Working For Free – Is It Ever a Good Idea?

Definition of VALUE – [val-yoo]

1. Relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.

2. Monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade: This piece of land has greatly increased in value.

3. The worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.

Do you realize your value, at this moment in time, to a project, production, group, or other industry related activity designed to move your career forward?  You’ll need to be confident in the value you provide so that if you’re not getting paid, you at the very least, get your value in return.  So is working for free a good idea?  Consider this:

  1. If they are making or will be making money, you should be too (yes – even if they are your friend).
  2. The right job that shows off your creative genius is worth doing – but stick to groups that are similar in experience to you. As a general rule, if the people you’re working with are doing it for the love of it, the experience, or the possibilities for all concerned rather than the money, then you are all in similar positions and growing together and that’s a good thing.
  3. If you do choose to work for free, make sure they know that they are lucky (because they are), and how much you would normally charge for your work. I’m not suggesting you be cocky, but rather subtly ensure that they know you’re on an equal footing to them. Using the word ‘collaborating’, can be especially useful in driving this home. Remember though, the goal is to win friends and influence people. And once you’ve got your foot in the door, wiggle it around so you get some standing room!
  4. Know how to pick a winner. If you see a young Steven Spielberg, Judd Apatow, or Julie Taymor who wants to form a bond, by golly build your bridges.

Unfortunately when you start working, whether paid or unpaid, you’ll more than likely learn some lessons the hard way. But if you follow this advice, hopefully you’ll come out with some good experiences, some contacts, and a great resume credit or reel clip.

To make sure you do get that clip, my friends at Performer Track came up with a wonderful contract that you can ask the producer to sign ensuring it.  You can also use it if you are a content creator hiring actors for your project.  It’s smart because anything signed and agreed to in writing by two parties becomes legal and binding. Though you probably will never actually take someone to court over this (though you could), just by having them sign it brings significance and importance to your business.  And you’ll begin to develop the habit of negotiating for yourself and protecting your actor asset…which has great value!

Download this valuable contract here.

Any comments?  As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Attract Agents by Knowing Casting Directors

You know the old saying “It’s who you know” that will help you get ahead in this biz.  Well that’s half true.

My take on it is “it’s who knows you”.

For every agent meeting you take, you’ll be asked “how many casting directors know your work?”  Before you interview, my recommendation is that you have at least a list of 5 or don’t go! And when you have a rep, your talent agent and/or manager will want you to continue to grow your list on your own in addition to the auditions they send you on.

So how do you create a network of influential people that know you, like your acting work and are in your court?

Here are 5 ways to do just that:

  1. Mail or email your headshot, resume and online profile links to the 10 top casting directors in your area of focus every quarter, without fail, letting them know that you’re available and what else is going on in your career i.e. a new class, skill acquired, call back or booking.
  2. Identify which CD’s you’d like to show your talent to in person and book a meeting with them at a casting director workshop establishment like Actors Connection in New York or Act Now in Los Angeles. If you’re not in either of those two cities, check for local opportunities to meet industry in person or submit a reel for critique on, or similar sites.
  3. Attend a networking party, brunch, assistant’s night, screening or other event where casting directors and other industry professionals will be in attendance. Introduce yourself as an actor and be interested in them and what they do before you offer a headshot, resume or business card.
  4. Volunteer at or attend a charity event frequented by the entertainment community. Animal rescue and health awareness causes always draw actors, agents and casting directors alike.  Do your research on your top picks to see what they stand for and if you get behind the same cause, you have commonality.
  5. Follow or friend them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media. Today casting directors use the web to offer advice, post auditions and offer feedback on many things hoping to help the actors they will meet someday in an audition room.

It’s time you understood that with a HUGE network of people that have you on their radar, the chances of having the breakthrough, kick-butt, acting career of your dreams are dramatically increased.  There are many people in the showbiz world who are ready and waiting for you to get connected and stay connected.  You never know which one of them will be key in your forward movement.

What are your favorite ways to make contact with casting directors, agents and other industry?  If you have resources to share, please post away in the comments section below with your location and why you recommend what you recommend.  Thanks!

Your Acceptance Speech. Who Will You Thank?

