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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Are You An Expert?

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I was sitting in my musical theater class the other day, taking notes while listening to my talented classmates. We not only practice the art of storytelling through song, but also examine what is needed to deliver a truly electrifying audition. This day was like every other Tuesday, with each student more talented than the next, and encouragement abound. But something struck me suddenly and deeply as I looked at the talent around me:

To survive in this business, we need to be EXPERTS.

One of the men in my class had a big callback for the Broadway show Million Dollar Quartet. For the callback, he was asked to prepare a Jerry Lee Lewis piano tune and an Elvis guitar tune, and be prepared to sing from his book. This actor is a fabulous singer with some mad piano playing skills, but there was one problem: he had never picked up a guitar in his life.

When the actor came into class that day, with the callback the next morning, we noticed that his fingers were taped up. Turns out, in the 3 weeks between the initial audition and his callback, this actor taught himself to play the guitar. And playing the guitar for 3 weeks straight can cut your fingers up pretty good. He did what experts do- he said to himself, "They need someone to play guitar? Well, I'm going to dedicate myself to the guitar so I can nail this audition." In class, our teacher constructed a "mock audition" so he could do all of his callback material in one chunk.

He was, in a word, remarkable. I, and my fellow students around me, sat mouths agape, with a mix of awe and envy as we watched. It was exciting to witness someone put everything he had into an audition. Even more remarkably, this would be an audition where, if he did his job right, the auditors wouldn't have any idea how hard he'd worked. It would appear effortless. That is what being an expert is all about.

Now, you might be thinking, "Erin, are you suggesting that to be an actor, I have to become an expert in every special skill, in case I'm asked to do it?" In short, no. What I am suggesting is that you become an EXPERT in auditioning. Become an EXPERT in bringing your full self to the table, and doing whatever it takes to deliver in the room.

Or, maybe you're thinking, "I am already an expert! I have done hundreds of auditions, and I bring my 'A 'game, every time." Ok- consider these questions:

• Have you ever walked into the audition room without your sides prepared/memorized, hoping your cold reading skills would be "enough"?
• Did you ever have an audition where a dialect was required, but skip the time to brush up on the accent?
• Have you ever changed your audition song right before walking in the room?
• Did you ever go to an audition in whatever clothing you were wearing earlier in the day, because you felt too comfortable to change?
• Have you ever thought to yourself, "I would have done much better if the reader had been a better actor!"
• Did you ever neglect to read the full play before a callback, or opt against familiarizing yourself with the full score before a musical callback?

I think that every actor has said yes to at least one of these (and most of us can admit to more than one.) As actors, we all have days where were don't show up as an expert, hoping that our natural talent will save the day. But consider that your competition, the folks who do this for a living and take it seriously, are doing what experts do: They consider their auditions to be mini-performances, and do whatever it takes to be reading for their "opening" in that audition room. Imagine if you had newspaper critics in the room: Would you allow yourself to be reviewed without polishing your performance?

A while ago I read a casting director's blog, and he was talking about how much sense it makes to book a coach (be it dialect, vocal, or acting) before any big audition. He reasoned that you would be spending a little bit of money for the chance at making a lot of money, and he could not understand why actors refuse to look at auditions in this fashion. To be fair, actors need to be smart about where they spend their money, but this idea made a lot of sense to me. When I have a specific job on the line, why wouldn't I do everything I could to ensure I nailed it?

I tell you- I am so inspired by this actor in my class. The idea that auditions are a chance to present polished work to the industry is so exciting, and liberating. I could really get used to being an EXPERT- how about 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.

Holiday Gifts for your Team

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Judy, one of our readers, just sent me a very nice email, asking:

Hi Erin,

Here's a question for you that maybe you want to put out there to the group - how does one keep in touch at this time of year without seeming to be - er - brown-nosing? For instance, there's a casting director I've just finished taking a class with, and in addition to being extremely helpful in the class, she actually called me in for an audition that resulted in a "hold."  I have an idea for a nice little gift for her - as well as a couple for my two agents - but I always feel like this smacks of sucking up!  Maybe there's no way around this?

I've also wondered what people do about holiday cards for agents and casting directors - whether people personalize their usual postcards, send regular greeting cards, make their own from scratch or whatever.  I've asked a bunch of people and they all say "do whatever feels comfortable for you!"  Errgggh.

Anyway, thanks for any advice on this.  And happy holidays to you!


Howdy, Judy! These are really great questions, and I am happy to help! The truth is, the "right" thing to do depends on the recipient, but I will try to give you some concrete explanations to help you make a decision that is best for you.

