Advice and How-To's Especially for ACTORS!

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Agents for Background / Extra Work?

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I have been alerted recently to some companies who claim that they help actors get “bit parts” in feature films and on TV shows. So I thought I would dedicated a short blog post to talking about how to get background work and extra work.

First off, you do not NEED an agent to get background work. Getting background work is very similar to temp work. Background casting directors accept headshot/resume submissions and have open calls where they will take your information and keep it on file. When they have a need for your look/type, they will contact you to see if you are available to do background work. If you are available, they’ll book you. If you are not, they’ll move on and find someone else. And much like temp work, the more that you say yes, the more likely that they will call you again.

The main purpose for an agent is two-fold: 1) They help procure auditions and/or jobs for actors that actors do not have access to on their own, and 2) When the actor books a job, the agent negotiates the contract / salary for the project.

Because background casting directors contact actors directly from their database, and because actors are offered only the minimum scale salary for background work, there is no reason to work with an agent to find you background/extra work. There is one small exception, and that is is you are living in Los Angeles and don't have the time to track all of the different background work that is available. Then, perhaps it is worth it to pay a percentage of your salary to an agency, which is more like a headhunter than a traditional agent. But if you are in any other city, there really is no reason to have an agent for background work.

I am not disparaging legitimate companies who provide background work for actors. But I do have a problem with “agencies” whose sole service is getting background work for actors but who represent themselves as helping actors "get break into the movie business- no experience necessary!" I have seen some companies who post "client bookings" and make it sound as though the actor has gotten speaking roles on these projects. Companies that do this are preying on actors who are desperate to get “into the movies” or “be on TV” and it really concerns me.

Bottom line: There is no quick entry into this business- success takes hard work and lots of training. Before you sign a contract with any agent or management company, be sure that you do your research to make sure their services are legitimate and necessary.

Here are some helpful links:

Click here to see my other posts on Background / Extra Work.
Click here for a list of background casting directors who hire actors in New York City.

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.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How Bad is a Bad Audition?

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One of my students recently wrote to me, and I think that her experience is so prevalent that I wanted to post her question and my answer here:

I have something that's really been bothering me and keeping me from auditioning-- and I am hoping you can help. 

I auditioned for a regional company that I have always wanted to work with. They always have a season that I love and feel is perfect for me. When I first auditioned for them, it wasn't one of my better days but I told myself I was doing the right thing by auditioning despite the circumstances.

The following season, another casting call rolled around for this theater. I submitted, and they emailed me back saying that they remembered my work and they didn't want to waste time seeing me again. It made me feel sick - this is something that has never happened to me before. It wasn't as if I wasn't right for their company, I think I just made a bad impression at that first audition.

Did I mess something up by going to that audition? Would I be better off just staying home if I am not feeling 100%? This situation has made it difficult for me to get out there to audition for anything at all. I wish there were a way I could start again fresh and know I can be successful.

I know people think I just need to get out there and audition, and I really do agree. But is this concern in any way valid?"

First off, your concerns are always valid. They are real, and tangible. The question is, are you going to let them make you "play small"? Are you going to let them stand in your way?

I can completely understand where you are coming from- what an awful experience! I have had things like that happen to me (I can tell you some stories in person that will blow your mind!) and it's like someone sucker punches you. There is no real consolation except to know that it happens to everyone at some point, and it very rarely has anything to do with how wonderful you are as an actor. With as many things that were going on in your life at that time, there could have been just as many things happening in that casting director's life that made them say those things to you. I am certainly not excusing them- I am simply saying that most of the time, people's behavior (bad, or even good) has nothing to do with how talented we are.

To get yourself on good footing with them (essentially erasing that bad experience) is go to one of the EPAs or open calls and show them a good audition. Don't wait for permission to audition for them, go on in your town terms and blow them away with what you are capable of doing. There is a chance that they meant what they said- they knew what you could do and they didn't have anything for you that season. If you see a season that you'd love to do, I'd highly recommend showing up at their auditions.

Now, as far as this experience overshadowing getting back out there now... ANYTIME you do an audition you run the risk of making a bad impression. Even if you feel like you are at your peak physically, emotionally and mentally, you may have someone behind the table who just doesn't appreciate what you have to offer. So, why wait? The risk of rejection is the same whether you wait or go for it, but if you put things on hold you are essentially putting your life and dreams on hold until this magical "someday" - and that can seem further away every day.

