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The Working Actor

Add Rep, Stock Options, Act Now

Add Rep, Stock Options, Act Now
Dear Michael:
My 6-year-old daughter is a working commercial actor. She has done five national commercials and recently screen-tested for a low-budget SAG film. She gets plenty of commercial auditions, but not a lot of TV/film auditions. Is it because well-known casting directors don't use breakdowns and go straight to the big agents? I'm starting to wonder whether I should work on getting her a "big" agent.
—Princess K., San Francisco

Dear Princess K.:
My guess is that your daughter's agent has good relationships with commercial casting directors but not with film and television casting directors. I'd suggest looking for a new theatrical agent—not necessarily a big one, just a good one. If you find the right match, try to convince your daughter's current agent to remain on board for commercials only. Some agents refuse to do that, in which case you'll need a new commercial agent as well. But even if the agency has an "across the board" policy (meaning it won't take on clients in just one department), it's still worth having a conversation. Sometimes, if the agency sees big enough dollar signs, it'll bend those policies. And with all those nationals coming in, I'll be surprised if your daughter's agent doesn't agree to play ball.

Dear Michael:
As a newcomer, I responded to a stock-agency request, had photos taken by them (unpaid, with a promise of future payment), and signed a contract. A year later, they're now requesting that I sign a new contract, with an additional stipulation involving a yearly fee (to be deducted from any payment) to be on their website.

I don't want to do stock photography anymore, and I don't want to be on their website. I also don't want to sign the new contract and want out from any existing contract (if the original contract is still valid). They keep emailing me about this, although I informed them of my wish to opt out. Do I need to talk to a lawyer about this?
—New to the Business, New York

Dear New:
I won't claim any expertise in the area of contract law. But it seems to me that if this stock photography agency hasn't gotten you paid work in a year, it makes no sense to re-sign. And certainly, if you don't want to do stock photography, then you're done. No one can force you. Furthermore, I can make an educated guess that the original contract is no longer valid. Otherwise, the agency wouldn't be asking you to sign a new one.

I don't think you need a lawyer. But I do think you need to get assertive about opting out. Call the agency. Be sweet but firm. Get the name of the person you speak with, and from then on always speak to that person. Approach it as if the continued emails are a technical glitch you're both frustrated by. If you continue to hear from the agency, call your new friend there each time and take an approach along the lines of: "Would you believe it? This is still going on. I hate to bother you, but could you see who's dropping the ball on this?" Treat this person as if he or she is the only competent person at the agency. It'll get done. Sometimes people will help you with your problem just to get you out of their hair.

Remember the old adage: "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." Start squeaking!

Dear Michael:
I've worked in production in New York and L.A. and want nothing more than to be a filmmaker. I know that ultimately I'll direct, and I've been working on two scripts over the last 18 months while on unemployment. But the deeper I dig, the more it becomes clear that I need to act.

For a long time I've brushed it off and, for whatever reason, painted this picture of it in my mind as something negative. Maybe it's just the fear. I act when I'm alone all the time, the same way people sing or dance. I've done this since I was 13 years old, maybe younger. Over the last five years or so, I've gone on a few commercial auditions and always gotten called back. I took a couple of acting classes at Black Nexxus in L.A. and then one in New York. The response from the instructor was extremely positive, and she told me that if I wanted to do this, nothing could stop me.

So of course that brings it back to me. I'd normally consider myself a go-getter and someone with her balls to the wall, except when it comes to acting. Unemployment's running out soon and I'll need a job. So that just feels like another excuse that will take priority, and I don't want another year to pass without taking acting seriously. How does one take acting seriously?
—Both Sides of the Camera, Los Angeles

Dear BSOC:
You had me until the part about your unemployment running out. It sounds like you might be considering turning to acting as a solution to that problem, and I'm here to tell you that's a really bad plan.

You cannot proceed with the idea that acting will pay your bills. About 99.99 percent of the people who pursue acting don't make a living at it, especially when just starting out. Your dwindling unemployment isn't a sign that it's time to start acting for a living. On the contrary, taking acting seriously means looking at the long haul and recognizing that you'll need a reliable source of income to support your pursuit. You should get that squared away immediately.

But here's the good news: There's no reason you can't pursue acting at the same time. People do. As for whether you should dive in rather than waiting any longer, my answer to you is simple: Yes. Life is short. Sure, acting's competitive and discouraging and very few are successful at it. So what? If you need it, as you say, then you have to at least try, or you'll feel incomplete. You've already started; keep taking small steps as they appear before you. Go to an audition, make a phone call, send an email, join a theater company, read a book, get to know a fellow actor. There's something you can do tomorrow. Do it.

That's what it means to take acting seriously. It's jumping in with both feet and declaring yourself an actor, keeping your bills paid while you study, audition, develop your professional savvy, and seek out opportunities to hone and expand your talents. It also means signing on for all the craziness, inequity, scarcity of work, triumph, defeat, unpredictability, chaos—and camaraderie. Welcome to the club.

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