If a casting assistant I have read for several times is on Facebook, would it be weird for me to add him as a friend? I don't know him outside of those couple of auditions I have done for him, but we have always been friendly to each other. It seems like a good way to keep in touch and promote things I am working on. For that matter, what do you think about friending casting directors and agents and managers in general? Is this a good way to network?
via the Internet
The rules of online actor networking are still murky, so there's no right answer here. Generally, I am pretty conservative in my Facebook endeavors and prefer to "friend" only those people who are, well, my actual real-life friends. But this doesn't mean it isn't a potent networking tool for me. Here's what I mean:
I teach in the film and media department at U.C. Santa Barbara. Along with acting and production, I get to teach a very unusual class called Hollywood: Anatomy of an Industry, to which people working in all areas of the entertainment industry—from producer to production assistant—donate their time and speak to a lecture hall of students. It will come as no surprise that my favorite panel discussion—one I schedule every time I teach the course—is the "working actor" panel. I bring three nonfamous but consistently working actors up to Santa Barbara and let them paint a colorful picture of acting as a business. It never fails to surprise and intrigue the students.
This past quarter, I was able to invite a wonderful, successful actor I went to graduate school with. Since graduation, we hadn't spoken to each other once—until the day he friended me on Facebook. We reconnected, and shortly thereafter he made the drive up to Santa Barbara to speak to my students. Along with acting, he's now also producing—a great person to reconnect with personally and professionally. At the panel, he met two other working actors, one a friend of mine from a show I directed and the other a classmate of his. The class yielded a great conversation, and we had a cozy dinner afterward. Voilà! We are now all connected, thanks in no small part to Facebook.
But here's the thing: I didn't become Facebook friends with him to get something out of him or to network. I did it because I truly like him and wanted to see what he was up to, and he did the same. None of this was networking. But then again, it was. Make sense?
Another example, from the opposite side of the spectrum: I went to high school with the actor Jason Lee ("My Name Is Earl," "Almost Famous," etc.). I was voted "most talented"; he got "class clown." Ah, the irony. Anyhow, the automated yenta in Facebook is constantly suggesting that I friend Jason, as we have the same high school and graduation year. Sounds like an in to a fantastically successful working actor—except I barely knew Jason in school. Me friending him now would be totally and utterly lame.
Before you friend anyone, make sure you aren't doing so just to get something from him or her. It's obvious and tactless. But that's just my opinion.
I thought it only fair to get opinions on Facebook from Facebook users, so I reached out to a couple of casting directors and a manager from my friend list. (I'm keeping their names out of print so I won't be responsible for any unwanted friend requests.) Here's what showed up in my inbox:
"I don't think Facebook is the best way to introduce yourself to me," writes the manager. "It's much better if I have already met you." He says he keeps his privacy settings high, "so I don't get too many strange requests anymore. If I don't know someone already, then most likely I won't accept the friend request. I guess for me, Facebook is a 'stage two' networking tool in most cases. But now that I think of it, I've friend-requested a few people that I have never been introduced to! LOL."
"The new FB settings erased the ability to turn off friend requesting, so if you're reaching the FB cap, you're screwed," writes one clearly popular casting director (Facebook's cap on friends is 5,000). "You'll still get friend requests until you hit 5K, and then no one can add you—but then you also cannot add anyone you want to add. It sucks. The sanest time I had on FB was the four or five months during which no one could request my friendship. I could add someone if I wanted to, or a mutual friend could make a suggestion, but that was it. Now it's back to 20 or so friend requests per day. It's pretty bad."
"I know it's a 'social networking' site," begins another casting director. "But when an actor asks to be my friend and then incessantly bombards me with messages like 'What are you working on?' or their every post is about 'Looking for an agent' or 'What do you think about my new photos?,' well, I tend to unfriend pretty fast. Occasional advice or actor stuff is okay, but people, please! Also, what's up with actors (nonunion, no agent, no credits) asking me to join their fan pages? They also go away almost immediately."
So, should you friend the casting assistant? Probably not. At some point down the line, you may connect over something besides your hope that he helps you book a job. That's the time to make your request.
Finally, if you really feel you must use Facebook to reach out to strangers, consider creating a separate business account that you update only with professional photos and information. That way, you'll keep potential employers from seeing sides of you that you'd just as soon keep private. No matter how tough your privacy settings, random tagged photos or comments can sometimes creep through. The last thing you need is a potential agent seeing you "performing" a keg stand.
L.A. actors: Looking for more helpful career advice? Don't miss this month's installment of Back Stage's Successful Actor series, which will be a commercial workshop with Carolyne Barry.
Successful Actor takes place Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 7:30 p.m. at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1336 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. The parking entrance is on De Longpre Street. Admission is free and seating is unreserved. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.