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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Market Your Acting Career (Tip #1): Casting Advice

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I have done a fair bit of casting in my day, and actors always seem surprised when I mention how frustrating it can be when an actor doesn’t follow instructions when doing their submissions. I am surprised at my frustration too- I mean, I am also an actor and I pride myself on creatively marketing myself. But there is a point where trying to be cute or trying to get an edge just comes across as... well, disrespectful.

The reason I am sharing this with you today is that I just read another blog where an actor was in a casting position, and she experienced the same frustration! And because of this, I felt it was worth mentioning to all of you in an effort to help you make effective marketing decisions for your acting business.

I was casting a leading male role in an indie short film- the actor had to be blond, Caucasian, in his 20s, and non-union (they had already spent their budget on several other union actors.) To promote the role, I used Breakdown Services (which gives me the option of posting to agent breakdowns only, or also to Actors Access), Now Casting, Casting NY, Craigslist and a few other small casting websites. Between all of these sites, I probably saw over 300 submissions, which was quite a number to go through for one role.

Each casting site has its own way for casting directors (CDs) to organize the information that comes in. Some of them allow you to delete the messages from those who are not right for the role, but often times the website keeps all submissions in your inbox. This means that, right or not for the role, the CD is going to have to scan over that submission every time they are on that website. Now, imagine if you were a CD casting one role for a 20-something Caucasian, non-union male (which was explicitly stated in the breakdown) and you started to receive submissions from the following types: Children. Women. Non-Caucasian Men. Grandfathers. Dozens upon dozens of them. In the case above, more than half of the actors who submitted did not fit the description of the character in the breakdown.

Many of these actors thought that if they submitted, we would call them in from something else that WAS right for them (some mentioned that in their submission.) But my project had only one role available, so these extra submissions equalled more work for me. And like many freelance CDs, I was being paid a flat fee for casting- I was not being paid by the hour. And with every irrelevant submission coming in, I became more and more frustrated.

At the beginning of the process, I decided I would be a conscientious CD and respond to every submission that came in with a Yes or a No. I felt that if the actor had taken the time to submit, I would take the time to respond. Good idea, right? WRONG. Because once a CD makes that contact, it invites further contact, which the CD really doesn’t have time for. I would get emails asking why I wasn’t interested and “couldn’t you please rethink your decision?” I received emails asking questions about resume formats and headshot choices, and “was there anything I could have done to get that audition?“ I also received angry responses, and responses that didn’t make sense and just plain confused me. So, now, not only do I have to deal with the actors I DO want to see, juggling their schedules and getting them audition times - I now have to deal with the myriad of responses from the actors who were NOT right for the roles, and all because I was trying to ”do the right thing“ by sending a response. This is why CDs, agents, and producers often don’t respond to actors when they cannot be used for their current project. The unfortunate thing is that most actors (like you) are not the ones who send these responses, it is a small minority of actors by whom the CDs are being frustrated.

The moral of the story:

When you do submissions, or really ANY kind of communication or marketing within the industry, you do want to do something to stand out. But before putting together your materials, spend a moment sitting in the recipient’s shoes, and then imagine getting a submission like yours over 300 times. When you do this, you’ll start to see how important it is to stay within the basic parameters of appropriate communication. This will show respect to the CD’s time (and yours!)

Here are some basic Do’s and Don’ts for casting submissions:

• Do make your submission short, sweet and to the point. Show your personality, but make sure the information you include falls within the confines of what the breakdown asked for.

• Do send only one photo when submitting via email - any more and you could clog the CDs inbox. Also, it is best to send a low-resolution photo (file size under 500k) rather than one a large one that can be printed. You’ll be bringing a hard copy of your headshot with you anyway (right?) so there’s no need to send a huge file for them to print.

• Do point out any special skills that seem to be relevant to the role, but don’t spend your time mentioning things that don’t relate.

• Do submit for the same project several times if you see it posted in different places. This increases your chances of being noticed- just be sure to mention in the notes area that this is a duplicate submission, otherwise the CD might think you haven’t been paying attention and think that you are submitting for a new project each time. (You want the CD to be aware of your passion for the project, so mention that in your submission!) NOTE: Do NOT submit multiple times via email- send only ONE email, and then submit once to each casting website.

• Don’t submit if there isn’t a role that is perfect for you. You may think that you are “putting it out there to see what happens” by submitting for a Latino role when you are Irish-American, but typically this will get you on the bad side of the casting office. Once you have an agent, the agent can do that kind of “outside the box” push for you, but until then, save your energies for roles that are spot on.

• Do understand than the above suggestions are just that- suggestions. There are no hard and fast rules to this, and sometimes submissions that go against what I have said do, indeed, get noticed. But with all of the things we actors are being asked to do in this business, it makes sense to filter out those things that are long-shots, and hone in on the things that have a better chance of working for you.

I hope this has been useful. Feel free to leave a comment, start a discussion. to tell your own stories of how casting submissions have or have not worked for you.

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

2 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

A Designer said...

Hey Erin. Just wanted to let you know that I just came across your blog and I found this particular post really interesting and helpful.

I am starting to become interested in the acting scene, and although I do not submit myself for roles that I don't feel I am right for, I have found myself becoming increasingly more frustrated with each unanswered submission for any particular role. After getting that brief insight into what it's like on your side, I won't be finding myself staring at my blank inbox wondering:

"hmm did they get my submission? maybe I should send it again."

"why didn't I hear back, they could at least have the decency to tell me that I'm not right for this part."

"Maybe I should send a follow-up email to thank them, again, for possibly considering me for this role."

Great post. Thanks!

Erin C. said...

Wow- thank you so much for great feedback! As a fellow professional actor, I understand exactly the kind of frustration you are talking about- and you are absolutely right. This should be a business where we have an equal transaction between actors and agents/CDs/producers. Instead, actors seem beholden to the "powers that be" and I am committed to bringing the power back to the actor.

Some actors might read this post and think that my "do's and dont's" invalidate an actor who is passionate about their career, but that isn;t my intention at all. The more we can understand the business, the more we can work smarter and not harder - and I hope this blog has helped demystify the process somewhat (though there are hundreds of different ways to handle casting/submission situations, and this is just one example!)

So, thanks again for writing- and if you have any questions you would like answered in this blog, shoot an email to erin@theactorsenterprise.org.

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