Bad Cover Letters, Good Cover Letters

Thank you as always, wonderful readers, for sharing your cover letters for this piece. If you’re looking for a list of quick dos and don’ts for cover letters, revisit my previous column: Covering the Cover Letter (paying special attention to the importance of “P, P, and P,” okay? Okay).

Now, before we get to the examples, please remember that this collection of information is intended to inspire you to adapt your own cover letter. Don’t steal! Instead, take what’s brilliant and build upon it to make it your own. Otherwise, even the best cover letter ends up being a “bad” one, since it’s just mimicking someone else’s true voice.

Bad Cover Letters

The goal in including BAD cover letters is two-fold. One, if you’re committing any of these cover letter sins, STOP. Two, if you’re worried your decent cover letter might be bad, take heart: Your cover letter would have to be PRETTY dang bad to be the worst any of us has ever seen. Truly, we get some BAD stuff. BAD.

Example #1:

Letterhead with Actor’s Name/Photo
Date

Upon discovery of your Casting Affiliation through Hollywood Creative Directory, along with the professional reputation and feedback from other working actors; I’ve taken the liberty of submitting my headshot and resumé in regards to obtaining auditions — [Bon: A dash is not a period.]

Enclosed is a recent headshot taken February 27th, of Actor ________ — [Bon: Again, with the dash thing. Oh, and the letter really does say “Actor Joe Smith” (not really Joe Smith, of course); meaning “Actor” is capitalized and the actor refers to himself in the third person.] If you are looking to expand your clientele [Bon: CDs don’t see actors as clientele.], please RSVP [Bon: Because this is a party you’re inviting me to?] to any of the contact information below in regards to open calls, auditions, voice over work, and extra work. [Bon: Way to know what your recipient casts, man.]

It’s always a delight to visit your office. I look forward to working with you in the future — thanks for your time. [Bon: Nice, but you’ve never been to my “office,” so….]

Sincerely,
Actor’s Name
Manager’s Name
Management Company
email Address
email Address
Phone Number
Address
Phone Number [Bon: A different one from the earlier-listed one]

Example #2:

Hello, how are you, my name is ________, I am ________ (ethnicity) with ________ (ethnicity) and ________ (ethnicity) descendants, I live in ________ (state).

Now that I have finished with studies I am a full-time actor, I am sending you this because I am trying yo find my way in Los Angeles, which I certainly know is so hard to do.

You got my contact info in case there are proyects I could be part of..

Thanks a lot

Actor’s Initials [Bon: Poor spelling, bad punctuation, ambiguous and clunky goals. No bonus points for blast-out email format; no BCC for this actor. Further deduction of points for huge attachments, which of course my mail rules strip away when emails come from strangers.]

Example #3:

Ok….so …Can you get me a job? LOL

No seriously. I want to be an actor because I can act. I don’t have George Clooney’s face or Brad Pitt’s body but I don’t get thrown out of bed for eating crackers either. I can be so many characters. I do some voice over stuff and a very badly written indie film that they wouldn’t play in the bathrooms at Sundance. I am 37 and it’s time to do it. HELP!!!!! [Bon: Wow. Really? When I’m 37, will I randomly email producers and tell them they should hire me to cast their films because I “don’t get thrown out of bed” and then ask for HELP? Dude! Desperation never sells. Never.]

Cover Letters with Potential

These cover letters are decent, but need tweaking to really be winners.

Example #1:

Name
Phone Number (I’m local even though my phone is not.) [Bon: Love this note! We wonder sometimes!]
email Address

Date

Hi There, [Bon: Ooh. Not good. If you’re going to bother with a full-on typed-up letter-letter, personalize it.]

I’m a strong character actress and I’m great with comedy. I’ve had some improv training with Second City and am about to start a class with Upright Citizens Brigade. I moved to NYC in October and I’ve already been cast in and completed eight projects, including several leading roles in indie films and an NYU student film. [Bon: Looks good. Shows initiative and independent success.]

I’d love to meet with you to talk about how we can benefit each other. [Bon: I love this! It’s about a mutually-beneficial relationship. You’re building a team. Awesome.] Thanks for checking out my headshot and resumé. I usually look like my resumé [Bon: Uh-oh. You mean “headshot,” right?], but recently had to cut my hair short and bleach it for a film role. I’ve included a snapshot of how I look (temporarily). [Bon: Excellent. You must include a snapshot when your look is different from your headshot. Awesome.]

Cheers,
Actor’s Name

Example #2:

Dear ________,

Good day!

I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself and let you know that if you are looking for one more actress to add to your roster, I’m the girl! [Bon: Pretty good, but I worry about starting off the letter reminding them they already have a full roster of people!] I am an incredibly passionate and dedicated actress with a constant desire to better myself and further my career. I am currently studying with the fantastic ________ (coach) and know that my acting is maturing and growing as I continue to work with him. [Bon: Excellent. I love the nod to the importance of training, but I would prefer to see this information after the snippets about bookings! Remember, an agent or manager is looking to earn commission. They earn no cut of your class tuition.]

I am completing three days of shooting on the independent feature, “________” (film title) this week. It’s a role that I’m very proud of and feel is reflective of my ability to play strong, independent yet sensitive young women. You will also be able to catch me in various magazines as one of the faces of ______ (character) in their new print ads coming up later this year. [Bon: All good stuff. Lead with this.]

