Commercial Tips, Industry Temps
I just moved to L.A. a couple of months ago, and I'm trying to get into acting onscreen. I work as an extra for the cash, and someone on-set said I should do commercials, but I haven't the first clue of what to do. Do I need an agent, or can I just send my headshot to the casting directors? How do I find agents or casting people? Is there somewhere I can find a list? When I send my headshot, do I need to include a cover letter? If so, what should it say? Do I have to get a special headshot just for commercials, or can I use the same one I use for my regular submissions? If I need a special one, what should it look like?
via the Internet
Many, many actors are after commercial work, and although getting in front of a commercial casting director might be easier than getting in front of Steven Spielberg, that doesn't mean it's easy. Yes, you need a special headshot. Right now, color is the way to go. You need a shot that shows just how friendly, approachable, and likeable you can be. Most agents want an option with teeth showing--yes, a smile.
I mention what agents want because you do indeed need one of those. The good news: It's easier to get a commercial agent than a theatrical one. The bad news: It's not easy to get a commercial agent.
You can find listings of agents, commercial and otherwise, in 'zine-like pamphlets available at Samuel French bookstores in L.A. or the Drama Book Shop in N.Y. These are published monthly, so you can get up-to-date information, including names, addresses, and what agencies are looking for that month. The one I use is called The Agencies. It comes in either a New York or Hollywood edition and is published by Acting World Books. You can also find it online at www.actingworldbooks.org. Silver Screen (www.hollywoodaccess.com) publishes another batch, although it does not offer an East Coast edition. There are similar guides for casting directors, so before you land representation you can use those to target your CD submissions. While most CDs won't bother with unsolicited mail, a few--such as Chris Game of Chris and Jed Casting--still open every envelope themselves. If you fit a role the CD is looking for, you may get a call. Unsolicited email to CDs or agents is usually not opened, but if you decide go this route be sure not to include attachments. Instead send a link to your website or your online photo and résumé.
For submissions to agents and CDs alike, compose a simple cover letter. It should be brief, no more than half a page, and polite. Tell them you are new in town and interested in meeting or auditioning for them. Mention any recent and pertinent accomplishments, such as being cast in a show or winning an acting award. Don't bother with colored envelopes or gimmicks, and never enclose any props or--heaven help us--glitter.
I thought that finding temp work in the industry might be a good way to network. Do you know of any temp agencies in Los Angeles that provide services to film industry companies and studios?
Los Angeles, Calif.
The first thing I did when I got your question was ask around. Fellow actors are my best source of information on topics such as this, and they can be yours, too. Ask your friends, cast-mates, and classmates for their top picks.
"Star Staffing got me to Paramount, The Friedman Agency to CAA [Creative Artists Agency], and Ad Personnel to Revolution Studios," said one actor. Another spoke highly of Aquent. "The Aquent office on Wilshire places people at the studios, WB and Disney," she said. "And the pay is quite good. Nice people, too."
Many sources mentioned The Friedman Agency in Hollywood (www.friedmanpersonnel.com), as the first place to go for industry work. The Job Factory (www.thejobfactory.com) in Westwood is known for filling offbeat jobs and industry positions. Its listing service is not free--it's $1 a day-but used judiciously it might fit your needs.
Temp work is popular on the East Coast as well, and New York actors have numerous agencies to choose from. Several of the aforementioned companies have an East Coast division, but there is no shortage of actor-friendly options. Distinctive Temporary Personnel, Career Blazers, Swing-Shift, and Buckley Staffing are all actor-friendly. I used to use Norrel.
Actor Erik Engman says, "Kelly Services in Burbank hooked me up with Disney a number of times. Warner Bros. usually has an in-house temp service, but I was there through the Glendale office of Adecco, in the publicity department for about a week. I used Thomas Staffing [now called Venturi Staffing] to work at Paramount. The best thing to do is to call the temp agencies and ask if they refer to studios."
Engman makes very salient points: "The thing I found is that studios usually aren't flexible in terms of time off, and the hours are 9-6. I mean, it's a job, and they expect you to treat it as such. They call it temp, but the only difference is you get your paycheck from the agency, not the studio. On the other hand, I met a lot of people and have some connections from [that time]. I also got to walk around on the studios' lots and talk to people about the industry. I learned a lot on those jobs and feel I have a good knowledge of the biz now, which was my goal."
Deborah Jacobson's book Survival Jobs contains temp agency listings, as well as other humorous and practical tips on getting by while pursuing your artistic goals. And finally, I came across this website: www.ihatemylife.us. The site was created by a former homeless person and caters to people in dire situations, but much of its information is pertinent to artists living on the edge. While the U.S. is not ripe with garrets, and "starving artist" is usually just a cliché, the site struck a chord. Click on "jobs, jobs, jobs" for useful information, including a Los Angeles temp agency listing.