Sunday, May 24, 2009

Commercial Agent Weekend Update 5/24/09

Working commercial actors in Los Angeles may find this helpful, and some may be curious if I really do what I say and need more specifics, so either way here's a weekend update with some highlights of the week that was...  If you guys like these, I may make a habit of them.   

-The first Casting Frontier breakdown ever was released on Monday to agents: Joe Blake's Del Taco.   Once exclusively an audition uploading system for casting directors, much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued amongst most agents who are at various stages of ready/willing/ and/ or ableness to use Casting Frontier as a submission system.  Many agencies ultimately sent Joe a list of talent from LA Casting's "create a project" agent feature that Michael Daly of LA Casting's earlier letter recommended instead, or simply called in pitches.  As this was the first "test" of the system, Joe accepted all attempts.
(To any newer actors, I'm discussing the systems commercial AGENTS are able to use to submit their talent to casting directors.  I clarify this because LA Casting also has a different service where actors submit themselves, but this is not the same thing nor are the projects we view the same.  Actors cannot use the agent side of LA Casting, or any part of Casting Frontier, to submit themselves.)

-Beau Bonneau (owner LA Casting) sent an email to all agents on LA Casting late Wednesday apparently in response to an email that was forwarded to him by one casting director from another, and which he believed contained some very inaccurate about his system and wanted to set the record straight.   I will not post the letter here but I will say that in it he countered the letter point by point, as well as compared how much actors would spend keeping their profiles updated on LA Casting vs. Casting Frontier using his assumption that the average life of a headshot on either system is 2 years and actors want 5 headshots on their profile.   Under those circumstances LA Casting is less expensive for the actor.   Although I'm not sure it really matters which is cheaper in the long run though because unlike most competitive products its not as if there is going to be a choice in which system actors want to be on.   If any casting directors are going to start *exclusively* using Casting Frontier as a submission service, actors will have to be on BOTH systems if they want to be submitted for everything (well, actually, three systems since there is still Breakdown Services but two headshots have always been free to the actor on Breaksdowns because *agents* pay for the system, different business model but I digress...).   

-Michael Daly of LA Casting forwarded the following letter to all agents on Tuesday from the newly dubbed "Casting Brothers" Alan Kaminsky & Joshua Rappaport:
Since Danny Goldman has gone off into a happy and healthy retirement, the original series Danny Goldman and Associates has spun off "Casting Brothers."  And in the tradition of great spin offs, "All in the Family" to "Maud" + "The Jefferson's" or "Cheers" to "Frasier", we feel you will enjoy the spin off as much as the original. The name is new but you already know and love the cast.
Talk to you all soon.
Casting Brothers
Alan Kaminsky + Joshua Rappaport
Good luck Alan & Joshua!!  We'll miss you Danny!!!
(As a side note I'm also looking forward to hearing more from Laurie Records, Danielle Eskinazi's former associate who has also spun off into individual casting land recently.  She is a joy to work with.)

-Craig Colvin, the only real commercial casting director still *exclusively* using Breakdown Services (fiercely loyal to its owner Gary Marsh, this will never change), sent an email on Friday telling us to watch out for callbacks notices for JC Penney sent over the weekend as they will be held this Tuesday.  Not that agencies aren't on call 24/7 these days anyway...

-Karen Manseng (the lovely casting director who took over Martin Casting after the heartbreaking loss of casting legend Melissa Martin) released an addendum (revised role) on the Sprint/NASCAR breakdown late Friday night to audition Tuesday & also emailed to agents via lacasting that the entire project might book over the weekend.  My phone is ready to hear from you Karen! :)

-Times that have already gone out for Tuesday include- Ross Lacy's Angel Soft, Coors Light AND VW, Liz Paulson's Clear callbacks, Spot Casting's "wanchai ferry" and "espys" callbacks, ASG's "Old Country Buffet", and Kathy Knowles "Video Game".

That's all for now.  What do you think, do you like these kinds of detailed updates?  Not sure they might be too time consuming but I'll do my best to keep you posted of the most important updates... be sure to follow me on twitter if you aren't already!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hip-Pocketing and You!

So I tweeted the other week about how sad I was that an actress submitted to me asking me to consider her for "full or hip-pocket representation" and, as they say, the lines lit up. I got dozens of @talentagentla's...  What's hip-pocketing?  What's bad about hip-pocketing?  etc etc.
Enough that I felt I definitely needed to expand.

First, let me make a point that "hip-pocketing" is a term that is going to avoid precise definition because (almost by definition) its going to mean different things to different people.  At it's core it means that you are not actually a client of the agency, but someone there is keeping you in their "pocket", on occasion, when possible, when it suits them, possibly maybe submitting you.   But usually people don't discuss this as a real concept, its more covert than that, so maybe this is why actors seem to be so in the dark.

Second, let me back up by explaining that there are a couple different kinds of agencies in town (another blog I promise)... but in a nutshell there are "one man department" types where a single agent handles their own personal client list for all projects and casting directors.  And then, most common at the mid-sized and larger agencies, there are departments with multiple agents who all share one client list but divide the town by casting director or projects, so that each agent is responsible for the client list of their entire department on the projects they cover.  The concept of hip-pocketing normally surfaces at this type of agency because in these agencies one agent cannot bring on any client they want, ALL the agents that would be submitting this client need to be on board or that client wouldn't be submitted to the entire town.  

SO let's say a tv/film agent at a large, prestigious agency becomes aware of an actor that her fellow agents won't consider, probably due to a lack of credits.  But this agent sees a different picture, she thinks this person could make it if given the right opportunities.  Unfortunately because she works in an agency where all the agents need to be on board to sign a new talent, she can't just decide on her own to actively submit this actor (and even if she did, since she doesn't cover all the casting directors or projects it would be a limited slice of the town acting on her own).... Still... once in a while something does land on her desk that seems perfect for that person and she does try to get them in.   Maybe this results in An Audition.  Once.  Or twice.  In the hopes that they'll just book it and now the agent will be able to pitch the actor to the other agents with more authority.   Voila: a hip-pocket!   (Another nice version of the hip-pocket is the "friend with a special skill hip-pocket"-- like I might submit an amazing jazz guitarist that I'm friends with everytime I see a breakdown for real jazz musicians (which is going to be a rare thing, but when I see it, I gotta go for it).  

That is a best case scenario, but that's also pretty rare and this is a reality blog.  Some "hip-pockets" are not so well-intentioned....Some of my favorite classy examples: maybe an agent (or assistant!) works out a favor with a casting director to get a club promoter an appointment (audition) so they can get in that persons club next time they go out.  Or maybe the agent is hitting on someone and trying to impress them.   Or, a hip-pocket could be a Jr. Agent that doesn't cover their own projects yet but wants to have someone to hold onto (as they also don't have clients yet) and hasn't realized how almost impossible it is to represent someone without everyone being on board.   But maybe the worst is a one-man department who "hip-pockets" someone... how offensive is that?  That's basically saying the person solely responsible for their client list doesn't want to actively submit an actor, just keep 'em thinking they *might*.

SO whatever the case may be,  the "hip-pocket" is a vastly inferior status to being a full client of the agency because even with a well-intentioned agent you don't have the full agency actively working for that actor... and even the agent doing the hip-pocketing is not going to be actively watching out for said actor because they are supposed to be submitting and pushing the real clients.  Being hip-pocketed is *nothing* like being a full client at that agency.   

Now some of you are thinking, well hey, better than nothing!  Well fine, if the alternative is in fact NOTHING.  But remember, you can't freelance (have more than one agent) in Los Angeles. So a regular agent that is interested in really signing you won't be ok with you also having your Hip-Pocket agent occasionally throwing you out on things, so a hip-pocket only is possible for those with zero rep.  And an actor would have to be pretty silly to value an occasional submission over trying to find an agent that really wants to sign them and submit them on everything to everyone everyday!   

So a bit of advice:  If an important agent is interested in seeing you develop, the best thing you can do is drum up all the work on your own you can with another agent (sorry other agent) and keep them updated on your progress.  Don't wait for someone that can't sign you to help you. And don't write to an agent asking them to hip-pocket you... yech!

The good news is next time someone brags to you they are being "hip-pocketed by someone at William Morris" you can yawn and say, really? How fabulous.  And yawn again.  

(point of clarification:  If you have an agent that didn't have you sign a contract that does NOT mean you are only hip-pocketed by them.  Some agents don't make you sign a contract, its an individual agency preference, but they still represent you with full commitment and expect the same in return.  If someone offers you representation, that's a pretty good sign you are not a hip-pocket ;)  But if you have concerns, you should ask your agent to clarify.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Facebook and Twitter 101: On Actor Etiquette in an Online World

First, thanks to for suggesting I expand on some of my twitters on this subject into a full length blog. You can always suggest topics to me when you follow

Let's say you've read all the usual books. "Acting is a Business", "How to Agent your Agent", etc. etc. etc. You believe in casting director workshops, postcards, following up, and that old cliche about you doing 90% of the work because your agent makes 10%. Fabulous.

Unfortunately for you, none of those books have told you anything about actor/agent boundaries in the new world of facebook and twitter (I would include myspace, but is anyone on that anymore? Anyway...). Unfortunately, you have been hardwired to believe that you can never market your "product" (yourself) too much, so you have stopped using your common sense when it comes to agent/actor boundaries online.

Or at least, some of you have.

It's not a secret that a tidal wave of casting directors started joining facebook a year or two ago, and when that happened, the agents and managers were on there just as fast. They all became friends with each other, and as some forgot to make their profiles private, you got to finally take a peek at some of the mysterious faces and personal lives of the "others". (When you are an actor, I've come to realize, agents, casting directors, and managers are "others". Kindof like the tv show Lost except that you want to be their friends.) And now of course, a lot of them are on twitter too.

First, let's get something straight (and repeat after me). Agents are people too! We're not others!! (Agents... They're just like us!!!) Except.... we're in a profession where every time we meet someone new in a social situation, if it turns out they're an unrepresented actor (or an under-represented actor)..... we know we are going to be followed around to some degree. Even if you don't stalk, we know we have something you want, and it can make us feel a wee bit isolated because while you're trying your best to charm us, we're kinda thinking its because you're trying to get us to bring you in for a meeting or worse, become our fake friend and THEN get us to bring you in for a meeting. That's a slightly awkward position for us to be in, and we're in it on a regular basis. We're also used to running into actors we saw one time at a workshop again at, I don't know, Target, and forced into a conversation by an actor who sees this encounter as a "sign" while we're buying deodorant or tampons. And then there's the worst case scenario, when the opposite sex is involved and there is a romantic connection... Look, I'm not saying there may not be a few "sleezy" agents out there. But put aside the sleezy agent stories you've heard for a moment, because let me tell you, I know a few male agents who have been repeatedly, genuinely hurt in this town from predatory actresses pretending to be in to them. Point being: There is definitely a certain "occupational hazard" to being an agent.

So now that you've had fun visualizing being us for a moment you may not even need the following rules because this will all hopefully be common sense. But just incase, let's do it. Just when is it ok to "add"? To "follow"? Here's my rules.

FACEBOOK: First, it's NEVER ok to use facebook to submit. Some of the "add" messages I've seen are "Hey, I know your client so and so, would love to be considered!", "Hi just wanted to introduce myself, here's my IMDB link!", etc. etc. They are all completely, universally, creepy, misguided, and (most importantly from your standpoint) ineffective. But because you are feeling "proactive" and don't trust that we go through all our mailed submissions, you think what's the worst that could happen & that this will get you noticed. Oh I'll notice you-- I'll also notice that I *never* want to meet you. Why? Well, if knew my name & you found out my home address would you mail your headshot there or to my agency? My agency, right???? (If any of you are thinking home, you better get out of town now because you are hopelessly desperate). Well, submitting on facebook is no different than submitting to my personal email address (as opposed to work), my personal home address, my personal phone number. You just. don't. go there. Ever.

It *is* perfectly ok to add me on facebook if you are a client of mine. Now maybe some "others" will only approve you with a limited profile, but I can't imagine any of us declining because that's a nice, friendly gesture. I know I really care about my clients, and some I'm even friends with outside of the office. On the other hand, if we've only had one meeting together and we didn't take you (barring any unusual circumstances like we found out in the meeting that we have 20 friends in common or are second cousins once removed), adding me is kinda awkward. I personally will probably feel bad and accept you because I don't want to add insult to injury, but you can pretty much rule out resubmitting to the agency again down the line because I can guarantee I will never reconsider you after I've been left with that uncomfy "add"so why bother? And again, if we've never met... you already know you don't go there now.

And I'm going to wager with casting directors the rules are similar. If you are FRIENDS with a casting director, or you've become really friendly with them (first name basis) through lots of repeated auditions, bookings, or maybe even a long class (not a one night workshop), then go ahead and hit "add". Otherwise, it's probably better to stick to the workshops and postcards. Certainly don't add anyone you've never met.


This is easy. First of all, Twitter is not as threatening because even if you follow someone you can't direct message them unless they decide to follow you too, unlike Facebook, so nothing you do will be judged as harshly as in facebookland. Obviously if who you're following is something generic (like my twitter-- TalentAgentLA) with unprotected updates, it's designed to be followed. If its an actual agency name (as opposed to individual) that's fine too. But if its an individual agent, manager, or casting director and they aren't even referencing their company in the bio line AND their updates are protected and you don't even know them? It's a personal profile. Pass.

Twiterrfacebookiquette class dismissed!
Secret Agent

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hi, I'm a teenager from ____, how do I get an agent in LA?

OK, I feel I have to start here because if there is one thing I'm here for, it's to help actors (and aspiring actors) avoid scams and false promises.   Going forward, please know that this blog is not really geared towards actors under the age of 18 or out of towners, so if this article doesn't apply to you stick around there will be more to come.  But since there is an entire business PREYING on young, aspiring actors that don't live here and their families, and this is the most frequently asked question to me, I gotta knock this one out.

Ready?  So we're going to start with the one thing that anyone with dreams of being an actor who doesn't live in L.A. doesn't want to hear.  You simply can not get representation with an agent in Los Angeles if you don't live in Los Angeles.  (Or, you can't get representation with an agent in NYC if you don't live in NYC.)   Why?  Because agents have positioned themselves to cover projects that audition locally, which means they need actors that live locally.   These auditions can come up quickly, so flying in for auditions isn't realistic, especially when many of the projects you would need to audition for are jobs that will not pay you enough cover the cost of your flight & hotel assuming you beat out all the other great actors auditioning and book it!  Not to mention before you get to the booking stage, most auditions have callbacks or, in TV, a producers session (a 2nd, smaller audition) that you would ALSO need to attend, which could be held several days later.   

But! You're thinking.  What if I'm DISCOVERED???  More bad news.   NO agent is going to incur the expense of moving you here, or babysit you if you are underage and your parents won't move here with you, no matter how talented or special you are.  If a talent agent from NYC or LA happened to find you in a convention (for example), your family would STILL have to relocate to that city or be within a very reasonable driving distance to actually be with them.

"But why can't they just PUT me in something!?", you insist,  "I'm cute! I'm talented!  I know I can do this!!!"   Unfortunately, agents can't do that.  They can't "give" you work even though they wish they could!  They can only submit you for consideration to a casting director that is organizing auditions for whatever project they are currently casting.  (And by the way, that casting director doesn't make the ultimate decision either.  Their job is to provide the best pool of talent possible to their client --the person hiring them to cast  something-- to chose from, so they look at all the submissions from many agents and pick who they want to see.)   

This is one of reasons the HUGE nationwide business of modeling/acting "schools" like John Robert Powers, Barbizon, and John Casablancas drives me absolutely NUTS.  They are able to charge HUGE amounts of money for classes by deliberately selling to young, inexperienced actors and their parents the concept of being "discovered" and considered for projects afterwards that they physically CAN'T be considered for, because as long as you are in Columbus Ohio, you can't audition for that show on Nickelodeon that auditions in Los Angeles, or 99% of the commercials on the air, no matter how many thousands of dollars you spend to take their classes.   They very well may lead the way to very expensive conventions in NY and elsewhere that LA and NY talent agents attend, but remember before you go that the incredibly talented young actors who do go on to work after attending only do so because their family was willing to relocate to LA (or NY) afterwards...   Not to mention, most actors do not find their agents through conventions, there are much less expensive ways to do it, trust me.

And please know that no matter what a school may tell you about how famous you should be, only agents, not schools (and you can't by law be both), can represent actors for work.  Agents stay in business by taking a percentage of what you book through them (10% is standard in for "union" work but on "non-union" work that dominates the middle of the country 20% isn't uncommon--that's another blog), but no matter what the commission, they can not charge you money to be with them.  They don't have one photographer that you must shoot with, or specific classes that you must take.   And unlike an "audition" for a school that wants your parents money, agents have nothing to be gained by selling to crowds of people -- they have to be extremely picky with who they take on.  After all, if they don't think you can make money how could they stay in business?  10% of nothing is nothing.

That's a lot of bad news, sorry, but stay with me, all is not lost.  If you are under 18 and can't move here that's OK! because you will grow up and then you can move wherever you'd like :)  Also, you do NOT have to twiddle your thumbs and do nothing in the meantime.  Ready?

Three Things you can do, NOW

1.  There is a lot you can learn about this business through books so that when you DO turn 18, you have a huge leg up on every other teenager moving to LA.  There are so many books on the business of acting that you can find on, authors like Judy Kerr, K.Callan, and many others have written mega books that cover the basics, and the lessons can be applied to local "markets" (cities) as well.  I'll do another blog sometime on my favorites, but just look up those authors for now you'll see what I mean.

2.  You can find a LOCAL agent.  You will have to be very careful, but you can usually open your yellow pages and look under TALENT AGENCIES (again, not John Casablancas, not John Robert Powers, not Barbizon even if they are listed, right?) to see who is working in your area.   If you are in or close to Columbus, for example, there is "CAM" Talent, Creative Talent, and a couple others.   You will have to do some research because there are still plenty of scams out there and you have to know how to submit, so be sure you did step #1 first!   There aren't going  as many things to audition for in a local market, but that doesn't mean its not worth finding one if this is what you want to do.

3.   Find ways to act where you are.  Sure movies would be fun but you have plenty of time for that.  Find out what the local community theaters are and call them to ask when they hold auditions, put on shows in your church or school, just keep acting and build your resume!!  And you can usually find acting classes through a local theater as well.  

That's all for this week...
Lots of love,
Secret Agent

In the Beginning

Here we go!  

What this is: a place for honest advice to actors.  At times, it may be a place for brutally honest advice to actors.   You may read or learn things that challenge what you have been taught by well-meaning fellow actors and teachers.   But having grown up in this industry, I can promise you it's not until you are on this side of the curtain (the agent side) that you get to really see a big puzzle piece in the picture of What Works.  Or, what drives us up the wall.  Or why some relative newcomers get signed at great agencies while some long-established, hard working actors can't get signed anywhere.  What makes you look like an amateur, or worse, desperate.   And how to make sure you are not wasting your time or money out here.  We'll go over the good, the bad, and the ugly of photographers, classes, workshops, resources, etc. etc.  in a way that most sites (Backstage West, etc.) could not (remember, they and most sites rely on advertising dollars.).

Of course, the "it" factor can't be taught.  But everything else, I'm here for you.  No relevant topic is off limits, and questions are encouraged.

Stay tuned...