Help Us Help You

I find myself at the computer screen today really excited to write this column. Not that I don’t always enjoy showing up to the blank Word document, ready to ticky-tack-type a bunch of words for you fine folks, but today, I’m super excited! Because I think I’ve figured out a way to put into words what it is that I’ve been instructing individual actors to do, in really getting this whole targeted marketing thing, in really locking down how to cut through all of the noise out there.

But it comes from a place of frustration, because daily I am asked to do things like help actors (which I don’t mind doing, conditionally) in really insulting and thoughtless ways (which I mind a bunch). I never mind the emailed or cornered-at-the-café requests that begin with, “Here’s the work I’ve done already. Here’s what I know about me and about my goals and about the projects and people I’m targeting from here.” I always mind the ones that just flat-out state (not request), “Help me pick a headshot,” or, “Recommend an agent,” or, “Tell me my type.” And I sometimes mind the more thoughtful but still way too casual ones that prove to me the actor making the request has no clue how much work is actually involved, in getting this targeted marketing thing down.

That’s because when actors are asking me to pick from hundreds of agents which one(s) might be a good fit for them, that’s asking me to do all of the work for them. It’s asking me to arrange a marriage without knowing any of the vitally-important, intimate details that make a match work. When an actor doesn’t even know which currently-casting shows are the right match for his or her primary type, I’m the one being asked to do the work for the (lazy? clueless? both?) actor and I resent that. I resent it not just for the violation of my time and energy that it is, but also on behalf of all of the hard-working, seriously-ass-kicking actors out there who get that a professional career in this creative world is WORK. That there’s research to do. That this is to be taken seriously.

But when I step back from that attitude, I realize it’s Actor Darwinism. And it’s good news for all of you actors out there who get it, who will do the research, and who will only lean on the advice and guidance of those in a position to help you after having done (and communicated) preliminary research to put you in a great place to pounce on the action items we may steer you toward.

So, let’s get to how you can poise yourself to get the most out of our resources, should you reach out for help. Let me take you through the bare minimum amount of homework I require any actor do, before I truly open up the treasure chest of help, of my resources, of my relationships for that actor. This will be a long one, so grab your tea and settle in.

Nailing Down Your Type

I’ve covered this in great detail several times. And those who resist getting specific on their type tend to either fear pigeonholing (no matter how much I stress that your type is a shortcut, not a limitation) or dislike the results they’re getting. Certainly, there are ways to reinvent yourself, if you’re in the latter category. And if you’re in the former, I’ll just encourage you to get cool with typing as your friend, especially if you’re pursuing acting in a major market like Los Angeles.

Basically, if you want to know your type and you’re approaching someone for help, you can best help us help you if you have already gotten pretty close to what your type is. Show up to the email, phone call, or consulting session with a half-dozen or so adjectives and another half-dozen or so characters you could play. (Nurse, teacher, thug, judge, mechanic, cop, father, college kid, etc. And note that not all moms are the same. There’s the hot mom, the warm cookies mom, the strict mom, the soccer mom, the buddy mom, and on and on.)

Don’t be all over the place with your word choices, in an attempt to show your range. Get specific and clustered with the words in your list, and we’ll see that you get who you are and will help steer you in the right direction if you’re just a little bit off the mark.

Developing Your Pitch

This is another topic I’ve covered before, and I think that archived column on Pitch Clinic does a pretty good job of taking you through the process. Why is your pitch important? Because there will be a moment when you’re asked to tell a bit more about yourself, and knowing the words that best “sell” you can relax you when you’re faced with that task. And it doesn’t have to sound salesy.

One of my favorite pitches doesn’t sound like a pitch at all. An actor just riffs about who she is and does so in a way that makes it clear she’s not terribly comfortable talking about herself, but that she is so completely comfortable in her own skin that there’s no doubt you could figure out how to cast her, and you know you’d want to work with her. That’s a gift. A sense of “ease” with it all, with feeling connected to who you are and being able to talk about that is a very powerful thing. Considering most folks struggle with this, mastering it will put you far ahead of others.

How to help us help you with this? Know your type. Know your strengths and weaknesses with regard to talking about yourself. Know your goals, based on your type and your current level of credits and the relationships you already have. Know what you’ve already done to try and get an edge and be ready to talk about what worked and what didn’t. Be ready to hear a publicist tell you you can no longer say you’ve been in town a decade, if she’s prepping you for the red carpet on which you’ll need to say you just got here last year. This is where spin wins. And when you are an expert at being your own spin doctor, you help us help you, immensely.

Targeting Shows

Why target shows? Because TV casting is the most efficient way up. Yes, it’s incredibly difficult to score your first network costar, but because there are dozens of shows casting dozens of actors every episode, and dozens of casting assistants and associates doing workshops all over town to scout for actors, connecting with the folks who populate these shows is the most direct line to immediate work. Yes, of course, there’s commercial casting and indie film casting and studio film casting, as well as web series and pilots and plays and industrials and so much other stuff to target. Yes. But targeting shows is actually an extension of the typing exercise. So, how do you do it?

Start by watching everything. Thank you TiVo. Thank you Hulu. Thank you YouTube. Thank you all manner of sites (legal and less legal) that give us access to promos, trailers, even full episodes of pretty much every show out there. Watch everything. Not just the pilot episode, but another to see what changes have taken place in tone and style, since the back nine got picked up. Don’t think there’s a difference between CSI and CSI: Miami? You’re wrong. There’s a difference. And different types of actors surround the high-profile guest-stars and the series regulars each week.

Using the adjectives you came up with for your type profile, using the language of your pitch, what’s your best-matched set of shows? Are you the quirky-yet-deadpan comedic undergrad on Community? Are you hot-and-dimwitted jailbait on Cougartown? Maybe you’re the typical victim on a procedural show (that’s code for “indie film realistic” on TV). Or you’re simply made for one of the gritty, edgy dramas like Sons of Anarchy. What’s your show type? Come up with a half-dozen of these too.

Now, instead of being overwhelmed at the sheer number of projects casting on any given day in this town (and wondering how you’ll ever get in front of the hundreds of casting directors here), you can focus your energy on those few target shows, and, more specifically, on the casting offices that consistently cast the shows on your target list, season after season. Set up a Google Alert for the personnel in that office. When they’re doing networking events, be there. When they’re speaking at SAG or The Actors’ Network, you go. When they’re nominated for an Artios Award, congratulate them (remember, you’re building relationships here, not just constantly reminding them how dang awesome you are). And when an associate in an office you’re targeting takes hiatus time to cast some below-the-radar indie film, web series, or play, get your ass in that session to get on that person’s radar. We remember you. It’s our job!

And the way you’re helping us here is by getting in front of us on projects you’re truly right for, rather than constantly submitting, no matter what the project, no matter what the tone or type, simply because the role in the breakdown matched your gender. We’ll begin to believe that you are submitting only when right for it, and we’ll see you less like the little boy who cried wolf and more like the savvy business-person you are. Whenever I get a (clearly mass-mailed) submission saying, “I want to be cast in anything you’re working on,” I scratch my head a bit. It’s pretty tough to get to see some of what I’ve cast, unless you’re working really hard to find the low-budget indie films out there, so to insist you know you’re exactly right for the type of stuff I cast is to do something I’ll only believe if I can tell you’ve done your research. I’m not the only casting director who feels this way. Trust me.

Targeting Agents and Managers

Yep, I’ve covered this before too (specifically how actors tend to pursue folks for representation without having done any sort of preliminary research, and then post to their online resource groups that they’re looking for inside info on what the agency or management firm is like, after they’ve set a meeting. Shocking, to go to the effort to even get in front of someone before you know whether you’d be a good fit, but it happens every day). But now I’m going to suggest you work backwards from some great info in that show target list above.

Go to IMDb-Pro. Look up those shows in your target list. Look up just the past season or two (as older data may not line up with the representation that led to those bookings, for those actors) and go through the shows’ episodes’ cast lists to look for the costars (if that’s your level, guest-stars, if that’s your level). Click through to see who reps those actors who are around (or just above) your credits-level, around (or just above) your StarMeter ranking. You’ll start to notice trends. We’re loyal critters, we casting directors. Especially when we’re short on time, we’ll go to our favorite agencies and management firms, in search of best-matched actors to the roles we’re looking to cast. When you begin to see that your top targeted shows consistently book actors (at your credits level) repped by the same few agencies and management firms, it becomes very clear where you should consider submitting, to shortcut the process of getting on the radar for those shows.