The question is, can you really afford NOT to take action? And I think you know my answer for that. =)


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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Even Big People Do It (Mess Up, I mean...)

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I just stumbled upon this refreshing article about A-List actors who have had problems at auditions. See, even the big people do it! Check out CNN.com: A-List Actors Relive Shameful Audition Moments

What are some of your audition foibles? Leave a comment and share with the other readers!


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.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Market Your Acting Career (Tip #5): Mailing to Different Names at Same Office

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One of my students writes:

"I am doing a mailing and was wondering if it's beneficial to mail to different agents at the same agency, or should I just pick one per agency to mail to? I don't want to overload them, but if they are different agents...not sure how it works.

Also, I have the same question about theaters ... should I mail to just one person there or multiple ones? I have met one of the casting directors at an Off-Broadway office, but would also like for the main CD to get my headshot/resume. Would they be sitting around like thinking, “Why do I have 10 headshots from this one girl?” Or do they keep them all separate?


Help! Any feedback would be helpful."

Hello! Thanks for your email- this is great question and one that I am sure many actors have.

The official answer is "it depends."

Different offices have different filing systems- some industry folks maintain their own files within an office (meaning that they do not share) and some share a central filing system. What I usually recommend is to do some research to find out which person tends to work with your type more often. It certainly doesn't hurt to mail to everyone, but with the cost of printing and mailing, plus the time it takes to put mailings together, it may not be cost effective to mail to everyone. Once you find out who is more likely to cast your type, you can hone in on them and make sure they have your materials at their disposal.

You mentioned that you have met one of the casting directors- good for you! It is a great idea to get in front of these folks to show them your work in person. Go to as many EPAs or open calls as possible. If they have good reputations as teachers, consider taking an audition technique workshop from them. Create a Google Alert for their name and keep an eye out for events where they might be speaking. These are just a few other ways to make an impression so that when you do your mailing, you have some mutual history behind you.

Hope this helps- let me know how it goes!

UPDATE: Just found this great question by an actor, which was answered by Secret Agent Man of Backstage. Check it out here. (Note: at the time of this update, the only response to the question was by the agent- I cannot verify the validity of any other answer posted...)


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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Getting Headshot Advice

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One of the biggest questions that actors face is with regard to their headshots. I see these question posted dozes of times a day on the message boards, I often get asked by blog readers and Facebook acquaintances to give my thoughts. And each time I hear/see this, I wonder- how valuable is the advice they are getting? What kinds of feedback can one expect to get from different kinds of people?

Earlier today I got an email from a lovely actor named Mavis, who writes:

“I want to present a new head shot for a showcase I will be doing in a few weeks. Can you look at my photos section and tell me what you think of the shot labeled possibly legit ... Also, I’d like to know- whether you like it or whether it is a ”deal breaker," What kind of look is it, and I'm deciding whether I should get it retouched and printed.“

Hey! Thanks for asking about my thoughts for your new headshot. I dropped by your page and looked around- very nice! I would love to be able to say more about your choice, but it actually is very hard to give headshot advice without knowing exactly the kind of roles you are interested in pursuing. Knowing this information is vital to giving you solid advisement about which shots will work best for you. I notice that actors ask for feedback from their peers, both actors and non actors, and I imagine that the feedback can get confusing- everyone seems to have a different opinion. In my view, the only thing that your friends and colleagues can advise on is, A) If the shot looks like you, and B) If the photo is in the same style as the other headshots out there today. Meaning, when compared to other shots, does it look like a headshot that is ”now“ instead of years ago. (For your shot, the answer is YES on both accounts.)

But, of course, there is much more to a shot than those two minor details, so it is always good to choose your headshot based on what kinds of roles you are interested in getting. Take away this idea of "legit" or "theatrical" or "commercial" for a moment- what kinds of roles are you seeking most often? Is this headshot a perfect match for one or more of those roles? Are there other kinds of roles you are interested in but that do NOT fit this headshot? (It is ok, by the way, to print several shots if you find that you have several different types of roles you seek out on a regular basis.) You want to make sure that you prepare yourself with all of the marketing tools necessary to get the kind of work you think you are capable of doing.

