As we all know, the acting business is jam-packed with a whole lot of actors who are all trying to book a tiny amount of available roles. In such a crowded field, getting yourself noticed and marketing yourself is a big part of the struggle actors face these days.
But maybe it’s time that we start to think of self-marketing as a skill that must be developed, just like any other. In today’s highly competitive environment, you’re doing yourself and your acting career a disservice if you don’t have top-notch self-marketing.
One way that many actors are failing to give themselves the best chance possible to get noticed is in the way they reach out to agents and casting directors they don’t know, cold-calling them via email. After noticing an uptick in the number and severity of complaints from agents and CDs across the country about the way actors hit them up, and noticing some common themes that keep arising, we decided it was time to review a few points about how to optimize your chances.
1. For the Love of God, Check the Writing First
First of all, let’s start with the basics: make sure you don’t sound like an idiot. Spelling or grammar mistakes don’t necessarily mean you ARE stupid, but you sure don’t want people to THINK that, do you? Putting aside all joking stereotypes about dimwitted actors, what directors and producers are looking for is actors with whom they can collaborate and create. They want someone with a modicum of intelligence who brings something to the table besides a pretty face. If you send out an introductory email that makes you look like you dropped out of 5th grade, don’t expect to get a response. The bare minimum is to use some sort of spellcheck – which all word processing programs come with. And with the good old internet, there are tons of resources out there to double-check word meanings, grammar, and other language points you may not remember perfectly. If you’re still unsure about your writing skills, run it by a friend BEFORE you send it out. Hell, if you have an actor’s group that meets regularly, set up a night to compare notes with a few of your fellow actors and see what you all come up with. It’s better to hit the pause button while you craft an effective intro letter than to rush out something that will end up getting deleted straightaway – and possibly get you noticed for all the wrong reasons!
2. Don’t Ask Them For Something, Offer Them Something
Okay, you want to know exactly what a busy agent or CD doesn’t want to hear from an actor they’ve never met before? “Can you hook me up with–” or “Could you give me some advice on–” or anything along those lines. This is a short, sweet note for you to introduce yourself, not a hostage situation. You don’t get to make demands. What you should be trying to do instead is to OFFER them something, not ASK them for something. What unique skills, talents, looks, or experience do you bring to the table? What’s intriguing about your background or skill set that sets you apart from the crowd? Why on earth should this busy person waste even a second on reading your email, much less set up a meeting or even bother writing back? Keep in mind the old adage about auditioning: you are here to show them how you can solve their problem. And their current problem is a lack of you on their roster or in their casting sessions. This is a sales pitch – sell them on that unique product that is you!
3. Keep It Positive
Along with the concept that this is a sales pitch, keep it positive. Would you ever consider buying something from a salesperson who complained and moaned about how hard it is to pay the rent, or how their girlfriend just broke up with them, or about how much they hated their job? That’s what it sounds like when you write to an agent or other industry professional with sad tales bitching about your current agent, or whining about not getting enough work. This isn’t a therapy session or place to dump out all your frustrations with the business or your life. That’s a quick way to get your email in the recycle bin. Keep in mind too, if you write to one agent and complain about another agent, you have no idea if they know each other or are even possibly friends. This is a very small and insular business, and people talk. Don’t get yourself a reputation as a complainer or backstabber.
4. Do Include a Headshot
Make sure you include a current, professional-looking headshot. Let’s emphasize that again: a CURRENT headshot, one that looks like you look today, and one that is professionally done. It’s incredible how common it apparently is for actors to send out headshots that don’t look anything like them anymore. If you’ve bulked up, dropped a lot of weight, radically changed your hairstyle or color – or aged several years – it’s time for new headshots. There’s nothing sadder than one of those misty-looking, Vaseline-lensed 20-year-old headshots. And you’re setting yourself up for failure if you get called in based on a certain look in your headshot that has changed. That’s a quick way to cause frustration in a CD, agent, or director, and you don’t want that.
5. Let Them Know Where You Are
The beauty of email and the internet is of course that we can contact anyone anywhere. However, it can lead to some confusion too if you aren’t clear about where you are physically. If you’re local to where the agent or CD is, let them know. If you are nearby and can and do travel to auditions in that city, let them know that too. Same if you’re planning to move there. This doesn’t have to be a life story; just a quick”Hi, I’m an NYC-based actor…” or “I’m planning a move to L.A. in the next few months…”
6. Let Them Know Who You Are
It’s kind of sad how television and movies have ruined our view of casting directors and agents. Oftentimes actors think that all agents are Ari Gold, just completely soulless bastards who scream into the phone all day and go to glamorous parties every night. We also have a tendency to place these people on weird pedestals and elevate them above us. Keep in mind that most CDs and agents are also in love with acting. These are people, just like you, who also have a passion for this stuff, generally speaking. They also fell in love with films, theater and acting just like we did, and that’s why they go to work every day, because of that love. In any introductory letter, you should take a few lines to explain what you are passionate about, why you are in this business, what you love about it, and what drives you. Nobody wants to get involved with an actor who isn’t in it for the long haul, or one who doesn’t have the motivation and the drive to get out there every day and hit every audition, and who will give every role everything they’ve got. True industry professionals want to work with people who are just as passionate as them, just as willing to do the hard work. They want the actor willing to do what it takes to get better, the actor who is constantly involved in classes, workshops, and passion projects. This is your moment to let them know what your passion is, and to demonstrate why that makes you an indispensable ally to them. Show them what makes you light up!
And please, please don’t forget about spellcheck!