The blind submission of the classic headshot, résumé, and cover letter package to agents and casting directors is an act on par with buying a lottery ticket. Although you may not know anybody personally who has gotten representation or work this way, there is evidence that it works just often enough, and for people far less deserving, that it seems a reasonable gesture. Plus, it gives you the right, while out with friends taking advantage of the daily noon-to-7 happy hour, to lean in to the group and confide, "I'm being very proactive about my career."
The good news is that it works. The bad news is that it doesn't work very often. Alicia Ruskin, vice president of the commercial division of Kazarian/Spencer & Associates, compares it to tracking down a real-world job by "going to the newspaper and going to the want ads," she says. "I mean, people get jobs that way, and people get agents with the mass mailing, but I think it's not the most effective way to work." There is, however, an exception. Ruskin says, "It's effective when you have a very unique look. If you're 25–35, attractive, middle-of-the-road, kind of normal actor, it's not going to stand out. But if you are someone with a really interesting [look], you've got some very different kind of hair, or there's something really that stands out about you physically, a mass mailing might get attention." But you didn't get this far because you listened to people who told you that you were wasting your energy, did you? And so, to work.
Putting It Together
The temptation to dangle your particulars in front of every agent in town is overwhelming, particularly because the phrase, "It's a numbers game," is so frequently offered as justification. If you're new at this, you might want to focus on the newer agencies. Casting director Alan Kaminsky (Danny Goldman & Associates) says, "If you're just starting, it doesn't matter who your agent is. As long as they're on one of the services [such as Breakdown], you're probably going to get an audition. Once you get to a point where you need someone decent who knows the rule book and knows how to negotiate and take care of you, that's a different story." The winnowing process can begin at Samuel French bookstore (www.samuelfrench.com for locations) where the clerk can point you toward the rack of publications, updated monthly, that list agencies and casting directors, as well as their areas of specialization. To reiterate: The bigger, older agencies are not the best places to start looking. David Ziff, a commercial agent at Cunningham-Escott-Slevin-Doherty Talent Agency, admits, "If we were just starting out, opening our own agency, I would want to add; I'd want to get as many people as I could." But, he continues, "We've been around for 40 years, so we're looking to 'fill in' little spots where we, perhaps, might be lacking or a little light, not 'add to.'"
If you want to go for the big mailing to everyone in town, at least make it easy on yourself and buy the labels, available with a subscription at www.rossreports.com ($8.95/month, $59/six months, or $109/year), for about $17 at www.breakdownservices.com, or for free at lacasting.com. The artfully hand-addressed envelope—or worse, illustrated—impresses few. The important thing is that the package reaches its intended recipient, and a clear, printed label is your cheapest insurance. Do your research: Make sure the address includes the appropriate person's name, spelled correctly, and—this is important—know the sex of its owner. Sincerity is severely undermined when a female agent receives a letter beginning, "Dear Mr." Call the agency and talk to the receptionist to make sure your information is correct and current. If you're possessed of a reasonable amount of charm, you will have made a contact inside the agency who will remember your name. While agencies generally open everything that comes in the door, it's often not until the "general" stack in the in-box begins to topple. "If it comes to our desk, it's another story," says Ziff. "We obviously go through a little quicker."
On the topic of envelopes, do. Use one, that is. There are intrepid thespians out there who print their résumés on the back of their headshots, apply labels and postage, and place their trust in the U.S. Postal Service. The headshots usually arrive, sometimes a bit worse for wear, but without a cover letter nobody is going to take the time to figure out why you're submitting. And you might want to take a pass on those cunning envelopes with the windows, the ones that are supposed to make it easier because the picture is visible without opening the silly thing. Ruskin emphasizes, "You want them to open the envelope. You're not going to get [to] the cover letter. I mean, it's more likely they'll skip the step. They will just toss it and not actually look in there." Ziff agrees, saying, "I don't like the clear plastic envelopes where you can see the person's face, because they might have something very creative in their cover letter that makes you want to see the person, their résumé might be very interesting, [but] it might not be the face you're looking for necessarily immediately."
A cover letter should be succinct and, if possible, begin with the magic words, "You were recommended to me by ______." Ruskin freely admits, "The most effective thing is a personal recommendation from somebody that I know. Whether it's another client of mine, a casting director, [or] some professional contact, that absolutely gets my attention." The letter can then continue with a brief introduction of yourself followed by an explanation of why you are interested in being represented by this agency at this time. A brief, but not exhaustive, notation of what you've been working on lately is often appreciated. Try not to go into detail about your dreams, your drive, and your motivation. It's assumed, and remarkably similar from actor to actor, so nobody wants to read it again. Points are given for humor. Gimmicks are dubious at best. Ruskin explains, "There's a tendency to do too much. You don't need to put chocolate bars and Starbucks cards or anything in a submission. All you need is a brief, professional cover letter, a picture, and a résumé. Any agent that you'd want to be with is going to look at that and not necessarily [be] swayed by anything else that you put in there." At best, you'll be remembered for the day, but as Kaminsky points out, if you do the résumé-on-the-pizza-box-lid trick, "We aren't going to keep the pizza box."
It's What's Inside That Counts
Color is here, and it's not going anywhere for a while, so if you're still trotting out that black-and-white headshot, have it redone. Though a few, such as Kaminsky, still prefer the old-school headshot, agents generally like to see your eye color and skin tone. In the era of electronic submissions [see sidebar], the three-quarter shot has also fallen by the wayside, unless you have a very particular or fabulous body type that's likely to get you work. And include a couple of different looks while you're at it, or a headshot and a print card.
The résumé needs to be simple and clear and—this being L.A.—should begin with film- and television experience, with theatre nestled proudly beneath. Any training should be listed, as well as special skills, an area in which most actors shortchange themselves. "Say you were once a nurse, an R.N.," says Kaminsky. "Put that. You may not think it's a special skill, but sometimes when we're looking for a project where the character's a nurse, if we know that someone was really a nurse, that will add some believability to the spot—that you know what you're doing or saying or how to hold something. Even bartending, that's fine too. You've got to have special skills."
Once you have this assembled and in the mail, stop. You are now done. There's a part of you that feels compelled to make the follow-up call to confirm that your missive arrived, but resist the urge. For one thing, it's unlikely you'll get past the receptionist, and if you do, you're just going to annoy the person, a decidedly counterproductive tack to take. "I get [follow-up calls] all the time," says Ziff. "And, to be honest, we get so many in the mail, every day, I don't know. I don't remember. Probably, it's here. Do I know if it's here? To be honest, no. I know that sounds cold, but there's nothing more I can do. I can't remember every blind submission that comes through and know that yours did." More to the point, Ruskin explains, "Would you want your agent talking to people who are calling in to check on their unsolicited picture, or do you want your agent trying to get you work? There's just a better use of my time than to field calls like that. And that's the way it is." BSW