The GOLD standard of success for actors is receiving an Oscar! Yes, it’s an honor to be nominated and be recognized for your talent by your peers, and that truly is an accomplishment in and of itself.  But imagine, really imagine yourself winning.  Who would you thank?  Your talent agent and management team of course, and often the casting director as well as the producers, co-stars and crew, your mom, spouse and family, your high school drama teacher…(play off music begins!)

Why wait?  Thank them now!

The list will certainly grow and change over time, but you’re doing a heck of a great job and have lots of people in your court.  Have you told them how much you appreciate their support and efforts?  This simple act alone will speed the plow to that day when you too could be standing there with a statue. The people you acknowledge will appreciate and remember you, the Universe will respond in kind, and as a bonus YOU will feel great doing it.

Every casting director you meet and audition for from here on…thank them during and after in a follow up message.  Thank the agent who called you in, sent you out, gave you feedback.  Don’t wait!  Send a note to the teacher who cast you as Peter Pan or Cinderella or third tree bush from the left in 2nd grade.

The time is NOW to acknowledge all of the efforts of the individuals that make up the team that will bring you to the glam, glitter and accolades bestowed upon you on Oscar night. Gratitude will get you everywhere!

Lest you read this and think it’s an awesome exercise that you’ll do later or someday, I truly urge you to strike while the iron is hot.  I’d love for you to write in the comments below, your Oscar acceptance speech right now…off the cuff, unprepared, as several of the greatest speeches made by past Oscar winners have done.  Feel good today! Who will you thank?  Let’s year ya…

The Show Business Food Chain

Look at show business like a pyramid.  Not a pyramid scheme, but like a numbers diagram with the largest amount of the show business population being the at the base…that’s you, the actor.

You’re not at the bottom of the food chain because you aren’t important, you’re at the bottom because there are so very many of you (approximately 50K new actors enter the U.S. marketplace every year!)…more people than any other type of person involved in the entertainment industry.

So who is next up on this pyramid?  Agents.  Yep, actors are all seeking representation to enhance their network of relationships and get to the next level, just one step above where you are on the food chain!  There are fewer agents and managers than there are actors…but you knew that!

Talent agents and managers are lobbying and pitching and submitting their clients for the audition slots offered by casting directors.  Yes, they are next up on the ladder and there are more agents/managers than CD’s, thus it follows agents often feel in the same position of  knocking on doors trying to get in.

Who do casting directors fight to get in the door of, serve, get work from?  Though generally hired and paid for by the producers, ultimately their job is to please the directors of the project they cast for, fulfilling the director’s vision by bringing the best possible candidates for the role directly to them, making their job easier.

And who are directors out there trying to please?  The producers that hired them and provide their paycheck.  Of course the director also wants to please the audience that will ultimately watch the film, TV show or play, but the ticket buying audience has to, well, buy the ticket! The director has the responsibility of creating the whole project, setting the tone, telling the story, and if all works out, the producers are pleased because the project is not only a creative and critical success but a financial success as well.

Some will argue my last point, but at the top of the show business food chain is ultimately the writer.  If we don’t have prolific, visionary writers shaping story to move, touch and inspire audiences, then we have nothing to produce, direct, cast, represent and ultimately act in.

Therefore, a HUGE tip for actors is to become friends with, get to know, network with and create relationships with writers or just become one yourself.  Ultimately these story tellers are the ones that shape our views and ultimately, the world.

It’s really all about the numbers, not status, worthiness or value…and it gives you the opportunity to see that defining your product, shaping your message, and marketing yourself consistently is ultimately what show business is all about.

What are your thoughts on the hierarchy of the business of show?

How the “Breakdowns” got Started over 40 years Ago

The term breakdown was actually coined by the creator of Breakdown Services in 1971.  Gary Marsh was the son of a prominent agent at the time and the story goes that he was asked to fill in on a particularly busy day doing for his mom what most agents did at that time to get their clients work.

In those days scripts were not allowed off of studio lots for privacy and security, so agents went there, read them in producers’ offices and wrote short synopses of the characters in the film or TV show.  They would then “pitch” their actors to the producers or casting directors for these roles and audition appointments would be set.  This was a very time consuming process.

