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Secret Agent Man

How to Make Friends and Influence Your Career

How to Make Friends and Influence Your Career
Photo Source: Jonathan Bartlett

After a refreshing holiday break, I have mixed feelings about going back to work. Part of me is focused, already thinking ahead to the arrival of pilot season. But there’s another part that’s looking back, remembering the early days of my career.

I started as an assistant at one of the largest companies in the business. Back then, I could barely afford the suits I had to wear. My entire life consisted of answering phones, sending out auditions, and running errands for my boss.  

Tired of working for slave wages, I realized the only way off that desk was to build a circle of contacts who could help me make the big move. Thanks to my job, I had access to the best casting directors in town, but I knew I couldn’t just drop to my knees and beg. That kind of behavior gets you nowhere fast. So instead, I did my best to bond with them, always being professional, never asking for anything.

When the time was right, I shared my frustration. I asked for their advice on how to approach other agencies. They responded by making calls on my behalf. This led to several interviews and, eventually, the perfect offer.

Those casting directors helped me because they liked me. I never asked them to make those calls. They offered. And that’s how I became an agent.
Now watch carefully, ladies and gentlemen, as I take this little history lesson and apply it to your life as an actor. There are no tricks up my sleeve, just common sense.  

A few months ago, I went to see a play at an established theater company in North Hollywood. When the show was over, my date went off to powder her nose while I waited in the lobby. That’s when the cast started coming out. I spotted one actor who did an especially good job, so I went over to congratulate him.

At first, we had a pleasant conversation about the production, but when I mentioned what I did for a living, the guy turned desperate and started begging me to sign him. He didn’t even know where I worked, but he kept coming at me, insisting that I give him a chance. Luckily, my date returned and pulled me away to safety.

But the story doesn’t end there. Believe it or not, the actor actually followed us outside, creating an uncomfortable situation that bordered on creepy. I finally had to ask him to leave us alone.

This actor wasted an excellent opportunity. I just saw and liked his work. If he had played his cards right, he could’ve added me to his own circle of contacts. But no, he jumped the gun by asking me for representation. So in my eyes, he immediately turned into yet another actor who wants something from me.

What he should’ve done was follow the example I set as an assistant. All the actor had to do was thank me for attending the show. Then he could’ve followed up with an email that needs a response, something like this:

“Thanks again for checking out our play. It’s always a nice surprise when someone like you takes the time to see theater in this town. And by the way, I’m thinking about signing up for some casting workshops. Are there any companies you’d recommend?”

Since I was the one who approached him at the theater, the odds are I’m going to respond. And that’s the start of a relationship, one the actor can exploit at a future time.  

Learning how to approach and network with industry professionals should be an important part of your business plan. So don’t be shy, but avoid being pushy. Find the sweet spot that allows you to build your own personal circle of contacts.

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