This question was posted on a popular actors forum, and I replied to their post. Here is a repost of what was posted there:
“Someone please point me in the right direction! I graduated in May with a BFA in Acting from a grade-A conservatory and moved to New York soon after. I did quite well at our showcase and proceeded, like a good little actor, to follow up with the agents I met with both immediately after as well as upon my arrival in New York. Unfortunately, the interest had diminished and I got no bites. A trooper, I self-started by calling the agencies that had attended our showcase and managed to snag a few more meetings. However, the interest was lukewarm and nothing seemed to pan out. I've been going to the open calls and have been seen at around 50%, have gotten good feedback, which I view as a positive sign, since the casting director/associate is actually taking the time to compliment me. I've self-submitted through Actors Access and New York Casting, and am lucky enough to be doing a thesis film in the upcoming weeks. I've attended agent and casting director seminars and have had, once again, positive feedback on my work and "look." I follow up, but responses are nil. What else can I do to get an agent??”
Hi, there. Thank you so much for your question- there are many, many actors who are in your situation and I imagine they will be anxiously awaiting responses to your post!
First off, I want to tell you that what you are experiencing is more typical that you'd think. Graduates are often told that all they have to do is go to a good school, have a successful showcase, move to New York, follow up using good business instincts, and you will get an agent, lickety split. What they don't tell you is that you will be competing with thousands of other actors with the same accomplishments, and there just aren't enough slots for agents to take every qualified actor. Add to that the number of actors who graduated the year before you (and years earlier) who are also vying for those spots, and you can see what a long and difficult process finding an agent can be.
There certainly are actors who gets agents right away, and this can be for all kinds of reasons. Most often, it is a question of timing. Sometimes, actors meet an agent at the exact time that agent has an opening for someone just like them. In your case, it is likely that the agents called in far more actors than they had room to take. Keep these agents on your short list of people to update, and submit again in 6 months. You never who when or why the agent might need someone like you- actors come and go from agencies all the time, and you want to be sure they have you in mind when a slot becomes available.
As far as meeting agents and casting folks at networking seminars... think of these events simply as introductions, kind of like a handshake at a party. It is rare that someone would get called in for an interview or brought in for an audition right away after that first meeting. Usually it takes that introduction, plus rigorous follow up before an actor moves to the next level (and most often, they'll wait until they see you in a show or in a film before bringing you in.) So, rest assured, even if you aren't being called in yet, the seminars can make a big difference as long as you keep in touch and steadily build your relationships.
However... If you feel like the response you are getting is less than you deserve, it is possible that there is a disconnect somewhere in your audition presentation. It could be that your audition material(s) are stale or ill-fitting, your headshot may not match the "you" that walks in the room, or you may not have the level of resume the agents are expecting. Or it could just be that these agents already have a numbers of actors who fit your type and they are reluctant to take another on (this is often the case.)
Since I don't know you, it is hard to say which of these might be true. I will say that with most actors I meet, there seems to be a divide between who they truly are as actors, and how they present that package to agents and casting directors. The more clear and specific you can be about your place in the industry, the better your results will be. A good career coach or acting teacher should be able to help you determine your niche in the market. In business, they call this kind of query "market research" and I think it would be very useful for you.
My suggestion would be to find someone in the industry that you can trust and go over all of your materials with them. See if they have any suggestions about how you can bring your audition/marketing package to the highest possible level. Ask a current teacher, hire a career coach, or talk to an actor who seems to have a knack for the business- this should go a long way in making your auditions more effective.
I hope that this response makes sense to you- I would be happy to elaborate if needed. Best of luck to you as you navigate the business, and Welcome to New York!
The actor then posted a response:
“Erin, you happened on a key point! I have found that about 50% of the time, the industry people I encounter have a negative reaction to my headshots. To remedy this, I am getting them redone, simply to have more of a choice. I know I can't please everyone, but I'm going to try to maximize positive results. However, if someone is meeting with me in person, how much do headshots matter?”
You're right one one respect- if you meet with someone in person, that can have more influence than the headshot itself. However, industry folks are going to use your headshot to sell you to those who don't know you, so it is vitally important that your headshot looks exactly like you and reflects the kind of roles you will realistically play. It is probably one of the most important investments for your career.
As far as how to meet casting folks- you've listed the main avenues of meeting them. To help in the process, you want to make a thoughtful list of what types of projects you are interested in, and then note which casting directors work on these projects. Then, get to work on building relationships with them. That way, when you get a meeting with an agent down the line, you'll have a list of casting directors who already know and love your work, which will make a huge difference to the agent you are considering.
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.