First, let me start by saying that gifts for agents, casting directors and managers are hot topics of discussion this time of year! I follow number of agents on Twitter, and here is what is being tossed around (some agents have "tweeted" multiple times, which I have included, along with links to their Twitter profiles):

stgactor Our office is asking our actors not 2 bring us gifts. Instead contribute to a cause for holiday family assistance that I am involved with!

diaryofanagent Truthfully I'd rather you do something nice for my Assistant who works her tush off making me look good while I get all the credit! ;0)

diaryofanagent If you want to get a gift, take a look within walking distance of the Agency and get a gift card to a restaurant nearby. It doesn't have to be expensive, just convenient.

TalentAgentLA If you ask your agent they will tell you not to get them anything. That's code for, a bottle of wine or gift certificates please.

TalentAgentLA Our office is packed with cookies/candies/food baskets/chocolates/nuts/etc. More than our entire office could ever eat. And it's the 14th.

agentadvice Came to the office with 3 packages from clients!! Yay!!! ....all of it is chocolate.... just what these hips need. haha

agentadvice Chocolate covered fruit.... WHAAAAT :)

diaryofanagent Got a wonderful gift from a client today. She went 2 Trader Joes and bought 1 of their reusable grocery bags and put in her fave products!

diaryofanagent It had sweets but they were bagged & won't go bad if I save them till the new year. And the shopping bag will remind me of her when I shop!

So, as you can see, these folks often get (and often expect) some niceties at the end of the year. If you tip your mail carrier, your super, and your stylists, I think recognizing your reps is a good idea, ESPECIALLY if they went above and beyond for you during the year. For my male reps, I usually get some sort of gift certificate, along with a card. Sometimes I will send easy-to-care-for plants (like small bamboo plants.) For women, I'll often send lightly scented candles, or other things that can make their days more tranquil (who knows, maybe the men would appreciate this too!) Anything you would consider giving a boss would be appropriate - and if the gift is thoughtful, it will not seem like "sucking up."

As far as holiday cards, I think it depends upon your budget. It is IMPERATIVE (I know, I'm shouting...) that you include your photo in the greeting, whether it be a photo business card or postcard you stuff into the card, or whether your holiday greeting is written on the back of your postcard. Without your photo, it may be hard for them to put a face to your name. If you can afford to buy holiday cards and put your business card inside them, I'd say that's your best bet. I would highly recommend choosing a card that reflects your personal style and attitudes- if you're funny, send something humorous. If you a cheerful and warm, perhaps something that reflects that sensibility. Let them get to know you a little bit as a result of this holiday greeting.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know if you have any questions, and good luck with the giving!


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, December 2, 2009

Backstage Responds Re: Scammers

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It is encouraging that Backstage is so on-the-ball. As a follow-up to our blog about scammers who troll casting websites for victims, my lawyer friend Nance Schick received a thoughtful response from Backstage, and I wanted to post their comments here:

From:
"Castinghelp Backstage" <Castinghelp@backstage.com>
Date: Tue, 1 Dec 2009 18:33:40 -0500
To: Nance L. Schick<nance@nschicklaw.com>
Subject: RE: Back Stage - Modeling/Acting Scam Report

Hello Nance,

Thank you for contacting us about this!

Our “Find Talent” accounts (used by casting directors, agents, mangers, and entertainment-industry employers to post notices and find people for their projects) has been the target of numerous scammers like this over the past year – these con artists seem to be swarming over thousands of websites and are a serious problem. The scammers especially like modeling websites, un-moderated message boards, social-networking sites, and free sites like Craigslist – but lately they’ve also been targeting professional sites like BackStage.com with increasing frequency.

With over 30,000 legitimate pros using our http://BackStage.com/FindTalent Casting Center & Employer Toolbox system every year, perhaps it's inevitable that a few scammers are able to sneak in.

However, we have a number of security checks in place to help combat this, including: Our team of highly trained Assistant Casting Editors manually checks every single casting notice before the notices are published on BackStage.com. We’re able to eliminate 99% or more of scams from our casting/job notices in this way, and we disable all of the offending accounts we find along the way.

We also conduct regular sweeps of our “Find Talent” client database – both manually and via daily automated red-flag checks – to find people that are searching our Multimedia Resume Talent Database in suspicious or unsavory ways. Through this process we’re able to catch most scammers and spammers in less than 48 hours. However, regrettably, some scammers still sneak through. . . .

. . . So any time a thoughtful Back Stage user like you forwards us a suspicious email or scam complaint (as you’ve done), we can run a scan to see exactly who has been viewing your resume on BackStage.com. We can then investigate the full site-activity details for each of these users, to determine whether or not they’re a likely bogus/scam account. Again, we immediately disable these scam accounts. Luckily, Back Stage's readers' are usually great about letting us know about the scams they run into!

In this particular case, we’d already caught the scammer that contacted you – we discovered their scam over a month ago and disabled their account (completely blocking their account access) and sent them a cease-and-desist email. We’re sorry that they managed to contact your friend before we discovered the scam account, but glad to hear that you didn’t fall for the scam!

We’ve also been reporting these cases to the FBI and other authorities, but we've had little response so far.