When Gary returned with a well thought out and detailed description of several scripts that day, his mother the agent asked him to do this job regularly, thus freeing her time for more pitching and negotiating.  Observed by other agents, he was then asked to do the same thing for them.

“What do you call your service?”  “Hummmm” he pondered, and in a moment of divine inspiration called it a breakdown.  Based on taking the script’s storyline, it was the “breaking down” of the characters seeming age, archetype and humanistic qualities, put into a cohesive few sentences and used to decide which actors might best fit the particular project.  Breakdowns are essentially how all roles in all film, TV shows, commercials, theater, etc. are cast.

Like Kleenex, which is a brand of tissue, the term Breakdown has become the universally accepted word for a character description.  Gary created an entire industry and continues to serve the community today with Breakdown Services, and

Nowadays there are many online companies that put out breakdowns.  But Breakdown Services remains the largest, most respected, and most copied business out there.  Gary is a personal friend who I’ve known for almost 2 decades and his dedication to actors and the business of show is his purpose in life!

For you and your purpose to be fulfilled as an actor, finding the alignment of your “product” and a breakdown is the KEY to gaining traction and forward momentum faster.  Here’s a perfect example of a breakdown for my own actor product:

[MARY LAZARUS UNDERSTUDY] Female, Caucasian, 40s–50s. Needs a powerhouse alto belt singing voice, comic chops, and movement ability. To appear in the onstage ensemble as a nun and understudy the principal role of SISTER MARY LAZARUS (Tough, full of vinegar and humor. She’s seen them come and go, and nothing fazes this Sister. She’s quick on the wisecracks and always ready to roll up her sleeves and dig in). ENSEMBLE

Why an understudy and not the lead for me?  Because I haven’t been in a musical production for several years and this is more in alignment with what I’m apt to be cast in. Can I do the lead?  Of course, but if the casting office doesn’t already know me, then it’s likely they’re not inclined to take a chance until I’ve proven myself a bit.

Alignment in both the art and craft of a role as well as where you are on the business spectrum (networking, known by the office, history on resume, etc.) is a balancing act and knowing where you fit in with regard to a breakdown will ultimately help both you and your talent agent or manager when you’re working with one.

Have you seen a breakdown lately that you’re perfect for?  Share it with me in the comments below.

Contacting Industry (Agents/Managers/and More) On-line

Let’s start again with the premise that shorter is better.  Long, drawn out explanations about you, what you offer, the reasons why you became an actor, and why you are a perfect fit for this job, agent, role, etc. won’t get read.  Cover letters are out.  Cover notes are in.  But you still need to communicate all of the above.  How?  By shifting your approach in a huge way so you get your message across quickly.

The goal of a “regular” writing for most communication is to inform or entertain.  Newspapers, magazines, fiction and non-fiction novels.

The goal of copywriting for ANY business is to get people to do something, to take action or at the very least take notice.

In essence your message is the copywriting part of your campaign to attract a rep, introduce yourself to a casting office or other industry contact, and these days it’s likely this will be done on-line.  But don’t worry, I’m still a fan of hard copy mailing and follow ups, as are a lot of other industry professionals.  This works for both of these formats.

There are 6 steps of an effective copywriting process:

  1. Research – who they are, their wants and needs, their past experiences.
  2. Determine of the goal of the message
  3. First Draft
  4. Revise, rearrange.
  5. Send
  6. Constant Follow up

By the way if you don’t have the answers to what you offer, why you’re a perfect fit for a job, agency, etc. or they “why” you’re an actor in the first place, I urge you to go back and read some of my previous posts on these subjects.  In essence a note that you send should not be about what you want but what you provide.  And the key to it all is why you’re a fit and in alignment with what the other person is looking for.  Do your homework first and writing the note will be easy.

“You don’t stand a tinker’s chance of producing successful advertising unless you start doing your homework. I have always found this extremely tedious, but there is no way around it.”
— David Ogilvy – Father of modern advertising (lived until 1999…created Ogilvy and Mather in 1949…the most powerful ad agency and still is today…seen it all, through the early internet)

David Ogilvy had the task to do copy writing for a Rolls Royce ad. He spent three weeks reading about it before he came up with the headline and the rest of the copy.  In emails, think of your subject line as your headline.

