When I was an agent back in the day, actors mailed hard copies of their pictures, resumés, and demo reels in search of representation. Ninety-nine percent of those envelopes were screened and thrown in the trash, never making it to my desk. Nowadays, agents and managers are easily accessible by email. I get at least five unsolicited submissions a week from actors, and it seems that most of them don’t know the first thing about selling themselves in via digital correspondence.
When I get email queries, I read the first line, then scroll down to see how long this person’s intro is. If it’s more than a short paragraph, I delete it. Agents and managers don’t have the time to read about your “special skills,” high school performances, where you studied drama in elementary school, or how many musicals you’ve performed in.
So how do you catch a rep’s attention in the first few sentences of your email so they’ll look at your picture, resumé, and demo reel?
Remember in elementary school when your teacher taught you the five Ws to look for a when reading a story? I like to use four of those Ws to stress the important points in writing your cover letter:
WHO: Your name. Obviously
WHAT: What do you do? Are you an actor, writer, producer, dancer, singer?
WHERE: Where are you from and where are you currently based?
WHY: Why should I open your info? Have you been studying theater? Written any screenplays that have won any awards? Why are you ready for representation? Why are you special? You need to entice me to take the next step.
Now that you’ve written your cover letter, I’ll take you through the three steps a representative goes through when reading an unsolicited submission.
Step 1: My interest is piqued by your cover letter, a short note with pertinent info (the four Ws). Make sure you do your research; if someone spells my name wrong or is asking for representation in an area I don’t work in, I’ll delete without hesitation.
Step 2: I decide to open up your attached headshot and resumé. Make sure you have a great headshot that looks like you and is appealing and a resumé that is professional. All agents and managers are looking for different types of clients and you may not be what they are looking for. They may have too many people similar to you in look and type, but that’s ok! It only takes one yes, not 100.
Step 3: Your cover letter, headshot, and resumé have interested me enough by this point to look at your demo reel. Make sure your reel is short and strong but has enough substance to show me that you can act. You don’t need to show every character you can play or every different look you have. Present yourself as a product and a type at first; range comes later if we meet.
Additionally, it’s better to shoot a monologue or a few scenes by yourself rather than send a reel with you doing a few lines here and there. You want to give the impression that you’re ready for a meaty job and can hold your own on a set! Most agents and managers don’t want to take someone on who has only done a couple lines in something—they want more experience.
Step 4: If I’m impressed by your cover letter, headshot, resumé, and demo reel, I’ll say, “I need that on my list!” and reach out about sending more material or meeting in person. This is HUGE and you should be very proud of yourself! Getting in a room with an agent or manager is one of the hardest things you’ll have to do in the industry. Always show up to meetings on time, dress professionally, and look like your headshot. Show that you have personality, talk about your training, be honest, and express that you’re a hard worker! Present a package they (and I!) can’t refuse.
Remember: the first step is presenting a professional introduction letter and materials, and your end goal is to get into that room and sell yourself. Good luck!
Karen Forman has been working in Hollywood as a high-ranking agent and manager for over 25 years. She currently runs her own management company representing actors and writers, as well as her own consulting company called Hollywood-Connections, which helps young actors with honest and direct advice. Karen loves what she does, has a direct and honest approach to representing talent, and enjoys helping actors learn the business side of the industry.
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