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...