Subscribe now to and start applying to auditions!


Secret to Success, Sexy Scam

Dear Tombudsman:

In the next couple of weeks I will be joining the Screen Actors Guild, which is going to limit the amount of work I can mail out for. I don't have an agent at this point, so it is up to me to find work.

What other resources do I have besides Back Stage West? Is "The Hollywood Reporter" section of BSW something I can use? If it is, how should I use it? Who would I call or send my picture to? How can I come across more casting information? Is there a secret I don't yet know of?


via the Internet

Dear Kris:

There are only about a hundred books that list all of the casting directors in business around L.A. I'd suggest a visit to Samuel French bookstore, in Hollywood or Studio City, or any other bookstore that carries actor titles, and take a look what's available.

You say you'll be limited as to whom you can mail to, and I guess that's somewhat accurate, but when you add up all the possible union shows and casters for those shows, the term limited really doesn't hold up. There are a lot of people you can submit to, and you'll likely be doing it over and over again through the years, even when you do find an agent.

That's something newer actors sometimes fail to realize. When you have a talent representative on your team, it still means you have to bat cleanup—i.e., you still market yourself through postcard and picture submissions. In an ideal world the actor and his agent will have a well-thought-out plan how to best do that, but reality usually means the agent is submitting and pitching and the actor sends pictures whenever he feels it's appropriate. You are free to stop marketing any time you like, but you probably won't be happy with the end result.

How do you come upon casting information? Like everybody else, keep your antenna up. Talk to your fellow actors, listen around audition waiting rooms, ask your acting teacher—whatever. There's information all over the place if you pay attention. Of course you should read the trades—and as far as those Hollywood Reporter listings, you can submit to them if you can locate the appropriate casting director, but I find they are generally better used as a reference guide than as a high-percentage casting source.

If there is a particular project you read about but there's no casting name listed, you can always call the production office to see if someone there will share a name with you. It's kind of a hit-or-miss thing—usually miss—but you might score one or two auditions that way.

This is quite different from calling a casting office and asking if you can drop off a picture. Don't do that. These are busy people. Most will accept a mailed or dropped-off headshot as long as you don't hang around their office. If you drop it off, you shouldn't be there any longer than a minute. If the stars line up for you on a particular day and someone stops you and asks you to read for them, then it probably makes sense to hang around a bit.

Now if you were being a little sly with me in asking if there is something secret you should know about, you might be referring to Breakdowns, the daily casting lists used by agencies and management companies. They are illegal for actors to use, although some are willing to take that risk to get their hands on the material.

Welcome to SAG. The Guild is shooting for 100,000 members by the end of the year, and you've gotten it one person closer.

Dear Tombudsman:

I auditioned for an agency in New York recently, and I am wondering whether it is deemed acceptable to phone the agency and casually ask for feedback. Is this overstepping boundaries? Should I wait to hear from them? Or do they expect and welcome these calls?


via Career Chat at

Dear S.P.:

What I just said about casting directors being busy people goes equally for talent agents—at least the good ones. In most cases you would not make that call. A talent agent is always on the lookout for new clients, and if they like your type, talent, and marketability they will call you rather quickly. Believe me, they will not forget about you if they are excited about working with you. There isn't going to be a case in which you're going to call them a week or two later and they're suddenly going to sign you up.

Bottom line, a follow-up call isn't necessary or wanted by the agency. A rare exception would be when an agent says he wants to think about it, or discuss it with the other agents there, and tells you to contact him in a few days. When you are instructed to call, do.

I do suggest some post-interview contact, but through a nicely written, short note. Thank the agent for his time, reiterate your interest in working with his company, sign it, and send it off. If you get a positive reply, fantastic. If not, move on, and in a few years you might be back in that office with much better results.

Dear Tombudsman:

Just wanted to get a heads-up out there about a call I got last night. I had sent my headshot to a casting director for a film she was casting. Most of the roles called for "full nudity and simulated lovemaking" but I figured I'd only be up for one of the other roles because of my look.

Someone from the casting office left a message on my voicemail last night, saying that the casters really liked my look and would like to have me on file in their database. Then they gave me their "registration information line." Calling that line, you get a message about an orientation meeting where you should bring $40 if you're non-union or $20 if you're union. Cash only. Helluva scam if they get people to fall for it.

C. J.

Los Angeles via the Internet

Dear C.J.:

It's one thing for an extras registration company to put background performers in a database for a fee. There are several companies that do this, and the charges are usually nominal enough that an actor gets more than that back on her first job—even a non-union actor. Actors who register for extras work in this manner know what they're doing, what they're paying for, and that they aren't being misled.

But while there are dozens of extras registration companies, only a handful get enough work to warrant an actor paying even a dime. If background work is something you'd like to do, educate yourself by getting a copy of Extra Work for Brain Surgeons, which will help you identify the real companies from the poseurs.

Your case, however, is very different. You submitted for a principal role in an advertised film and were then solicited by someone from that same casting office for inclusion in its extras background database. They also wanted to charge you for it. That doesn't float, and the company should stop this tactic immediately. It's unacceptable for anyone to use the lure of a principal job as a way to get the names and numbers of hundreds of actors. The company may have indeed been casting this B-movie, but that doesn't grant it the right to take all those unused pictures and use them as a hot list. If they wanted to call a few of those performers and see if they had any interest in doing background work, that's fine, but no way they should try and sell a service.

There have been cases in which casting offices have had headshots stolen by people who have in turn sold them to companies for future phone solicitations. On a few occasions certain low-level casting operations have even sold pictures to the highest bidder. Thankfully those cases are few and far between. The company you heard from apparently casts those soft erotica films you see at 3 a.m. on cable, and from your letter it would appear they've used these submissions as a method of finding customers for their extras division.

You told me in confidence where they were placing their casting notices (no, it wasn't BSW), and I'm sure the caster and her company wouldn't want to risk losing future casting privileges for having used this legitimate source as a place to find potential customers for their database operation. Back Stage West has received no other complaints to date on this matter.

The bottom line for any actor is to steer clear of any company that solicits him in this fashion over the phone. If you submit your picture for a film and receive a call, it should be to audition for that project, not to bait and switch you to another service. And if you ever do agree to someone's phone pitch, don't add insult to injury by paying cash. By paying in cash you put yourself in the position of never being able to prove you paid anything in the first place.

What did you think of this story?
Leave a Facebook Comment: