Dear

Dear Jackie:

I am new to L.A. from NYC. I'm also a nonunion, nonrepresented actor—yeah, an uphill climb. We all know the benefits of using postcards to publicize an upcoming gig or follow up after a meeting with an agent, but what about to thank someone following an audition? Are postcards a polite and practical follow-up or just a waste of money?

—Wally Marzano

Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear Wally:

I think it's absolutely worthwhile to follow up an audition with a thank-you. Because you are trying to create relationships with casting people, any legitimate chance you have to get your face in front of them is one you should take. A thank-you is better than a general introduction postcard or mailing because it reminds casters that: a) they liked you enough to bring you in for an audition, b) you are a thoughtful and professional person, and c) you still exist. More important, a follow-up thank-you can remind an auditor of your work—which you want to do if you had a good read. If you bombed a particular audition, you may not want to remind anyone. Maybe a sympathy card would be more appropriate?

How you choose to format your thank-you is up to you. Postcards are good tools: They advertise your face as well as your name. I like thank-you cards, perhaps containing a postcard to remind the recipient who you are. A greeting card seems more personal and less like a marketing ploy—even though that's what it is.

There is a significant amount of marketing an actor must do from which he or she will see no direct response. That doesn't make it a waste of money. By taking every possible opportunity to reach out to those with influence over your career, you increase your visibility and therefore your chances. Postcards, continuous targeted submissions, industry events, and thank-yous are just part of the investment you need to make in your fledgling business. The hope is that, through consistent nurturing and tireless marketing, your investment will pay off.

All that aside: You're probably thankful when you get a chance to audition. Why not say so?

Dear Jackie:

I was in an independent movie a few years ago that had a sizable budget. I've also done extremely low-budget and no-budget films. I want to get a demo reel made and lead with the best material. The indie movie (released on DVD, video, on the BBC) is copyrighted. How do I go about using that material in my demo reel?

—Christopher

Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear Christopher:

When you say "best material," are you referring to the quality of the footage or the quality of your performance? You want to be sure the material focuses on you in the way you'd like to be seen. While you don't want to lead with a Hamlet monologue you shot in your backyard, you may not want to start with your least interesting acting work just because it's in the "biggest" film. Your reel is a promotional tool, so bear in mind what you are selling. What shows you in your best light? Which clip demonstrates that you are capable of the roles you wish to be considered for?

A couple of quick demo-reel pointers: Keep it short. Standard reels should be three to five minutes max, while online reels must be a minute or less. Check out www.planet-video.com and www.speedreels.com for examples. It's fine to use no-budget film footage if the material looks good and has good sound, but don't include badly lit video that sounds as though it were taped underwater. Although clips from legitimate projects are preferable, companies such as Speed Reels also shoot footage if you need to fill out your material or want to show a specific ability or aspect of your range. Generally, you want film clips first, followed by television, soap, and then commercial work. But don't feel you should include every bit of tape you have. A great short reel is better than a long uneven one. Output your standard reel (the one you will give your representation or send to casting people) in VHS and DVD format. Both are still widely used, and you need to be sure your work is viewable.

Don't worry about copyright issues. You are free to use excerpts for personal professional marketing. As long as you don't begin charging admission for screenings or selling copies on the Internet, you should be okay. Talent manager Paulo Andres adds, "I always tell actors to rent the DVDs of films and TV shows [they've done], as they may include deleted scenes. [They] may contain demo copy that the actor couldn't get before or did not know existed."

Dear Jackie:

I'm a director, but I have found it easy to get cast in shows at my college. I was thinking of doing acting as a backup profession, because it comes so easy to me and pays so well. What do you think?

—Karl

via the Internet

Dear Karl:

I suggest you go ahead and become an astronaut and a figure-skating gold medalist as well. Oh, and a senator.

Forgive my sarcasm, but acting is not something to pursue as a survival job. You get a survival job to be able to pursue acting. You have been lucky enough to land a few roles at school, but unless you are drop-dead gorgeous and have an uncle who's an agent at CAA, you might find professional work a little harder to come by.

I'm not saying that only "the chosen" should pursue acting or that you don't have a chance at making a little cash here and there if you don't commit to making acting your life's work. You should, however, talk to actors outside of your college to get a clearer idea of how much work landing roles is. And if I were you, I wouldn't mention using acting as a "backup" to these actors.