best months to make contact are April, May, and June, after Pilot Season when agents are catching their breath and looking for new faces to fill holes in their client base. Avoid December, he says. Not only are people distracted by the holidays but they’re beginning to look ahead to Pilot Season and what that will entail.

Send out 5 headshot packages a week (one a day) until you sign with an agent. Again, be sure to address your materials to a specific agent by name. Here's why: I - like most actors - get spammed from time to time with emails from small agencies saying they’ve seen my clips on Actors Access (or some other site), they loved what they saw, and they’d like to have me come in to discuss representation. If the email doesn't open with “Dear Kathryn” I delete it. An agent feels the same way.

So, yes, address your materials package to a specific agent if you want someone to actually look at it. If you don’t get a response within four to five weeks, feel free to then send your materials to a different agent at that same agency.  Never to more than one agent at the same agency at the same time.

What helps to set you apart: A professional attitude (positive, friendly, cooperative, workmanlike) and a unique look that people remember. You don’t have to be drop-dead gorgeous or have rippling muscles to be a successful actor. Consider that Mark Rolston, Zeljko Ivanek, Jayne Atkinson, Roma Maffia, and thousands of others who don't look like Julia Roberts or Chris Pine nevertheless have fantastic acting careers.

Another thing that helps is comedy experience, particularly ensemble sketch comedy and Improv, because these showcase your acting skills and how you work with others. There’s lots of work for someone who can make people laugh, so if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

What to do while waiting to be signed? Keep building your experience and sending out résumés. If an agent says no but stay in touch, then STAY IN TOUCH! Send regular updates on the work you’re doing. Don’t assume he/she is just brushing you off. Their needs may change over time, and you will doubtless be getting better.

If an agent just says no, consider that there are lots of reasons why an agent may pass on you that are unrelated to your acting ability. Your age, type, and experience may not be in sync with what the agency is casting at the moment. They may already have too many actors on their rolls who are similar to you (which is why you research an agency and its client base first). There may be little chemistry between you and the agent (hey, not everybody clicks), in which case try another agent at that same agency.

Believe in your talent. Legend has it that an agent once brushed off a potential client, saying “Who’s gonna hire a 4 ft. 11-inch character actor?” A reasonable thing to ask you say, unless of course the young actor is Danny DeVito.

That agent lost A LOT of money.

Learn more in Tony Martinez’ book An Agent Tells All. It’s a gold mine of useful and important information.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

So....Tell Me About Yourself!

In Los Angeles and still transitioning, but what an exciting time!

This morning I was scanning YouTube over breakfast and came across the Small Market Actor channel and some wonderful advice on how to respond to the dreaded "Tell me about yourself" question that often crops up in an audition.

I wrote about this topic a couple of years ago, but this is so concise I'll let Kurt tell you himself.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Packed and Ready for L.A.

Moving back to Los Angeles after working in the East for several years. Most of the past few months have been spent wrapping up projects, sorting and getting rid of things, packing up what's left, and saying good-bye to all my actress friends that I've been lunching with once a month. (Good luck, Girls! Come and see me!)

Now I have just four weeks to rework my reels, find a place to stay, catch up with friends in the business in L.A., and get a local agent.

More on all those topics in the coming weeks. Anxious. Excited. Exhausted. But I've got it all together now. (I think.)


Friday, December 1, 2017

Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird is a Must-See

Actresses have been complaining for years about the lack of roles (and meaningful roles) for women, but one really positive thing that has come about as a result is that more actresses are not only opting out of Hollywood and finding great roles in Europe (Kristen Scott Thomas, for one) but many are also starting to produce/write/direct their own films.

One of these is Greta Gerwig, an actress that I just loved in the quirky 2015 film Mistress America, which she starred in and wrote. This year she took a turn as writer/director of Lady Bird, which has set a new record as the most well-reviewed film of all time at the online movie site rottentomatoes.com.

This is a story that will reveal more and more each time you watch it. The performances are wonderful, especially Laurie Metcalf.  Here's the trailer:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Getting Your Clips

Our local actors group had an online discussion recently of ways to gather your clips together for your demo reel, a topic I’ve touched on before and worth repeating as young filmmakers especially frequently seem to have something “better to do” than get clips out to their cast.

If the film or TV project you appeared in is somewhere online, there are online services that can get the clip for you. Actors have used ripit.me or clipgrab.org, which has a program for both Mac and Windows. Expect to pay a small fee however.

If the project is posted to YouTube, you can easily download the whole thing to your desktop by simply replacing the “www.” in the url with “ss” (without the dot). This will redirect you to Savefrom.net, where you can click on "download video in browser" (look on the lower right third of the screen) and select the video quality you prefer. Done in less than a minute and free.

If the film/TV project itself isn’t posted to YouTube, see if you can at least find the trailer, which still gives you something to post on your websites. You can also use software (I use "Grab") to capture stills from the trailer, which are in the public domain since a trailer on YouTube is already public.

