Thursday, April 18, 2013

Finding an agent

I've spent the past three years building experience and accumulating footage that gives me enough face time to show some of what I can do as an actor (I can do more obviously.)  Since my primary goal is to act in films rather than commercials, industrials, etc (although I'm always happy to get work anywhere),
a logical next step it seems to me is landing significant speaking roles in small features ($500K to $5M budget range).  To that end, gaining representation through a talent agency may give me a leg up.  In fact, I'm sure it will.

Interestingly, Backstage magazine has an article this week by Dallas Travers that addresses just this issue. You can see the full article here, but these are the salient points:

1. Stay focused and call repeatedly. Don’t assume that one mass mailing to a target list of agents will be successful. Instead, contact the agencies on your list a minimum of three times within six weeks to be sure your message has been received, but expect that more calls may be needed to secure a meeting. Be sure you've researched your agencies and have narrowed your list to no more than 10-15 agents at a time. Marketing to a list longer than that might deplete your resources and create confusion.

2. Ask for Industry Referrals. But don't just say “Can you refer me to an agent?” Research your target list (being sure they have agents who represent actors at your age/gender/skill level) and then run that list by fellow actors, drama teachers, producers you’ve worked for, casting directors who call you in often, etc. and tell them that you’d like to get their feedback. Ask questions such as, “Do you know anyone on my list?” or “Is there anyone else you know who I should reach out to?”  That makes it clear that you are doing the legwork and takes the pressure off of anyone who may feel uncomfortable about referring you.  You are, after all, just asking for feedback.

3. Go for the low cost/no cost marketing options.  Don't try to wow them with gimmickry. Make an impact without wasting money by relying on email marketing, social media, telephone calls, or even drop offs. These avenues can be effective while remaining easy on your budget.

As Travers points out, "when you have a well-connected, hardworking agent on your side, auditions come a lot easier and more often."  She also states that spring is a good time to seek representation, so I'm on the right track.

I've already reached out to a list by email and letter.  Phone calls are next.  I'm also going to follow her advice and ask for more feedback from people I know in the business.  I really feel like I'm doing everything I possibly can to land work on my own. It's time now to get some assistance.  I would tend to question the need for repeated phone calls, however.  Contacting an agency three times doesn't seem excessive, but if I had to call more than that - 10 times - I think I might question the agency's effectiveness and ability to take on another actor.

Here's what I've done so far:

I contacted the agencies by email prior to sending an agency specific letter with my resume and headshots.  In both the email and the letter, I outlined my type, gave them links to the work I am most proud of, and made reference to referrals or connections we had in common.  I asked to meet with them.  For those agencies that haven't yet responded, the next step will be to call.

Here's what I plan to do when I get a meeting:

Bring extra resumes and headshots. Dress in a way that reflects my type. Keep the conversation sociable and have a list of positive attributes I want to convey.  Have a list of questions pertinent to gaining representation.  Find a point on which to follow up.

Keeping my fingers crossed that I find an agent that's a good fit.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kind words keep you going

I went to the Helen Hayes Awards Gala last night at the Warner Theater (lovely event.  So many hugely talented people in theatre here in DC), but I got my own "award" this morning.  New York acting coach John Pallotta shared the link to my clip from The Monopoly Club with his Facebook network and included the following note:

"I am honored to have had the privilege to coach Ms Kathryn Browning in my class in DC. She can become any character, anywhere on a drop of a dime. Not because of me, but because she is that gifted and talented."

I read that over my morning coffee and my mouth fell open.  Things like that keep you going in this business.  I suspect I will be smiling all day. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Getting past the gender barrier in acting

A big obstacle for actresses of a certain age (mine, for example) is too often being relegated to roles as disempowered characters, even though the world reflects a very different reality and the majority of casting agents (and now many directors and producers) are women.

You would think that they would make the connection that if a 55-year-old man can play the "powerful person in charge," so can a 55-year-old woman. Not so. If a woman is cast as a district attorney, for example, she'll more often be 27 and chosen for reasons other than her credibility as a D.A. (Which brings to mind Danny DeVito in Norman Jewison's 1991 Other People's Money, opposite Penelope Ann Miller as the D.A. and his love interest. I think Norman Jewison is terrific, as are both actors, but Miller looked like she was 12 at the time and, yes, the pairing was cringe-worthy.)

E. Katherine Kerr as Sen. Grace Comisky
In acting, what I see being offered to older actresses are roles as little old ladies in track suits and sneakers, mothers with no defined personality, or women who are in some way objects of pity.  That hardly fits someone like me (and I'm no exception) who is nearly 6 feet tall in high heels, just appeared on stage in a negligee, and still gets whistled at on the street by young guys driving pickup trucks (last night, in fact! Tah-dah!)  Look at E. Katherine Kerr as Senator Grace Comisky in the 1987 film Suspect.  She had personality.  She was tough. Her character beds a younger Dennis Quaid, credibly, and without all this self-conscious, painted up "cougar" business.

