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The Working Actor

Referral Riddle, Contact Conundrum

Referral Riddle, Contact Conundrum
Dear Jackie:
I recently shot a very fun commercial that I booked through my manager. It was a five-day shoot, and the director and I got along really well. I could tell he genuinely enjoyed working with me and was sincere when he said, "If you ever need a referral, let me know." He has directed commercials for 32 years, and I believe his word carries a good bit of weight.

How do I use this offer to my advantage? Do I find an agency here in New York that I want to work with and ask the director to call them up and get me in the door for an interview? I want to capitalize on this, but I don't want to ask for his referral and have a busy, successful man like him calling around telling agents about me who aren't going to care. What should I do?
—Hoping to Capitalize, New York

Dear Hoping:
First off, congratulations—on the gig and your on-set demeanor, which has earned the ultimate in raves from your director: a referral offer.

As far as I can tell, you have a few options, but you can't jump on any of them before answering the following: How is your relationship with your manager? Do you want to hold on to him or her? If so—and he or she got you this great gig, so I'm guessing the answer is yes—speak to your manager about the director's offer and get input on how the two of you can best use this to your advantage.

If you decide to pursue an agent, via this referral or otherwise, discuss that with your manager and clear up any issues that might arise. You don't need permission to add an agent to your team, of course, and most managers are happy to work alongside agents. But in a healthy actor-manager relationship, these things are discussed before action is taken.

Let's say your manager is on board (or at least you've told him or her that you plan to pursue another representative). You might contact the director and let him know you'd really appreciate any referrals he could make to agents on your behalf. It's likely the director will be best acquainted with commercial agents and will probably have two or three he's very close to. He'll call those two or three and pitch you. Perhaps one of them will need someone of your type, and voilà, a meeting. It's less likely he'll ask you which agencies you're interested in, but have a couple in mind before you make the call, just in case.

Another possibility: Say you and your manager are able to get you seen at a few agencies. This director could be listed as one of your professional references and perhaps, after the interviews, even make a follow-up call extolling your virtues. I think this option is less viable than the first one I described, mainly because it requires more work on the director's part.

If an agent isn't your primary concern, you could also ask the director to help get you in front of a couple of the casting directors he uses. With a quick call, he might be able to get you in on some upcoming auditions—or at least a general, where you might meet CDs outside your manager's network.

The important thing to keep in mind when you call the director is to follow his lead in the conversation. If he says, "Yeah, let me call a couple of my agent friends and tell them about you," don't reply, "Great, and could you also call CAA? Oh, and get me some generals!"

Finally, make sure to send a big fat thank-you to the casting director who booked you on this job. Often directors will use the same CDs time and again, and you want to be sure the CD calls you in every single time this director is casting.

Dear Jackie:
I have a question regarding "who you know" in the entertainment world. Oftentimes when looking at my résumé, casting directors will point out someone and say, "Oh, you know so-and-so?" This can be a very good thing when we have a mutual connection, but recently an issue has come up for me. I'm about to add two acting programs to my résumé, and, as every student knows, some teachers like certain students more than others. There's one teacher in particular who doesn't seem to like my work but can't seem to answer when I ask what it is she doesn't like.

What should I do if a casting director happens to ask me if I've worked with this teacher? Is it better to tell the truth and risk having the teacher speak poorly of me, or should I bend the truth and risk having my dishonesty revealed if I ever come up in a conversation between the two? I am usually a very honest person, but I'm really not sure what to do in this situation.
—Bettina, via the Internet

Dear Bettina:
I'd err on the side of brevity. Be positive, but don't dwell. Instead of lying about your acquaintance with this teacher, try responding to "Have you worked with so-and-so?" with an upbeat "Yes, she's great." Period. You could also go for diversion, as in: "Yes, a little bit. I mostly worked with [fill in the name of your favorite teacher at the school]. He was incredible!" Or try a turnaround with a jolly "Yes! Where do you know her from?"

Keep in mind that nine times out of 10, folks just want to chat and find common ground. They don't actually call the person in question. Even if they do run into each other, chances are they'll have forgotten your name—one of the few times competing with tons of others comes in handy! Besides, if they're actually friends, they'll have many other things to discuss besides former students and current auditionees.

What you don't want to do is get into a discussion revealing your frustrations with the teacher. A positive, upbeat attitude is much admired and sought after in our industry, and you don't want to take what was meant as a polite throwaway and turn it into a confession.

A final thought: Although this teacher may not be one of your biggest fans, chances are she wouldn't want to stand between you and a job. If a CD does call her about you, it's very likely she'll accentuate the positive in you, as you should in her.

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