The best strategy is getting a clips commitment from the producer upfront, either when you sign the contract or during shooting, and establishing a time frame, as in "you will get HD clips within three months of shooting the film." Follow up after filming with a 'thank you' email reminding him/her of the conversation; say you just want raw footage (no music or effects), and ask when would be a good time to check in on the finished product. Then follow up at that time. If the clips aren’t forthcoming, keep emailing every few weeks until you get them. Persistence is usually successful.

With students, remind them that they can email the clips for free via WeTransfer (or other such sites) and provide the link. Be sure your deadline is before they graduate from film school, and start your time frame with the end of shooting. Don't say "three months from finishing the film."  I made that mistake with one student filmmaker and it's amazing how long it's taken him to "finish."

With student films and other low budget productions you can also do as one Los Angeles actor does: put it in your contract that you get useable HD clips within three (or six, you decide) months of shooting or the filmmaker agrees to pay an additional $400. This strategy reportedly has an amazing effect.

When you get into larger productions your agent may be able to help, although once you start appearing regularly at that level you won't need a reel because everyone will have seen you.

Actors live for that day.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Consider The Magic of Believing

An actor friend sent me an interview clip of comedienne Phyllis Diller recently where she mentions Claude Bristol's 1948 book The Magic of Believing. Miller said the book had completely changed her life by giving a suburban housewife and mother of five the courage and determination to try stand-up comedy, which is no easy road for anyone.

Here is an audio synopsis of the book from YouTube. It's a little "woo-woo" perhaps, like books on Nostrodamus, but I also found it interesting. I grew up hearing my father talk about the "power of positive thinking" and it also reminds me that those who succeed in this business aren't necessarily the ones who are most talented but those with the most desire. As author/screenwriter William Goldman put it, you have to want success more than anything in the world.

Here Bristol seems to be saying that wanting something, and having the confidence and unshakable belief that you will get it, makes it happen. Call it God, call it The Force or whatever, there is something that connects us all that we humans can tap into. Moreover if you can visualize what you want, what success looks like - and the greater detail in your vision the better - the more likely you are to achieve it.

He cautions, however, not to share your vision of success, because to do so opens you up to the naysayers who tell you it won't happen, it won't work, and you're silly to even want such a thing. Stay focused. Keep it in your heart.

As I said, it's a little "woo-woo," but I have also found that in times of crisis, when I am most focused on finding a solution, someone with the answer seems to appear out of nowhere. So maybe there is something to Mr. Bristol's book after all although, as a Catholic, when things work out I always remember to give a heartfelt "Thank God."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Called to Act Against Type

One of the things I’ve been bumping up against in the past year, with great frustration, is being called to audition for a role that seems the polar opposite of the roles I’m usually cast to play (i.e. senator, judge, executive, strong women). Blue-haired granny is the one I see most frequently – small, plump, caring, no strong identity, sometimes comical. It's like when you get older you become a ghost; just the faintest impression of a person.

The only apparent fit for these roles is the age range. I’m not plump. I don’t have gray hair. I'm 5 ft. 8 inches tall. Nothing in my posted head shots or reels gives me any clue as to what the casting director might have been thinking of in asking me to audition.

Blue-haired Granny? Nah.

I’ve discussed this with actor friends and the responses have ranged from the limited vision of American film and TV (if you’re a certain age, you’re a blue-haired granny) to the possibility that I’m “above market” in the southeast, where many of these roles are being offered (although I’ve heard the market there is changing) to the idea that I am a blue-haired granny, but don’t yet see myself that way (!!!!!!).

Another suggested that, while I wasn’t a strong fit for the role being cast, perhaps – because of my strong résumé – the casting director just wants to see me on tape.

I've thought about that, but trying to pretzel myself into something I’m not, and often for a minor role, doesn’t seem like a good long-term strategy. It goes back to advice for young actors that I read some years ago: don’t put yourself in front of casting until you’re sure you’re giving them your best or you’re going to leave them with the impression that you’re a lousy actor. When I try to play a sweet little blue-haired granny, I’m a lousy actor.

Frances Bavier
What I finally concluded is that if casting simply wants to connect with an actor, and to learn more about them and their ability beyond what they see on their reel and clips, then a better strategy perhaps is to toss out the role’s character description and to interpret the lines as you would in your strongest persona. Not Frances Bavier but Anne Bancroft, for example.

It could be that casting isn't yet seeing other possibilities and that you'll be so different you'll stand out and get the role anyway. (Remember, when they were casting The Graduate they originally thought of Ben as a young Robert Redford type, not dark and Jewish Dustin Hoffman.)

So for me, if plump with blue hair really is what they have in mind, I won't get the role but casting may remember me in a better light for next time when the role may play closer to my strengths. That's a better strategy perhaps than just groaning and taking a pass on the audition.

Anne Bancroft