However, we have been made aware of the fact that these scammers probably aren't specialized in casting scams – they use variations on the same emails to scam people in all sorts of different industries. And that's one of the things that make this particular type of scam pretty easy to spot once you're aware of it: In addition to having bad grammar skills, the perpetrators usually have a mixed-up understanding of entertainment-industry jargon and procedures. Ask them a modeling-or acting-related question and they'll send you back a bunch of malapropisms. And no audition necessary: They just want to send you a check!

We’re going to send out a SCAM ALERT email message to all Back Stage subscribers soon, to warn them to be on the lookout for these types of scams and to forward all suspicious emails to us via our Casting Help contact form at http://backstage.com/castinghelp

Although we’re working on even more ways to keep Back Stage super-secure, scam reports and feedback from users like you are truly invaluable in our constant quest to keep Back Stage scam-free.

Thank you,

Luke Crowe, National Casting Editor
BACK STAGE


If you need to see the original blog post about the scammers, click here to read.

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, December 1, 2009

Scammers troll casting websites

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Good friend and employment lawyer, Nance Schick, just sent this information to me about an actor’s experience with a scammer. She asked me to pass it along to the actors I knew - her email address is linked at the bottom, in case you have any questions.

And now, from Nance:

Several of my friends are actors and models with profiles on Backstage.com. On 09/30/09, one received the following email message:

Sep 30, 2009 11:57:50 AM, januarymodels2feel@gmail.com wrote:

Hi, I am emailing you as regards your post on BACKSTAGE. I was really thrilled when i saw those wonderful shots of yours, I quite appreciate your looks and would like to work with you on a small contract if you don't mind.

I work as a Talent scouting Agent for CODEWEAR Clothing™ in San Diego, CA. The brand's CONCEPT started in 2004 by Postal Carrier Lonnie Reams. The company now expanding into all markets has created a niche product, appealing to all ages. The unique Community based apparel offers a creative, one of a kind way to represent your neighborhood. You can visit their website: http://www.codewearclothing.comfor more details.

We need models to model for the promotion sales just to help publish them and to boost their sales and help them pave their way up the clothing industry meeting up with world fashion business today. Shot will be taking and pictures will be used to advertise their products. Get back to me know if you are interested in the Job offer and let me know your charging plan for 2 hours just for a day shoot. The shot will be done at a location closer to you.

I await.


Originally, we were forgiving of the poor sentence structure and failure to provide more details regarding the purported talent agency. It’s not unusual for small business owners to take chances on other “little guys” when they’re starting out or doing their first expansion. However, this alleged job has now been “in the works” for two months, and there have been a number of discrepancies that caused me to contact Lonnie Reams directly today.

He confirmed for me that he has no relationship with any such agency, the alleged supervisor or any other such expansion efforts. He has been getting frequent calls about this and is concerned that this scam will make his business look illegitimate. It is not.

We suspect that the scammers will eventually ask for the model’s bank account number or send a check that the model will cash. This might also give them access to the model’s bank account information and possibly allow them to hack into the account. Wikipedia contains a thorough, plain-language explanation of such scams, which it calls the “Cash the Check System.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_fraud#Cash_the_check_system. The site also contains links to the various authorities who investigate internet fraud.

It makes me very angry that anyone would be targeted for such a scam, but it is especially unsettling because the models and actors who might accept such a low-paying job are probably struggling financially. Please don’t get sucked in!

Here are some of the Red Flags to watch for:

• Consistently poor grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc. in what is supposed to be a professional communication. An occasional error is understandable in our electronic age, but frequent inability to express ideas clearly is odd in this competitive marketplace.
• Incomplete or minimal contact information. If you’ve been offered a job and the employer still doesn’t trust you enough to know who you are working for, you probably really don’t have a job.
• Notice that a payment is coming to you in an amount greater than what you had agreed to. We are still investigating, but we suspect the scammers will offer to pay you by check so they can get your bank account information from your endorsement or your bank’s verification. (If you are still writing your full bank account number under your signature when you sign your checks, stop this immediately.)

Take action:

• Google or otherwise investigate the companies or agencies you will supposedly be working for.
• Trust your gut and pass on offers that seem too good to be true or “weird.”
• Contact the purported client (e.g., Codewear Clothing in this case) for verification of the relationship.
• Consider filing a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other government authority.
• Never endorse your checks with your full bank account number on them.

Finally, I have filed a complaint with the FBI and alerted the investigators of this latest scam. It could be difficult to trace the perpetrators, but if you have information that might assist the discovery process, I encourage you to submit it. Backstage.com had some system problems last week that might be connected to these scammers and possible hackers, which further complicates the issues. I have alerted them as well.

Be careful “out there” (online)!
Nance L. Schick, Esq.


UPDATE: Nance received a response from Backstage. Check out their message here.


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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