While he was talking about traditional advertising, it equally applies to your doing research on the people you are communicating with.  This is the number ONE mistake actors make in this area.  No research.  By the way, unlike David Ogilvy, I believe this can be a ton of fun. Learning about how other people got to where they are, their likes and dislikes, taking notice of another person’s life…I find it extremely interesting and delightful!

In marketing, it’s your job to figure out why people need you, how they need you (casting directors are different than agents are different than producer/writers, etc), what they need you for SPECIFICALLY, and what really matters to THEM. If you don’t have this figured out, you really cannot write a message that will be meaningful and therefore it’s a waste.

You have to interview people.  Find out what they think about your kind of your product, what language they use when they talk about it, what attributes are important to them, and what skills, talents, and unique qualities would most likely convince them to choose you.

Take these answers and then give them bullet points.  My template for a great, short note accompanying a submission for a rep or for a gig is this:

Salutation – this is an acknowledgement of them, the person you’re writing to.  “Congratulations on 10 years as a agent”, or “I loved the article your wrote in Backstage”, or “I so appreciated your comments at that discussion panel”.  Acknowledging them puts them in the right mindset to receive what you write next and creates an immediate connection.

Bullet Points or 2 to 3 short sentences – “I’m new to LA after 10 years as an actor in Dallas” and “I play witty, sarcastic, quirky, girl next door types” and “My last audition with CD so-and-so resulted in a callback”.  There literally are a million variations on what could be written here to describe what you’re offering.  Everything else is on your resume so there’s no need to repeat that info here.

Closing – This is your request for a meeting, a thank you for reviewing your materials, or an invitation to your show.  Again, it has to contain the request for the action you wish for them to take.

This copywriting, done correctly, will speed the process of you connecting to representatives and other industry because it will get read!  I can tell you, because you already know, that when someone opens an email or letter and they are busy, which we all are, then something short and sweet that looks like it will take 10 seconds to read will get read.  Something that, at a glance, has paragraph after paragraph and seems like it’s going to take longer, won’t get read.  And honestly if they have the time to read it, they’re not busy enough and you’ll hear crickets chirping when you meet up with them!

This is the way of the world in the business of show right now.  Adaptation is key.  Shorter is better.

Your comments?  Please let me know below!  As always, here’s to your success!

The Elevator Speech – aka “So tell me a little bit about yourself”

In my last post I said that shorter is better.  Here’s part one of my two part answer as to why that is.  Whether you’re seeking representation or meeting other industry peeps the first time at networking events, workshops, an interview, auditions and more, this is the answer to how to communicate what you offer another human being IN PERSON. (Part two will be IN WRITING)

Invariably almost every time you are asked about yourself, or are attempting to introduce yourself without being asked,  you’ll have so much information to share you’ll often not know where to start. It’s sometimes called an elevator pitch because the premise is the answer should last no longer than it takes for a ride in an elevator – clear, concise, and leaving the other person wishing you didn’t have to get off on that floor because they want to know more about you! So this major message needs to be as prepared as your monologues and as sharp as your cold reading skills.  Let’s call it “loosely memorized” and at the ready.

The answer to that simple little question, “So tell me a little bit about yourself” is often not that simple. You’ve been asked it many times before but here’s the problem: no matter how old you are – 11, 18, 25, 45, 70 or more – you’ve had a vast and varied life and immediately what happens to the human brain is that you don’t know where to go or what to say about who you are.

“What do I tell them first? Oh gosh! Uhhhhh”…and you usually end up with egg on your face. I implore you to be as prepared as possible. Pick the one or two things that you think they might be interested in knowing about you as a person and not necessarily you as the product or your skill set to begin.  This sets the tone that gets them interested and engaged in who you are. Confidence and charisma is 50% of this business and if you’re naturally funny, here is where to put in a bit of humor. If you are fresh, new to the area, returning to the business or just out of school, here is where to mention that. You get the picture. Take the time to practice it with a friend or relative a few times – I’m not kidding one bit. DO IT!