To get the meatier roles, I first have to make sure my audition monologues reflect the roles I'm after and I sometimes have to plant a few seeds, i.e. approach producers/directors/screenwriters and ask if their senator, doctor, CEO or other gender-neutral role wouldn't work just as well with a woman of the same age in the part.  (Let's face it, the only role a woman definitely can't play is "father.")

The short film I just finished, for example - The Monopoly Club - was originally written for a male Senator. The director changed her mind when she saw me in an open call audition doing my scene from Virtuosity.  I've improved the presentation of that brief monologue over the years, but it still works for me.

I guess the point is that older actresses can't sit back and bemoan the fact that there aren't as many good roles being offered to them. You need to get out and network, introduce yourself to filmmakers who are creating the kinds of films and roles you want. Many times they're fixed on the casting as is, but every now and then you get a taker.   

Saturday, April 6, 2013

At the DC Web Fest

I'm watching Casablanca again while I decompress.  Met this afternoon with the cast of CapSouth, Rob Raffety's comedy web series that will start filming in June.  Raffety and I then pushed on to the DC Web Fest at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse.  Ran into so many friends.  The event was co-hosted by Otessa Ghadar of 20/20 Productions and stand-up comedian Dan Levy. Anthony Greene and Tamieka Chavis were there (I worked with them both on Greene's Clear and Sunny Skies), along with Richard Volin,
Comedian Dan Levy and Otessa Ghadar
who directed me in Commitment. I'd appeared in early episodes of two of the series shown - Thurston and Ghadar's Orange Juice in Bishop's Garden - and seen an early edit of Richard Cutting's Milgram and the Fastwalkers, which now looks extremely good. This is a very close community.  Afterwards Rob Raffety and I stopped for a drink at the Twisted Vines wine bar and talked more about his new series. Raffety is a clever comedy writer. We're all very excited that the series if finally getting off the ground. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Play reading with The British Players

Out last night at a play reading for The British Players, hosted by one of their producers, Caroline Gelb.  Periodically TBP gets a group of members together to read through several plays under consideration for next season.  It's always a lovely evening with drinks and dinner, and then separating into groups to run through the various candidate-plays.  Since most of the members are stage actors the reading are lively and well done.

Boeing,  Boeing
Last night the plays were Boeing, Boeing by Marc Camoletti (an American architect juggling three live-in fiancées — all stewardesses — with crucial help from a stressed-out French maid and a well-thumbed airline timetable), Too Soon for Daisies by William Dinner and William Morum (three elderly ladies “escape” from a retirement home, mayhem ensues), and The Perfect Wedding by Robin Hawdon (a man wakes up in the bridal suite on his wedding morning to find an extremely attractive naked girl in bed beside him.)  Boeing, Boeing got a big thumbs up, although it was considered awfully similar to the Camoletti play we just did, Don't Dress for Dinner (it's a kind of prequel actually).  Of course, DDFD was a moneymaker, which was a plus. Too Soon for Daisies, which I took part in, was cute along the lines of Arsenic and Old Lace, but would require a very quick change on the set for one scene and pitch-perfect casting for the three principals.  The Perfect Wedding was a no.  Not sure why, since I wasn't in that group.

I must say that my skills as an actress have improved a huge amount from doing stage work, possibly because the absence of a camera allows me to fully focus on my scene partner.  As Eli Wallach famously said, the secret to acting is listening to people and stage work facilitates that.

There will be another evening of reading plays before recommendations are passed along to the TBP Board.  I hope I'm available for the next reading too. It is great fun.

Tomorrow I'm off to the first cast meeting for the upcoming web series Capitol South, which is slated to begin filming episodes in June.  Then to a web series film festival that will go on for hours.  Sunday it promises to be 70 degrees so I'm working in the garden. Monday night is the Helen Hayes Awards Gala at the Warner Theater, with after party at the J.W. Marriott.  Hope I catch a second wind.  Whew.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

An actor's job: editing video clips

Rumor has it that there is more union work coming, so I've been checking the links on my website and posting more clips in preparation for a big push to the casting and talent agencies. Being able to edit your own clips and get them online is a plus for actors and saves a lot of time.  I use Apple's Final Cut Pro X, which is fairly inexpensive and has a training manual and program available online.

Just played a Senator in a short film.  Members of Congress are roles often called for in the various television series that shoot in the area, so I quickly strung together most of the scenes in which I appear and got it up on my YouTube Channel.  I like it.  It turned out well.

Also uploaded a shortened version of The Shadows of Strangers: Bella, part of a longer 2012 film by Jonathan and R.M. Robinson of IndieGo Blue Studio in Baltimore.  They have a deft feel for cutaway shots and the CGI at the end is quite good.