Acting Job Opportunities Lost and Won

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How to get work via your backpack, shoulder bag and/or back pocket? Read on.

Last Christmas my partner (the talent agency owner) and I were on a plane heading to my parent's Florida home. Because of booking the flight last minute, I was sitting next to a jock-type who was watching football on the JetBlue in-flight TV while my partner was sitting one row behind watching, as is his custom, "The Girls Next Door." (Oh good God... he'll never be CNN material.)

When we got off the flight, my other half and I began speaking about a work issue at his agency as we walked through the quiet, yet swank, Sarasota terminal. While at the rental car desk, behind us came a voice.

"Excuse me. I heard you were an agent?" There's no escape even in Death's sunny waiting room.

We turned 'round and it was the football-watching jock type who I had been sitting next to for the past two hours. He was a New York-based actor visiting his snowbird Sarasota parents as well.

He ignored me, not knowing what I do for cha-ching, and focused on my other half. He was polite, introduced his smiling folks... to my partner. Again, I was ignored. Which is ok. I'm basically shy (yes, believe it) and love my anonymity. But I'm also a bit of a devil and love to play with human behavior. So after he presented to my partner his business card with his picture and turned to leave, I couldn't help but be mischievous and casually mentioned, "You know you were sitting for the last thousand miles next to a director and casting director." Ping! I suddenly gained his attention, a parental introduction and of course deemed worthy of his business card.

Opportunist? Yes. Wrong? Yes and no.

This actor knew that here was an opportunity to introduce himself to gate keepers. (Agents and casting directors are nothing more than glorified employment agencies and human resources.) He was right to begin a conversation. Where did he go wrong?

He would have been smarter had he had his picture and resume with him. A business card with a picture may work for funeral directors and car salesman (you always want a trustworthy face handling your car and dead) but it has little relevance to agents, directors, casting directors, producers, and writers -- anyone who provides work opportunities. It doesn't help us getting to know the actor as an actor. And by-the-by, I held onto the actor's business card for several weeks, but life and work prevented me from remembering to type into my browser his website address found on the card, which would then lead me to his resume. His business card did little other than tell me his name and occupation. In a modern era of constant distraction, as a casting director (and I'll speak for my partner the agent) we need more tangible ready-at-hand information to peak our further interest.

I'm surprised how many actors do not carry with them, at all times, some form of their picture and resume. That's your business card! You never know who the hell you'll run into and where. Just this past week I was walking in my suburbia neighborhood on my way to Whole Foods for my morning muffin and yogurt when someone called out "Paul Russell!" It was an actor who had read my book. He went to offer me his contact info but came up empty. Now you may argue, "Well Paul, I can get the person's contact info and email or I can hard copy them my resume." Good luck in getting a personal email. Double the good luck chances that the email or hard copy submissions will be opened and that you'll be recalled.

Now caution note here about running into someone who can help advance your work goals: Talent reps, directors, writers, producers, choreographers, and stage managers are the same as you when on the street or at a Starbucks. We're people. People, possibly like you, who enjoy privacy and anonymity. If you get into a conversation with an industry person who you think can help you in the future in obtaining work, be extremely tactful, polite and respectful of space. And treat us not as objects of use to you but as someone to get to know as a person. Don't forget that we're all people, not opportunities. That is so often forgotten. And when we're treated as a doormat, it's a big turn-off. I know talent reps who have been accosted by actors as the agents were shopping for underwear, getting their Sunday morning coffee, or sweating in a sauna.

If the person you run into asks for your picture and resume, of course give it to them. Don't ambush. That happened to Alan Alda once in a hospital by a nurse who believed herself to be an actress. It pissed off Mr. Alda so much that he used the occurrence for fodder in a later movie. On my book tour I encountered, in each city, actors who could be runner-ups to Mr. Alda's nurse-actress. I'd give the free one-hour seminar on the business and then sign books that attendees generously purchased. People would wait in line for their turn to speak with me and have their copies of my book signed. And without fail, in each city, there were several actors who would wait in line without a book, come to the table, hand me their picture and resume, then ask me to keep them in mind for future casting. Excuse me?

What is most important in the message here is this: Try at all times to keep a picture a resume on you. One that is up-to-date, the picture and resume are stapled together and clean in appearance. Have it in some form; full or reduced to an oversized postcard easier for constant carry. You may not run into an industry person on the street but there will be many times when you're needed to be at an audition with very little notice. Sometimes only an hour's notice. This happens often with film and TV casting.

I teach. Students at NYU, privately and as a visiting guest to campuses across the country. In every situation one of the first things I ask (including my weekly NYU students) is, "Who here has their picture and resume, stapled together, ready to hand to me or anyone in the industry you meet on the street who can get you work?" I'm lucky if one hand goes up. And forget about the stapled together request... that would be asking far too much.

Not having your business card (i.e., an updated picture and resume) with you as often as possible means that you are losing out on opportunities for future employment. It's your career. Your opportunities for work lost or won.

Paul Russell's career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit