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Secret Agent Man

Secret Agent Man on Actors' Blind-Submission Cover Letters

Secret Agent Man on Actors' Blind-Submission Cover Letters
Now that I'm on the wrong side of 40, I look back at my professional life and I'm stunned by all the ways technology has made my job easier. Ten years ago I used to spend a king's ransom to messenger VHS tapes all over town. Now I just hit Send, and the reel's there in a flash. But some parts of this business are still the same. I'm talking about all the submissions that pour into my office every single day. Those manila envelopes are dinosaurs that somehow managed to survive an electronic ice age. Call me old-fashioned, but I find that very comforting.

Now that we're living in the future, you're probably wondering if I still open those hard-copy submissions. The answer is yes. I've learned that you never know what might be inside. Sending your material to an agent without a referral has always been a long shot, but over the years I've signed quite a few actors who approached me this way.

That said, I think the most entertaining part of opening those submissions is getting to read the cover letters. Some are well-written, most are dull and predictable, but every now and then one pops because of the misguided approach used by the actor. Here are three recent examples that caught my eye.

"I am deeply interested in classical theater and hoping to find a career both in front of the camera and onstage. I am also taking private voice lessons focusing on different styles of opera."

I'm not your typical Hollywood agent who scoffs at plays. Several of my clients perform onstage while pursuing film and television work. That's what keeps their creative juices flowing. But classical theater means nothing to me. When you're looking for representation, it doesn't make sense to mention your love of Chekhov, because that approach makes you sound naive. And don't get me started on opera.

"My name's Jennifer, and I moved to L.A. from the Baltimore area about two years ago. Unfortunately, not much has happened since then, and I'm hoping you can help get me started."

This is the perfect example of how actors get in their own way. For some reason I don't quite understand, Jennifer started her cover letter by giving me a specific reason not to sign her. Any actor who allows two whole years to pass by without one single accomplishment is either lazy or untalented. Either way, I'm not interested. You should never, ever open your letter with a negative.

This next one started with a drawn-out story about all the commercials this woman booked when she was a kid. What follows is the third paragraph from her two-page cover letter.

"…But as I got older, my mother ended my professional involvement. She believed the pressures of the entertainment industry would warp my development as a human being. She insisted that I get a college degree before I resume my professional acting career. I did as she wished, but now that I'm an adult, I resent her for this, and I feel like I've lost several valuable years."

This is way too much personal information. It's even a little disturbing. A cover letter doesn't have to detail every moment you've spent on this planet. It's a pitch. The letter is supposed to give me a reason why I should meet you. This actor's approach doesn't serve that purpose. And I'm an agent, not a therapist.

Thanks to the technology that surrounds us, there are several new ways for actors to search for representation. I'm all about the modern world, but it's perfectly okay to go old school too. Just make sure you have a few honest friends read your cover letter before you hand it to your friendly neighborhood postman.

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