Next throw in a bit of the biz info on what you offer as talent.  What is the type you’re consistently cast as, your most recent projects, performances, or training is what you speak about here.  Balance is key.  Don’t talk forever about what you love or want most about anything, but mention briefly why someone else liked working with you or enjoyed your performance. (Perhaps an award or article) That’s called 3rd party authority.

Now I’m going to give you a BIG clue – ACTIVE listening to others when they talk about themselves or their project is your goal when sharing information in person.  Listen for things you can address later that will help them.  Also listen for things that they share that you may have a common interest in.  You might take notes and then enter quality information in your database so that when you have the opportunity to have a conversation with that person again or follow up in writing, you’ll be more remembered because you were interested in what they had to say. Get it? A common denominator is an immediate connection and right off the bat you become more interesting to them too! Everything that follows after that is GOLD (Pun intended!).

Have the answer to “So tell me a little bit about yourself” prepared with the 3 or 4 things you think will showcase your “person” as well as your product, to break the ice AND be interested in them as well.

I’d love your comments in the section below on this subject.  What are your thoughts on active listening?  How about what you’re offering instead of what you want, a subtle yet vital shift?  Lemme hear ya!

Shorter is Better – Statistically Speaking

As actors we love a good story so we tell them a lot. As a woman, I know I have the urge to tell all of the minor components that set up the actual point to what it is I really want to say before saying it.  The POINT of it all.  I’m not sure that’s an entirely female quality but I’ve noticed it with my girlfriends where my guy friends seem to get to their point a little faster. I’ve even been told I talk too much.  Whaaaat?  Well now I’m told I write too much.  In fact this first paragraph is not even needed to get to the point of what I’m writing today, but I’m keeping it in as an example!

The point I am trying to make here is that actors talk too much and write too much when submitting to agents and managers.  I’ve seen it over and over and over and over again…and I’m here to tell you that less is more, shorter is better, and reps appreciate brevity in their faster-than-most paced world.

Why is shorter better? Because we live in a short-attention-span Universe these days. Twitter limits us to 140 characters and these days when you watch a video, if you’re not inspired or intrigued in the first few seconds of the video, you’re on to the next.  A demo reel used to be 3 minutes, then two, and now one and a half minutes tops is recommended.  But even better than that are shorter 10 to 15 second clips.  Again why? Because we are all speeding through our day with content flying at us constantly.  It’s all about time, or lack there of.

The statistics are staggering.  Regular people receive close to 100 emails a day, much of it spam, but also messages from people, products and services they actually enjoy.  Yet most of these emails are deleted without them being read.  As an actor you can probably count on triple that number and thus inundated with choices of what class to go to, what online product to buy, where to go to meet industry, plus all of your personal preferences of things and people you like. Delete, delete, delete, mostly not read.

Now imagine you’re an agent.  Really imagine what it must be like to submit actors already on your roster for auditions all day long on your computer and emailing back and forth with casting, on calls pitching, opening mail, answering your personal emails with friends and associates and deal with your own family, AND look at new talent…all clamoring for an agent.  Their day is cluttered.  And I haven’t even mentioned social media yet.  HUGE distraction.

What’s an actor to do to clear through all of that clutter and get attention?

Shorter IS better, so in my next post I’ll give you the guidelines on getting your message across quickly!

By the way, if you’re one of the 15% of people on my email list that opened it up to a partial blog post inside, then one of the 6% of those who clicked on the (read more) link to the entire post, would you do me the honor of being one of the less than 1% of people who will leave a comment below?  Now this should be interesting…

4 Huge Mistakes to Avoid When Defining Your Product

I see actors make a lot of mistakes that could totally be avoided.  When it comes to figuring out your fit in the vast marketplace of actors, where there’s a large supply and you’re not yet in demand, distinguishing yourself, i.e. defining your product, is ESSENTIAL.  Here are some mistakes to avoid:

1. Not Studying – There is a tendency for the human mind to exclude or minimize what it cannot understand, which ultimately weakens its powers and perceptions. The trade-off is a seeming sense of safety in what is known and familiar. However, the exquisiteness of life is going beyond what you already know into the wonders of what is yet to be created and revealed. You’re here to fulfill your potential, not just have potential, and realizing that education and study is what expands your opportunities that begin with your thought process IS the key.  Finding and figuring out what you’re uniquely selling could be done via an in person class, mentor/coach, book, video or online course and will assist you in climbing the ladder of success as well as give wings to the longings of your soul.