Now, one of the things I recommend in rep-hunting is that you look at the existing client roster for a few things: credits level, StarMeter ranking, and type. You want to shoot for companies with whom your credits line up (so you can level up with their help, rather than being signed by someone way above or below your current level), with whom your StarMeter ranking fits (you don’t want to be the nicest house in a crappy neighborhood, nor the crappiest house in a nice neighborhood), and with whom there are no type conflicts (because you don’t want someone to sign you just so you can be shelved internally, to remove competition from their high-booking client of the same type). Especially look for companies whose actor of your type has just aged out of your roles. They’re gonna be looking for someone your age to pick up that slack.

Once you’ve done the math on these potential reps, you’ll have a really well-researched list of folks who get actors in on the shows you’re targeting, who work with actors of (or just above) your credits level and StarMeter ranking, and who could use someone of your type. Excellent! You ask some trusted industry friends to look over your short list to be sure there are no red flags (that’s how you help us help you). Then the submission cover letters you write speak to all of that research you’ve done. You come across as someone who isn’t just a good match for the agency but who clearly knows WHY. And you wouldn’t believe how far above the rest of the pack this sort of targeted submission will make you!

That’s a Bunch of Work

Yup. Suck it up. Or don’t. I can tell you that the actors I’ve worked with to truly get the above (and their materials) in tight, clean, badass working order come back to me to let me know that casting directors they’ve met (after targeting them) in CD workshops and agents they’ve met (after researching them) for consideration of representation consistently comment on how well-researched their goals, how clear their understanding of their type and their potential, and how easy to GET they — as people — are. So, when you’re looking for an edge, there’s a way to get it. But that way is work. Lots of work. Luckily, it’s really fun work, for most folks, once they get past the initial terror of it all.

The reason I ask you — before approaching anyone in the industry for help with any of this stuff — to do pre-work that helps us help you is because there are a lot of you simply begging for us to do it for you. Honestly, most of my friends in this biz and I could work full-time doing nothing but walking nearly-clueless folks through the work I’m asking you to do. And how would that help you, in the long run? You’re in this for decades, right? And you will transition up and up and up, right? Wouldn’t you rather learn NOW the discipline it takes to know your buyers and attract them at any level you may reach at any time, so you can use that muscle as you level up over time? (Hey, it’s okay if your answer is NO. Just don’t expect help when you email me or corner me at the gym, if that’s your answer.)

The Shortcut

For those of you whose eyes glazed over a few hundred words ago, fine. I have a shortcut for you. Whatever research methodology you may use (or not use, meaning, you could just randomly pick names from a hat) in getting us a short list from which to help you select a best headshot photographer, demo reel editor, headshot from a session selection, agent, manager, CD workshops, or shows to target, get the list short. A half-dozen options, tops. Yes, it’s best if you’ve done some research to cultivate that list, but if that’s not your thing, fine. Don’t — please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t — approach someone for help with infinite options. Equip us to help you by saying, “Here’s my short list. What’s your favorite?” We can steer you away from red flags and at least help you avoid scams. If you need to use baby steps, this shortcut is for you. And it’s better than nothing!

Asking if you can “pick our brain” without first doing some vetting is to cause us immediate stress. Because you probably don’t realize the sheer number of people who ask a favor like this, daily, and because you probably don’t realize that the reason our input is at all valuable to you is because we take the task seriously and actually do put thought (and our heart) into it, you are casual in asking for help without structure. Hopefully this week’s column will help you help us help you even more. But, of course, it’s those folks who never even read columns like this who probably need it the most. Hey, if you know those cats, do ’em a favor: Send ’em the link to read this.

Now, I know you’re not the type, because you’re here reading this long-ass article. But you have friends. Do YOU know any slactors? How do you help them help themselves? Let’s talk!


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/001095.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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3 Comments

  1. Diana Shield September 26, 2014 at 7:05 am

    yes, I definitely get it. Actually I have known this little secret to be true. Putting in the work and being consistent with it helps the actor advance. I truly believe applying oneself, with the known information, separates the elite. Doing the homework and getting out there and utilizing the beautiful “ninja” skills one has acquired. Bonnie, you’re awesome and I am very ecstatic to finally meet you.

    Reply
  2. Victoria Prather October 2, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Bonnie, you just nail it: DO THE WORK. Seriously, there are no shortcuts!
    Can’t wait to jam with you and fellow ninjas soon.
    xo ~vp

    Reply
  3. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie October 18, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Thank you, gorgeous ladies. It was so great to spend the day with you both in New York, earlier this month. Clearly, you did the work. You did your homework. And the results are THERE. Here’s to our next jam session! XO

    Reply

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