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Refer Madness, Italian Job

Dear Tombudsman:

I've noticed many agencies require referrals. What is the correct protocol for getting a referral? For example, I have a longtime acting teacher who is also an actor and is represented by an agency and who encourages me to search for agency representation. Someone told me that the teacher told him I was the star student of his class. Would it be proper protocol to ask this teacher for an agency referral? He knows I'm looking for an agent, so wouldn't he offer a referral if he wanted to? Or is he waiting for me to ask?

Also, I'm in an independent film, the director of which is very complimentary. I get the feeling he knows agents and is connected. We get along pretty well. As he seems to like my acting, would it be proper protocol to ask him for an agency referral? Or, again, is it proper protocol to wait until someone offers to refer me?


via the Internet

Dear M.E.:

The occasional psychic aside, most people cannot read your mind. So when you want something, you usually have to ask for it. How and when you do that influence your chances for success. I remember chatting with an actor one day, and after maybe 15 minutes he asked me to introduce him to my agent. Huh? I hadn't even worked with the guy yet. There have been other times when I gladly referred talented people to agencies I was working with, but I knew these people and their work and there was a reason to give the referral. Sometimes it's worked and sometimes it hasn't. So there's no guarantee that an already signed actor will have any more luck getting you in there than you would on your on.

Some agencies are just full up, and the best actor in the world won't be brought in even if the actor referring him is a regular booker. Timing is everything. Of course most agents tell you they like to have new actors come through client referrals more than almost any other way. Many secure actors are glad to give referrals when it's appropriate, and sometimes you have to figure out when it's OK to ask and when you might be jumping the gun. I say "secure" because a few people consider other actors as nothing more than competition, especially if they are the same type, and they won't give referrals. Boo.

If you are a proven quantity—and you sure sound like you are, in the eyes of your longtime acting teacher—you certainly have earned the right to ask that question. Keep in mind the realities of life: You could get a flat-out no to the request, but if you ask the right way, in the right time, you may very well get that referral. The key is in your expectations. No one owes anyone a referral. Remember that, and you'll be fine whatever the response.

You stand a healthy chance of a referral to your teacher's agent if the teacher loves your work, thinks you are a good fit for the agency, and is the kind of person who likes to give referrals. He also has to be in a position to give the referral. In other words, does he have a great relationship with his own agent? He also has to have a comfort level doing it. Not every person feels at ease making referrals, so you have to respect that, and if you get a no for any reason, you have to do your best to get past it and not hold a grudge. You wouldn't want to lose a great acting teacher just because he didn't send you to his agent for a meeting.

So don't wait, unless you can't handle a no. Before or after class one day, ask the question of your acting teacher. You may get the yes you desire, but remember there's no guarantee the agent will still bring you in. Nevertheless still make the effort, because unless you ask for something most people won't think you need their assistance. Then one day, when you are in position to do the same, and the actor who asks you for the help is deserving of it, you'll return the favor.

Dear Tombudsman:

I'm an Italian actor. From May 2000 to March 2001 I lived in L.A. working (but for no pay, like every new starter) in five projects (naturally all from Back Stage West). Since then I've been waiting for the H-1B3 visa approval, which will allow me back in California to work as an actor. Throughout this period I've continued to shoot in Russia, where I ultimately found my style and myself as an actor.

Will L.A. casting directors, producers, and directors be interested in reviewing my pix and resumé? I'm a non-union actor, but I think I have the right credits to join SAG. Can I join it from abroad? How? Can I list short films or projects shot in Betacam/Digital/etc. instead of 35mm and consider them as real films? What makes a great resumé?

Pierluigi Bruno,

Moscow, and somewhere in Italy

via the Internet

Dear Pierluigi:

Well, you've perhaps helped yourself just a little bit by having your letter published here, as the INS and Department of Labor look at real-world experience in your profession as a determining factor in their selection process. They also like to see things that have been put in print. You might want to give your lawyer a copy of this column to add to your petition for the H-1B3.

Let's look at some of your questions. Given that you are now in Europe and not sure when you'll be allowed back in America to work, I'm not sure it makes sense for you to spend your time making general picture and resumé submissions to casters, directors, and producers over here. Your full marketing campaign should start when you are here. If you can't come in for an audition or meeting, then sending a picture does you little good, with one big exception: Keep your antenna up for American productions that are shooting in places where you can readily work right now, and that means Italy and Russia at the very least. By keeping close watch on European production reports, you can discover when casting is underway for upcoming American shoots and figure out which ones you can get to quickly and be allowed to work in. So let's say for a moment you become aware of a film shooting in Europe but with a Los Angeles casting director doing the job. You can certainly send a picture and resumé to the caster's attention—even better if you've seen the script or know the story and perhaps specific role breakdowns. Like any submission in acting, it's a long shot but it is a shot.

Being an actor who is already at or near the location can work to your advantage from time to time; it can save producers money, and they like that. Be smart and selective and submit for the shoots that make you a genuinely attractive candidate to the American production—i.e., projects on which you've done some research and which you suspect will use local talent. Just make sure you are a true local hire—meaning you don't need a hotel room, airfare, and per diem. If they read you, love you, hire you, it won't matter. They'd probably fly you back to L.A. to do ADR work later, but the key is getting the audition, and you do that by being a genuine local hire.

For now, I'd recommend you remain non-union while living in Europe. Yes, some films that shoot overseas are indeed under SAG's jurisdiction, but many more are not. I don't think you want to shut yourself off from the possibility of legally doing non-union work at this time. First off, check with SAG to see if you are eligible for membership. You can easily do that from where you are by calling the membership office in Los Angeles or New York. You or a producer you've worked for will then need to supply them with proof of past employment. If it's verified that you can join, he happy with that knowledge, but you needn't write a check right away. A better solution for you is to put "SAG eligible" on the resumé you send in for those American productions shooting in Europe. It will show the producer and casting director that you can easily fit into their SAG production. At the same time you are still non-union, so you can explore other, perhaps more accessible, options. If a film under the Guild's jurisdiction wants you, you'll determine whether you have to join at that time.

You asked about about including short films and digital projects on your resumé. They are all real films, regardless of length and budget. You don't necessarily have to list every project you've done (and in most cases you shouldn't), but you resumé should show recent credits. Prioritize your film listings. Put the more well-known recent projects first, followed by short films (whether shot on film or digitally) in order of significance. By the way, you aren't required to list the film as a short film. It's a film, period.

Lastly you wanted to know what makes a great resumé. There are many answers, but I'd say, overall, the best advice is to prioritize your credits to highlight your recent work, and structure the resumé to focus on the areas that are your main career goal. That's why a Broadway actor has major theatre credits first and most L.A. performers—most, not all—start off with either film or television credits. Take a common-sense approach, and think about where you are and where you'd like to be in a few years. I know that means L.A. for you, but it also means the kind of work you see as part of your ideal career path.

Hope your visa comes through soon.

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