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Dear Tombudsman:

I'm a recent transplant to Los Angeles and am fairly overwhelmed by the whole city. The size of it, the number of actors here, and how hard it is to get an agent have all been eye-opening experiences.

The one thing I have been able to work on is mailing to casting directors, but even that is mind-boggling. What is the best method for mailing to these all-important television contacts, and how can I possibly make sense of who is who and which ones I should be spending my time on?

I came from a place where there were three--count em', three--casting directors, and they all knew my name. Is that possible in Hollywood?


Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear K.S.

No, it's not possible--until you become a big name. But let's back up for a second.

Take a deep breath and repeat after me: "Los Angeles will not overwhelm me, Los Angeles will not overwhelm me..." OK, now that we have that out of the way, it will overwhelm you like it does the rest of us--once in a while. By the way, I think a good marketing regimen helps keep you from becoming overwhelmed, because it keeps you proactive and maintains your forward-thinking attitude. Actors who get lazy or sit around and wait for the phone to ring but aren't doing some marketing every week are going to risk falling into all kinds of negative emotions.

For your casting director marketing you need to have a pragmatic and continual approach in trying to meet the people who will audition you at some point in the future. Notice I said, Will audition you. Part of it starts with keeping a positive attitude about the whole process, understanding the vastness of the industry, and that even though the number of actors and casters around town might make things tough sometimes, the rewards for a dedicated plan of attack can offer nice rewards. It's important to remember that you don't need to meet everybody this week, even though you understandably want to.

There are hundreds of casting directors and assistants around the Southland. Through the years you may very well have the opportunity to market to all or most of them. That shouldn't necessarily be your goal for your first few mailings. A successful approach requires focus, and even if you're sending out your own version of a mass mailing it still must be directed toward those who offer you the best chances of a return on your time invested. Just by paring down your list to a workable number will help take away some of that overwhelmed feeling. And yes, it's easier on the pocketbook, as well.

A lot of your mailing research begins in understanding your type and which programs on television tend to hire actors of your type. It's not the only way to go, but it's a sensible first step. If you are a sitcom type, look at sitcoms and people who cast them. If you are a strong character type more likely to be seen on one-hour dramas, then study those. I know you are an actor who can do it all, and the day will come when you'll have a chance to show that, but for now simplify it a bit. Remember you're zeroing in on your highest level of probability.

Those programs have their assigned CDs, and that's your A-list to market to. Names and addresses can be easily accessed from bookstores and online. The list may contain 25 or 75 names, and it will always be changing, but at least it is a start. By sending to casting directors who are working on network or syndicated program you are also finding many who are the heavy hitters in town.

Plan A/Part B is regular postcard follow-ups. Each actor has to figure out her own method of timing on this front, but every two to three months is not uncommon. When you do follow-ups with your A-list, or anyone for that matter, you should probably have something to note besides "Hello" on your postcard. Bookings, appearances, stage invites, or even a new acting teacher is something of substance to put out there.

Aside from your A-list in television, you're also going to need to set up an A-list for films and for commercials--often, though not always, different casters--and any other specialty areas that apply to you, for example voice or stunts. Identify those who are casting often and come up with a reasonable number to add to your television list--maybe 10-30 in each area, depending on your time and energy. It's vital to follow up, so if your initial mailings are huge you'll never be able to keep up on proper follow-ups. A little tip: With the commercial people who share large audition spaces, you can often save a bundle of money by dropping your pictures off rather than mailing it. Make your drop and then leave, because you haven't been called in for an audition--not yet.

As time passes you'll become less overwhelmed and have a good foundation plan in place. Then you can start growing it and changing it. The sky is the limit based on your own needs, your time, and your budget.

If after a year or two you find certain casters aren't hiring your type, make them part of your B-list (fewer follow-ups) or C-list (those casters who cast infrequently or rarely seem to hire your type). Or, if after several years you haven't been brought in by certain casting directors, you have the choice of taking them off your list entirely or pushing twice as hard.

As you establish relationships with casters, your top contact list will define itself, but you'll always want to keep your eye open for new people, new shows, and new possibilities to add to your list. Don't count on those who have hired you before to be your future. You always have to look for new leads. They're out there in abundance.

Through it all you'll do what we actors have historically done: keep the United States Postal Service afloat.

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