The casting paper trail is almost obsolete. Gone are the days when a messenger would drop off headshots and résumés at a casting office via a crosstown bicycle or van ride. Today, most casting is now online: Agents can email links to casting directors for their clients' websites, reels, clips, and copies of their headshots and résumés.
But for those actors who are just starting out, don’t have agents, and don’t know any industry professionals, it still is essential to introduce yourself by submitting a headshot and résumé. And with any submission, you should also write a short cover letter. Here are five tips for writing an effective acting cover letter that gets attention for the right reasons.
1. Target your audience.
Mass mailings are not as effective as a targeted list of 12-25 potential agents who might be looking for your type. Generally, most agents are not looking for actors at the beginning stages of their careers; do your homework. Look them up in Call Sheet! Google them! Then figure out who might be a match. Some offices specialize in representing actors who are athletes, speak another language, have model experience, are over 50, etc. Be sure to find out which department—commercial or theatrical—your prospective agent works in. You’ll get more responses if they know you did your research.
2. Make sure your stationery is smaller than 8 ½ x 11.
Note size is better than a full-page letter. Why? It will fit your 8x10 headshot. Program the settings in your software so the page is in Landscape format. Make two columns and copy/paste what you say in the first column into the second so you have duplicate notes—two per page! Add a small thumbnail photo and your contact info. The size is just large enough to attach with a paper clip. Well done!
3. Keep it short.
Get to the point and don’t waste a sentence on the obvious. Don’t start your letter with “I am an actor, my name is ______, and I’m looking for representation.” Duh! Cut to the chase. They know you’re an actor. Don’t go into exquisite detail about your childhood on the farm in Iowa, your favorite show tunes, and how many character roles you played in junior high.
Instead, talk about your type and brand (girl-next-door, quirky neighbor, suburban Mom, beer-drinking dude, Home Depot husband, spy, ivy league college guy). This will tell the agent that you are savvy and know how you will be cast. Also, make sure you share what major roles you’ve played, respected theater companies you have worked with, and established actors you’ve acted alongside. This is your hook. If they decide to call you in, it’s because they have something to sell when they chat about you with a casting director.
Make sure to address where you are going in the business, not just where you’ve been. What is your niche? Broadway musical? Film? Primetime series? Commercials? If you believe in yourself, they’ll believe in you. Express your enthusiasm, your passion, and your clear focus about what you will achieve. They will help you make it happen!
4. Use personality in your writing.
Try not to sound like you work in the corporate world. Be yourself. Use the language you would when speaking to someone you just met. It’s fine use personal expressions—that’s who you are! Sign off with a sincere line being you. For example, “From a striking brunette with an infectious laugh, Hope to meet you soon!” Use your own style. It pays off.
5. Don’t threaten to call the agent in a week to follow up.
Most agents are busy trying to get work for their current clients and don’t appreciate the interruption of phone calls from actors they don’t know. There are exceptions but usually, if they’re interested, they will call you. Instead, follow up with a postcard reminding them that you sent your résumé and photo a month before or that now you are in a show or you booked something. If you tell them something that shows you’re successful and booking work, they will respond.
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