Managing Management

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Dear Jackie:

Another actor and I may decide to team up and be each other's manager. What do you think?

—Ready to Go

Dear Ready:

I may be wrong, but I'm guessing that what you and the other actor are really considering is teaming up to get the breakdowns illegally so you can submit each other for roles. I think this is a big mistake, for many reasons. Yes, it's illegal—breakdowns are copyrighted material. I hear actors complaining about this all the time, saying it's not fair that this list of job openings in high-profile projects isn't available to everyone. But if you look at the history of Breakdown Services—the company that supplies the breakdowns to agents and managers—you'll see it was formed to serve an existing clientele.

Casting offices and the studios have always limited the number of people from whom they seek talent submissions. When Breakdown Services came along in 1971, it just streamlined the process, working as a delivery device for casting notices, not a casting company. If casting professionals and studios want to receive submissions from the general acting public, they can put out notices for all to see—and some do. Many, however, want their notices kept private—sent only to agents, or just some agents, or even just one person. However much we dislike it, however unfair it seems, the folks who cast film and TV have the right to control their casting information and see only the talent they choose. If they want to audition only actors who've been prescreened by agents and managers, they have a right to do that. (For stage productions covered by an Actors' Equity Association contract, however, the union requires that auditions be open to all union members.)

Beyond the ethical issue is a practical one: There's a very low success rate for actors who self-submit (or submit a friend) for film and TV projects using pirated breakdowns. Casting professionals aren't blindly opening emails or submission packages—they recognize the senders. Most can smell a fake manager submission from a mile away and will toss the contents. Those who want to cast a wide net and see unrepresented talent will make that well-known: They'll open their submissions to the acting public by placing casting notices with publications and websites like Back Stage or by giving out their email addresses at workshops and industry events. Sure, there are one-in-a-million stories of auditions booked through pirated breakdowns, but there are just as many stories of actors being discovered at banks or restaurants. Stealing the breakdowns isn't, in my opinion, worth the bother.

As for setting up a management company to legally access the breakdowns, your chances aren't much better. As there are no state licensing boards for managers, Breakdown Services requires that managers meet other criteria—and decides on a case-by-case basis—before they can purchase a subscription to the breakdowns. Since you and your friend don't have a group of working clients, a history in the industry, or other concrete experience, your chances of being approved would be slim.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you and your friend want to represent each other for reasons apart from the breakdowns. I asked two well-respected managers what they thought of your idea.

"It's a huge mistake for many, many, many reasons," says Paulo Andrés, a talent manager at RPA Entertainment in Los Angeles and vice president of the Actors Network, a business information organization for actors. "No casting director will take them seriously. It takes time to develop relationships with casting so that our phone calls are answered and casting will see our clients. In part, that relationship is built because of an excellent roster. A roster of one won't work."

The business of managing is a full-time job, encompassing far more than actor submissions. "Pitching is not something I do if I have time—it is a daily, hourly, exhaustive duty," says Andrés. "Submitting via breakdowns is merely the first step of many's not the last." Actors acting as each other's manager "have no access to scripts and grids and would have to pay for the trades and IMDbPro and learn heads of casting and find emails and pay for a courier or drive around town themselves delivering packages." Andrés says he could go on and on, but he sums it up this way: "Basically, these actors are thinking small-minded because it's hard. They should be placing more value on who they are as actors and artists. Damn it, they deserve a rockin' manager—at least that's the way I feel about my clients. Tell those actors to put more time and effort into being amazing talent. Focus on that, because that's pretty hard and time-consuming on its own."

Manager Brad Lemack of Lemack & Co. in San Marino, Calif., who has represented clients such as Isabel Sanford, Sherman Hemsley, and Basil Hoffman, agrees. In fact, he was so fired up by your question that he offered to send you a copy of his new book, "The New Business of Acting."

"I think teaming with a friend—or rather, scheming with a friend—to manage each other is a ridiculous idea," Lemack says. "Of course, it is done all the time by actors who think they know better than the person they hired to represent them, or by actors who either don't want to do the work necessary to find representation or who are not yet ready to be represented. Instead of becoming each other's manager, put this effort, this energy, and this money into becoming better actors who are ready to be represented by someone who is a real professional, not by a friend who thinks it's all in the submissions."

While I agree that trying to literally manage each other is a bad idea, I will say that working with another actor, or a group of actors, to encourage, promote, and otherwise help each other manage the business aspects of your careers is a great idea.

Here's what I mean: You and your friend could start an actors support group and schedule weekly meetings at which you could share information, respond to each other's marketing materials, and check in on what you each did that week to further your career. You could attend plays, screenings, and free workshops or seminars as a group. You might share the cost of subscribing to the trades and decipher industry news together. You could do play readings, or rent a low-cost studio and present scenes or monologues that you're preparing to use in auditions—not to "teach" one another anything, but to get more and more comfortable presenting the material in front of an audience. Or you might sit down together and chat while you all prepare your mailings.

Perhaps most important, you could set your goals aloud in front of the group and then generally hold each other accountable for sticking to them. They say that when people are trying to get into an exercise routine, it works wonders to set up exercise "dates" with other people—it keeps you from flaking out. Why wouldn't that same principle work here? You and your friend both want to work on your careers, so why not set up weekly meetings to make concrete progress in that direction?