2. Staying Comfortable – Different ships, same boat.  What I mean by this is that many actors think being active in a routine that has them in class, getting a few auditions, and adding one IMDB credit a year, though they may be different classes, auditions and credits, keeps them in the game of show business.  Yes, I talk a lot about feeling good and being comfortable does feel good.  But if you want more for yourself and your career in the manifested aspects of “reality” which translates into a discernable expansion in your network, resources, bank account and experience of joy, then you’ll want to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.  Get out of your routine and include new things you haven’t tried before.  Fear of failure is what keeps you stuck.  F-A-I-L simply means First Attempt In Learning.  After you try something a few times and fall, you’ll realize that ACTing outside of your comfort zone is the fun and very point of it all.

3. Treating Showbusiness Like It’s Not Your Business –  Many actors love the creative aspect of the career they’ve chosen, have spent years learning their craft, then present themselves as ready and available for work.  The business aspect of showbusiness isn’t a primary concern and will work itself out because their talent will shine and be the thing that gets the work.  However what most actors haven’t realized yet is that show business is like every other business where the bottom line is the bottom line.  You have to get ready to be ready for the business of show too. You’re the CEO of your own company, a small business if you will, and treating your career without considering the product you’re selling and to whom, will have you be out of business before you start.  Starving artists stay starving because they don’t consider themselves business people.  If you want to make money acting, then think like a business person, not an artist.  Once you’re being paid to act, then you can bring forth that creative magic that only you can deliver.  The good news is that business and marketing is a learnable skill, just like the craft of acting.  It’s great to have some inherent abilities of course, but with a little bit of focus and practice, you can go from disaster to master in a short period of time.  Begin now.

4. Giving Your Power to Others –  “You are a luminary, a sage, a wise one, a high priestess/high-priest, a wizard, and a supreme manifestor.”  I draw one of Doreen Virtue’s Archangel Oracle cards every day and recently got this one saying Take Back Your Power.  I wanted to pass this message on to you because I believe as a creator, you have this power inside of you and need to be reminded…just as I did.  This is the biggest mistake that I see most actors make. It is their own willingness to be so powerless over their own careers…not a victim per se, but wanting someone, anyone, everyone, even me, to “do it for them”.  I recently got an email from a woman, who after one of my very descriptive and step-by-step, here’s what to do to get an agent posts, asked me to personally get her an agent or take me off of the mailing list, which of course she could also do herself!  It’s ALL up to you, and not realizing even when you do have a rep, that you are in charge of your own career and no one will ever focus on it or care about it (not even your mother) as much as you do, is a MISTAKE worth avoiding…and easy too!

By the way, your talent agent and/or manager will thank you and be more receptive and attentive to you if you are aware of exactly what you’re offering that’s different from everyone else.  What adjectives and language are you using in person or in writing? Being on the same page and working side by side in alignment is what that relationship is all about.

Have you made any of these mistakes?  Any others you’d like to share that we can avoid too?  I’d love your comments below!

5 Minute Overview Answering Many Questions

Hi all you fabulous ACT-ion oriented actors. Take a peek at this wonderful interview I did several years ago with on the Business of Show.  It stands the test of time and I look exactly the same today, LOL. Though the events mentioned at the end of the interview are no longer running, so many new things have been created since the interview first premiered and even more amazing things are ahead.

Actors have all kinds of questions and several of them are answered in this quick 5 minute overview of what the industry is REALLY looking for when seeking talent for their projects.

Get the insider scoop and return to this blog often for many tips, hints, beneficial info and how to further your BUSINESS as an actor.

If you have questions, particularly about getting an agent or manager, I’d love to have you put them in the comments below.  I’ll do my best to answer as I’m always wondering if I’m covering the bases of what you want to learn most.  Thanks!