I always work with actors closely to give them objective tools to use when choosing headshots- choosing the shots based on what will get them work rather than what ”looks best.“ The process is simple but effective, and you can do it using brand new shots you’ve just taken or by going through an old headshot session to see if there are any shots you may have overlooked. I am a big fan of working with what you have, if at all possible- you’ve already paid for the shots so you might as well get as much out of them as you can!

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions about headshots, or email me if you want to set up a session to talk about picking the perfect shot to get you the job you want. Can’t wait to hear from 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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Time for Change is Now

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I just read this inspiring blog post by David Brownstein, a career coach for film industry folks (including actors) in Los Angeles, and I thought I would post the link as well as the comment I left on the blog itself. First, my comment:

“Hi, David- so very glad to have found this blog! I am trying to engender the same kind of spirit with actors here in NYC. To supplement my acting career, I started a career coaching service for actors that focuses on empowering them to create the kind of career they want, rather than stepping into a mold prescribed for them. There is some sort of strange mentality that you have to starve and struggle to call yourself a true artist, putting up with the tantrums of your peers and, worse, those you look up to. Focusing on what you can do as a business owner gives an actor ownership over their vessel and the seas that they navigate. - Erin Cronican“

I strongly believe that you choose the kind of life you live. You create your reality, and in doing so you get to determine what your days look like, your weeks, your months, your years. Believe that you deserve to have the life you desire, and surround yourself with folks who have the same value system - I think that you will find yourself amazingly fulfilled and better equipped to handle the disappointments that come with this business.

And now, click here to read the blog post.


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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Videotaping Non-Union Theater with SAG Actor

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Tony writes:

“I was able to get some video of the festival show that I was just in, and I posted the videos on my MySpace. The composer said it was no problem from her side but that one of the girls in the video is in SAG so I have to ask her because SAG could fine me. I contact the SAG actor but she said, "I don't know anything about that stuff. sorry." Should I just take the video down? I don't want SAG's legal people coming after me. Thanks for your help.“

This is a very good question- there are actually two quick things to address here.

First, there is nothing to worry about with SAG. Theater is not under SAG’s jurisdiction, so a recording of a theater piece for non-commercial (personal) purposes is not their concern. If you used it to created a filmed documentary, that would be of concern to them, but to place this video on your website is not a problem. Getting personal permission from the creative team (including the actors) is always a good idea, though, because you want to make sure everyone’s intellectual property is respected.

The second, and more important issue- Was your show produced under the AEA showcase code or the Festival Code (the NYC 99 seat waivers that allows union actors to ”showcase“ their work without compensation)? If not, as a SAG member your co-star is not supposed to work for any non-union producers and she could get in trouble for being in the show. When an actor joins a union, they are agreeing that they will no long work for a non-union producer in any jurisdiction- theater, film, TV, radio, etc. Every producer they work for must be a signatory of the union in their jurisdiction. In this case, your shows producer would have had to produced the show under an Equity (AEA) code to allow your co-star to perform.

Obviously, you have no responsibility with regard to her union status (even with regard to the video taken), but I wanted to mention it because it is a serious issue that the unions are contending with, and it is a heated topic that is often misunderstood. Let me know if you have any further questions- you can leave them as a comment so others can take part.

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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Buyouts in Commercial Contracts

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I saw this question posted on a popular forum for actors, and I responded. Here is what transpired:

"I'm posting this question for a friend of mine who is currently without an agent/manager. He has a callback for cable promo. The casting director listed this job as a "BUYOUT" and the promo will be broadcast for cable and internet usage. When you work on something like this, what types of conflicts will you have? Does that mean you can't work on any other movie-promos INDEFINITELY? Or is it usually for a few years? The CD said "buyout", but did not say "in perpetuity". So my friend was just worried about what doing this type of TLC promo might exclude him from in the future."

Hello! As far as I know, the term "buyout" only refers to payment/salary. It simply means that your friend will get paid one time (for the session) and no other payments or residuals will be due, no matter how long the promo runs.

As far as conflicts, the contract should have some sort of language about exclusivity, if that is something they require. if it is required, they will stipulate how long the contract binds the actor exclusively. If it doesn't mention exclusivity, have him ask this question when he signs the contract. Often on non-union promos there is no exclusivity so your friend would have the right to whatever other promos he likes. Just make sure he looks closely at the contract so he know what his rights are.

Hope this helps- and please pass along my congratulations to your friend!

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.

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