I'm a fresh-out-of-college actress, and I've recently done my first blind mailing to agents. I haven't heard anything from anyone yet, but in the meantime (while I get a job to get more money to print more headshots), I've been researching other ways to find representation, as I know random mailings aren't always the most effective.
In his Back Stage column, Secret Agent Man mentioned acting workshops that include casting directors and agents, and how continuing to attend these may help toward getting an agent interested in you. However, in trying to find these workshops, I've mostly come across what seem to be scams. I'm clueless as to what to look for and where. Is there a reliable source for finding these workshops? How much can I expect to pay to participate in a workshop that isn't a scam? And can you suggest any other ways to help me find representation?
—Lost in La-La Lan
In this column, I always try to give the truth, regardless of whether it's pleasant. Here it is: Finding representation is among the most difficult tasks a professional actor faces, and unfortunately, getting no response to a mass mailing is the norm. Agents look for clients who'll make them money, so they'll rarely call in a newcomer from a mailing, unless there's something about that newcomer (incredible beauty, an unusual but marketable look, etc.) that makes them see dollar signs.
So why do beginning actors even bother with mass mailings? I guess it's sort of a ritual. It helps you feel like you're doing something to forward your career. And sometimes, something actually happens. There are certainly actors out there who've had success with mailings. But generally it leads to exactly zip, zilch, and zero.
Your workshop/scam question has many answers. First of all, yes, there are lots of outright scams out there, and you're smart to steer clear of them. But workshops set up for actors to meet agents and casting directors have become an industry unto themselves. These are popular and well-attended. And while it's technically illegal to charge someone for a meeting like this, those who host them are able to get around that legality by calling the meetings "workshops." Some find them to be effective for getting employment and representation. But just to be clear, attending with that goal means you're paying people to consider hiring or representing you, thereby contributing to an illegal practice. That's something to think about. In my opinion, paying to meet a potential agent (anywhere from $25 to $75) is desperate, pathetic, and beneath the dignity of an actor.
Mind you, some of these workshops are completely legitimate educational opportunities. But your question was about agent hunting, not education.
So how do you find an agent? The approach I recommend takes much more patience and faith. It goes like this: Do what's accessible to you at your current level. If you're not meeting agents, it may be that you're not there yet in your career. If that's the case, go for plays, student films, classes, theater companies, reading groups, anything you can get into. Develop your chops. Be around others who are in the business. Along the way, if colleagues express appreciation for your work, ask for introductions to their agents. That's the way to get in and have an agent take you seriously. They're far more inclined to trust their clients' personal recommendations than to respond to cold mailings.
Our business is like some others in this way: You might find shortcuts and ways to cheat the system—some succeed that way—but generally you have to work your way up the ladder, and have a bit of patience.
I signed with a large bicoastal agency here in New York about nine months ago, through the voiceover department. As in most large agencies, they sign clients jointly with their on-camera department. I was thrilled, as I was freelancing for on-camera auditions and getting callbacks prior to signing with this agency. Since signing, I go out all the time for voiceovers (yay!), but I have yet to go out for the on-camera department (boo!). I met with all of the on-camera agents briefly, sent a couple of updates, but still—no dice.
What do you suggest doing, aside from updating them if I'm in a show, without being annoying and desperate, which we all know no one likes? I feel as though I've taken 20 steps forward in terms of voiceover land, but 30 back in terms of my on-camera work, and I definitely don't want to say goodbye to this aspect of my career.
—More Than a Pretty Voice
Dear More Than:
Oooh, that's a puzzle. Here's what I think I'd do: If you have a good relationship with someone in the voiceover department, schedule a meeting with that person and explain your dilemma. There's something about meeting in person, rather than emailing or talking on the phone, that identifies you as an important client. If they take the time to meet with you, they're sending themselves a subconscious message that you're worthy of attention.
Now, this next bit is important: When you meet, avoid anything that sounds like complaining, blaming, or being needy. Instead, come from a place of collaboration, service, and problem solving. Put it in your mind that the meeting is about their needs and your concern that the agency is losing money by not sending you out for on-camera commercials.
I'd say something like: "I have a problem I could use your help with. I love working with you folks in voiceover, but since signing with this agency, my successful on-camera career has all but evaporated. I'm not looking to leave the agency, but I can't abandon the income I've been making from TV commercials. Meanwhile, the agency is losing money by not sending me out. What should we do in a situation like this?"
It may be that you can stay with them for voiceovers and go back to freelancing for on-camera. Agencies often say up front that they only sign "across the board," but I know actors who've persuaded such agencies to make exceptions, so it's possible.
Or—even better—you may succeed in getting your voiceover agent to be your ally. He or she may go to the commercial department and get on them for dropping the ball. That kind of message will be more effective coming from someone within the agency than from a client. Or your agent may propose another solution. As with all relationships, communication is key.
Any questions or comments for The Working Actor? Please email Jackie and Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.