This question was posted on a popular actors forum, and I posted an answer that I wanted to repost here:
“So I've met quite a few actors who are desperate and constantly trying to get their headshots and resumes into the hands of important people. Example - the waiter who tries to sell himself as soon as he sees anyone in the biz. Anyway, I've always found these ploys desperate and annoying, and I know that if I were in a position of power, I would purposely NOT hire people who behave that way.
So recently, I've found myself around multiple studio heads and execs on a fairly regular basis, but I haven't tried selling myself to them because it just seems desperate. Is it the norm for people who are actors to constantly be selling themselves??? It seems to me that with my recent exposure to people in power, I would rather just be myself and be a normal person and I would much rather that they walk away with an overall favorable general impression of me rather than me desperately pawning myself trying to make a fake "connection."
What's the best way to go about things? I'm sure there are lots of people who succeed without throwing themselves at the feet of anyone powerful right?”
First off- I want to thank you for your post, and for your conscientiousness. I think you're right- actors who appear desperate usually will not win favor with those in the position to advance their careers.
However, there is a very fine line between selling yourself desperately, and promoting your work to someone who is in the position to hire. And I think the first step to being on the "positive" side of the line is to start by being conscientious. The second step is to listen and wait for the right opportunity.
First off- you want to make sure that you are building a relationship with the other person, in a way that has nothing to do with your being an actor and needing their help. This starts by having real conversations about things both in and out of the industry. Then, once you feel as though you have developed a rapport, wait for the right opportunity to let them know that you are an actor and that you would love to be able to keep in touch with them. Or, in your case (since you seem to see them on a regular basis) ask them if you might be able to add them to your mailing list for when you are doing projects, and ask for their support.
Here is an example of how this has worked for me:
I was working on the set of a soap opera doing a recurring Under 5 role, and I was sitting next to one of the crew members. He obviously knew I was an actor, but instead of talking about acting we got into a long conversation about dogs and living in New York. Then he says something like, "blah blah, my good friend, Sean Penn, blah, blah" and I realize that this guy has a bigger position in the industry than I had imagined. I mean, here we were, just shooting the breeze about living and working in New York, and he's friends with a major industry pro!
Turns out, he is Danny Aiello III (the son of the great Danny Aiello) who is the lead stunt coordinator on this soap -- and he coordinates stunts for most studio films that come through New York. I knew I had an opportunity to make a lasting connection, but I really had no idea how knowing him could benefit my career (being female and NOT an action type.) But he was such a nice guy and I wanted to find a way to keep in touch, so I said exactly that- "I am not sure how we'll be able to network in the future, but we seem to have really hit it off. I would love to be added to your mailing list so I can support your work, and add you to my mailing list to invite you out to see some of the theater I do." He was thrilled- he wrote his info down immediately. Then he told me he was glad to have my info because he was also a director (for both film and theater) and he was always looking for smart actors. Now, the trick is to make sure I maintain the relationship so that when future opportunities arise, he knows who I am. Maintaining the relationship takes the same techniques- conscientiousness, listening, and the willingness to ask for what you want.
The lesson I've learned is that you can never pre-judge someone. You never know who will value knowing that you are an actor, and you certainly won't get anywhere if you never mention it at all. But, as you said in your post, it is very important that your request does not smack of desperation, and I think this can be achieved by being personable, being reasonable, and believing that in making the connection, you are benefiting THEIR career/life as well as your own.
Wow- that was a long response... sorry about that! I hope this is useful to you. Best of luck in making these lasting connections!
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.