I am looking for an agent to partner with me to help my career grow in the coming years. I am hard worker and am always determined to be the best that I can at everything I do. If after reviewing my materials you are interested in interviewing, I am available at your convenience. I hope to meet with you soon. [Bon: Good, but it gets a little clinical here. Since a big part of the desire to meet up with someone comes from feeling that there may be a personality “click,” I’d pull back on the formality and share a little more REAL stuff.]

Sincerely,

Actor’s Name

Example #3:

Finally, I’ve included a cover letter that I pretty much like… except that it’s too dang long. Way. Way. Way too dang long. In the email this cover letter came with, Kenny referred to himself as “a fresh young actor,” and I’d steer away from clichés like that. In fact, I think that’s one of the major problems in this whole letter: Clichés, way too much walking us through what it is you want us to think of you, telling us which roles you’re right for (twice), and kissing butt on the amazing taste of the CD to whom you sent the original letter. You can lavish praise once, but more than that and it reads insincere. No bonus points for ending on an apology.

Kenny mentioned in his email to me that he had called the casting office to confirm whether the CD received this cover letter. Okay, um, big NO. BIG, BIG NO. Considering the amount of mail we receive on any given project, you have to understand that the “call to confirm receipt” thing is just way poor form. Besides, think about it: If we spent the day looking up submissions and confirming receipt of same to every actor calling to be sure… to be sure, what? That the system WORKS? Yeah, pretty much… well, we’d never actually get any films cast. And do you want a CD to be someone who verifies that your faith in the postal service was well-placed or do you want a CD to cast a movie (preferably with you in it)?

Good Cover Letters

The best cover letters are straightforward. Certainly, if you’re confidently creative and can come off professional while having a bit of fun with it, that’s great too! Heck, I’ve seen wonderful adaptations of script pages (FADE IN: INT. TALENT AGENCY OFFICE, DAY) with dialogue between the agent and assistant about their excitement over a submission from the clever actor who has written this unique cover letter. Readers of Self-Management for Actors may recall that Rasool Jahan showed me one of the best cover letters I’ve ever seen.

Example #1:

Love the brevity. Love the bullet-point list. Love the availability of a demo reel (without enclosing one in an unsolicited mailing). Awesome, awesome, awesome.

Terri J. Freedman, who has worked for an agency (see below), shared two really strong cover letters. The first one is a quick follow-up letter after a first encounter.

Example #2:

And Terri’s second letter is a longer follow-up that gets a little more detailed. Seeing as the second of the two is for a manager, it makes perfect sense that that letter would have a bigger sense of investment to it. Managers have smaller rosters, so the relationship is more intimate than one you’d expect with an agent (in most cases).

Example #3:

I especially like the use of bold keywords (again, see Terri’s notes, below) and Terri’s tip of the hat toward how she is cast. An actor who is ready to self-manage is always a more enticing potential client!

Tips from Readers

Tip #1:

Here’s a story from my “other hat” experience on the producing end. More years ago than I now care to think about, I put out a breakdown for a patient education video I was casting. The breakdown called for “four patients” and then broke it down further as “two male” and “two female.” Well, I got a headshot from one man with a one-sentence cover letter that read, and I quote exactly, “I would like to be considered as male or anything else you consider appropriate.”

Moral of the story: Mail merge is a wonderful feature, and I applaud this actor for keeping track of all his submissions this way. But for crying out loud, read what it spits out before putting it in an envelope with your headshot!

Personally (switching back to the “actor” hat), I almost never use a cover letter when I submit. If I might be right for more than one role and I’m interested in one in particular, I’ll stick a Post-It Note on my headshot with the character name. (When I was casting, these submissions often wound up at the top of the pile, since it mean I didn’t have to write that Post-It Note.) When I do have something cover letter-worthy (the two examples that spring to mind are: “Hey, I actually DO work for NASA.” and “It was great working with you on such-and-such, and I’d love the chance to do so again”), I usually stick a hand-written chit with that one sentence on it in with the submission instead of a full letter. To me, it’s more personal, and if I’m not going to say something personal why write anything at all?

Let’s be honest, casting directors know why you’re submitting (and I always put the project name on the envelope). If an agent gets a headshot in the mail, do they think, “Hmm, I wonder if this actor is available for representation?” No! I figure, cover letters don’t get read anyway so why waste time, obscure my picture, and kill trees needlessly?

— Kyle Keller

Tip #2:

Having worked in a boutique talent agency, I have seen my share of cover letters. The worst was a bad pink photocopy (like from an industrial 1980s copy machine) that had written in Sharpie: “Consider me!” That lack of professionalism got the package sent straight to the trash. I appreciate it when the letter uses the first name of one of the agents (not Mr. ________, To Whom It May Concern, using the last name as the first), bolds important information (makes reading easier), and is five sentences long.

On general submission policies, if you could kindly — for my and other assistants’ sake — please remind actors not to seal or thoroughly tape their envelopes (I’ve never received an empty package), put the cover letter behind the picture so we see the headshot first, and paperclip the letter to their headshot.

Thanks for all that you do, Bonnie!

— Terri J. Freedman

Remember: Be creative, not gimmicky. Have fun, let your personality shine through, and REMEMBER P, P, and P!


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000711.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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