The casting paper trail is almost obsolete. Gone are the days when a messenger would drop off paper headshots and resumes at a casting office via a crosstown bicycle or van ride. Most casting is now online. Agents can e-mail links for casting directors to see their clients' websites, Vimeo and YouTube videos, and copies of their headshots and resumes.
But for those actors who are just starting out, don’t have agents, and don’t know any industry professionals, it still is essential to introduce yourself by submitting a headshot and resume. With any submission, you should also write a short cover letter. Here are five tips to writing the most effective cover letter.
1. Target your audience. Mass mailings are not as effective as a targeted list of 12-25 potential agents who might be looking for your type. Generally, most agents are not looking for actors at the beginning stages of their careers. So, do your homework. Look them up in Call Sheet or Google them! Then figure out who might be a match. Some offices specialize in representing actors who are athletes, speak another language, have model experience, are over 50, etc. Be sure to find out which department—commercial or theatrical—your prospective agent works in. You'll get more responses if they know you did your research.
2. Make sure your stationary is smaller than 8 ½ x 11. Note size is better than a full-page letter. Why? It doesn't fit to your 8x10 photo and the overlap can become wrinkled or shredded in the mail. Quick Hint: Program the settings in your software so the page is in Landscape format. Make two columns and cut/paste what you say in the first column and put it in the 2nd column. Then cut the paper in half. You now have two duplicate notes that are 5 ½ by 8 ½. Add a small thumbnail photo and your contact info. The size is just large enough to attach with a paper clip. Well done!
3. Keep it short. Get to the point and don't waste a sentence on the obvious. Don't start your letter with "I am an actor and my name is ______ and I'm looking for representation...." Duh! Cut to the chase. They know you’re an actor. Who else would send them a photo and resume? Don't go into exquisite detail about your childhood on the farm in Iowa, your favorite show tunes, and how many character roles you played in junior high. Instead, talk about your type and brand (girl-next-door, quirky neighbor, suburban Mom, beer-drinking dude, Home Depot husband, spy, ivy league college guy). This will tell the agent that you are savvy and know how you will be cast. Also, make sure you share what major roles you played, respected theatre companies you worked with, and established actors you've acted alongside. This is your "hook." If they decide to call you in, it's because they have something to sell when they chat about you with a casting director. "My new client worked with blah-blah who just directed a Broadway show." "My new young client has two network spots she booked in the Midwest so we know she'll do great here. Please see her!" Make sure to address where you are going in the business, not just where you’ve been. What is your "niche"—a Broadway musical, a film, a primetime series, or commercials? If you believe in yourself, they'll believe in you. Express your enthusiasm, your passion, and your clear focus about what you will achieve. They will help you make it happen!
4. Use personality in your writing. "I'm submitting my professional material for your consideration"—No! Try not to sound like you work in the corporate world. Be yourself. Use the language you would when speaking to someone you just met. It's OK to use your own personal expressions—that's who you are! Sign off with a sincere line being you! For example, "From a striking brunette with an infectious laugh, Hope to meet you soon!" or "Can't wait to have a meeting and chat about my fabulous successful future with my fabulous new potential agent—you!" or "You guys are so cool. Can't wait to meet up!" Use your own style. It pays off.
5. Don't threaten to call the agent in a week to follow up. Most agents are busy trying to get work for their current clients and don’t appreciate the interruption of phone calls from actors they don’t know yet. There are exceptions but usually if they’re interested, they will call you. The follow-up phone call doesn't apply to acting. Stop. Don't go there! Instead, follow up with a postcard reminding them that you sent your resume and photo a month before or that now you are in a show or now you booked something. If you tell them something that says, "I'm successful, I’m booking work!" they will respond.
As the founder and executive director of The Actors's Market, Gwyn Gilliss provides free monthly info seminars, agent/casting director interview tele-seminars, weekly marketing tips, as well as many coaching programs to help actors break into both the NY and L.A. industries. Gwyn has tremendous success with her private career coaching clients. More than 90 percent get agent representation launching their careers with performances in feature films, Broadway productions, and Emmy-award-winning primetime TV series, such as "The Good Wife," "White Collar," "Grey's Anatomy," "NCIS," "House," "Law & Order," "30 Rock," "Criminal Minds."
Email her to request a free 15-minute career session: firstname.lastname@example.org.