Ready, Fire, Aim.

Oh, lordy. This one’s feeling like a rant. I’ve noticed — as pilot season comes to a close and agents are more open to taking meetings with actors to discuss possible representation — that many actors are taking the “ready, fire, aim” approach to the whole process. And you know how much I like research, right? Well, that’d be that whole “aiming” part of the equation. Put it last and you screw yourself pretty royally sometimes.

My inbox at Facebook is filled with notes like, “I just met with so-and-so and he wants to represent me. Have you heard anything about him? Is he a good agent?” *thud* Are you kidding me? Why would you even take a meeting with someone on whom you’d done no preliminary research? Why would you even submit your headshot and resumé to an office you knew nothing about? Do you take your career that casually? Sadly, some of you — a lot of you — do.

Whenever an actor asks me to recommend agents for him, I feel like I’m being asked to do his homework for him. Whenever an actor asks me to make a referral, I feel like I’m being asked to arrange a marriage. Yet every week, there’s a new bunch of email along the lines of, “Help me get an agent,” and I rarely see anyone doing the very basic amount of research before reaching out for help.

Ready, fire, aim.

This is a business, folks. And those who treat it as such will have a much easier time navigating it. In fact, maybe it’s a nice little bit of Actor Darwinism that helps the more successful actors succeed, that there are so many actors out there who just can’t be bothered with doing what it really takes to “go pro.” But I assume if you’re reading this, you’re interested in going pro (or staying pro, or returning pro), and that’s a great start!

So, if producers and directors are your buyers, casting directors are the buyers’ personal shoppers, and agents and managers are the salesmen, that makes you one thing that connects all of us. None of us works without you. Yet most actors don’t put a bit of thought into deciding who would be their best sales rep. It takes research to know your buyers, know their personal shoppers, and know which sales reps are going to have the best access to those personal shoppers (and therefore buyers).

Instead of starting by researching showrunners and filmmakers to come up with a top-ten list of shows and films to target (meaning, you want to be on these buyers’ radar for every single project they produce for the next 50 years) and then determining who these showrunners and filmmakers use for their personal shopping needs (meaning, who those ten people always use for casting) and then tracking which agents and managers consistently get clients booked on projects cast by those “personal shoppers” on behalf of those ultimate buyers, most actors simply buy an agency guide and start blindly mailing headshots and resumés with boring, generic cover letters that start off with, “Hi. My name is so-and-so and I’m looking for representation.”

Really? Do you honestly think that anyone who ever opens a headshot and resumé envelope in any office ever is asking herself, “Hmm… I wonder why this actor has mailed these things to me!” (Point is, you never need to lead off explaining why you’re submitting. We know. There is very little mystery to the mail.)

Hollywood Happy Hour used to be hit with several newer actors introducing themselves and making their very first question, “How do I get an agent?” or, “Which agent would be right for me?” or, “Who knows of any agents looking to sign brand-new actors with no credits?”

Youch.

Yes, I think it’s great that there are email-based communities and message boards and even in-person support groups for actors where folks can ask newbie questions and get some guidance. I’m all for mentoring and helping out and giving back and sharing toys. You betcha!

And part of the reason I get frustrated with actors asking about agents is because so many of them who are asking these questions simply aren’t yet ready to sign with an agent! They’re making a Premature Move and will end up on the road toward Bitter Actor Syndrome because of it.

But I’ve learned I can’t protect actors from themselves. Y’all happen to be strong-willed critters and I love that about you. Still, the “ready, fire, aim” approach to something as important as representation — assuming you’re one of the few actors out there who is legitimately ready for your first LA agent — is tragically sad to watch.

“I don’t care. I want an agent. I don’t have time to waste doing all of that research. I have the money to spare on this mailing. I’m going to just submit to 200 agents and go on all of the meetings.”

Great.

First off, your submissions will absolutely feel like they’ve been mass-produced. The sports agencies will laugh. The VO agencies will laugh. The stunts agencies will laugh. The body parts agencies will laugh. The über-high-level agencies will laugh. And the half-dozen agencies that you might have been a good fit for will disregard your submissions because you’ve paid no attention to detail, you’ve not dropped the name of someone you know in common, you’ve not bothered to address the submissions to a particular person within the office, nada. Oh, and the agencies that will excitedly call or email with an appointment? Those are 99% of the time the spaghetti slingers I’ve warned you about in the past.

Yay you. You just scored a meeting with an agency you couldn’t be bothered with researching ahead of time, so you’re going to take the meeting, feeling buoyed by the fact that you’re about to build your (*gulp*) team.

And then you’re gonna get a sinking feeling in your belly when they tell you they can’t actually sign you right now, but there’s this great role in the breakdowns that went out just yesterday that they could have submitted you on, but oh well… oh, and there’s this great actor just like you who moved up to William Morris (Yes! Directly from their loving care to WMA!) so now they actually need you in their stable, but maybe we should hip-pocket just so there are no “issues” while you decide. Ooh, but you do need new photos. Here’s our guy. You have to shoot with him. Ooh, and you could use better commercial training. Here’s our guy. You have to train with him. Oh, and don’t ever drop by the office or call between the hours of 10am and 6pm. But do email every third Tuesday and make sure you change your contact information on all of the casting websites — and we do require that you are, at your expense, on all of them — to our contact information, removing all of your personal, direct numbers and email addresses. Oh, but don’t decide now. We’ll email tomorrow between noon and 1pm to let you know we’re ready for your decision. If you haven’t heard from us by 1:30pm, you can call here, but only until 2pm, and then we’ll get you started.

Ugh.

So you decide — then — to go on Google and check these people out. That sinking feeling in your belly has become full-on nausea. Page after page of warnings from former clients. “Maybe they’re all just bitter. I’m different! I’m going to be a star! That agent told me so!”

Yeah, buddy. That agent told them so too.

What’s worse than waiting ’til this moment to start the research process about an agency with which you’ve already taken a meeting is doing the research after you’ve already signed! And yes, that happens too. Every now and then on Hollywood Happy Hour, someone will say, “I’ve been with such-and-such agency for three months and haven’t gotten a single audition and they won’t return my calls. What should I do?”

What I always want to say — but don’t — is, “You should go back in time to before you ever submitted your materials to that agency and do research on whether they’re the agency you’d want representing you, if offered that opportunity.”

So, let’s assume you’re reading this column at the perfect time: AIM time. (And your “aim” comes before “fire,” like it should!) Great. Excellent. Let’s get started. Google is your friend, of course. Start there. Check actor message boards and email communities, definitely. Pick up the guides at Samuel French and look through the books filled with agent interviews. Yeah, some of ’em may be out of date, but you’ll still get a sense of that person’s business savvy and ability to do his or her job. And that’s what’s important. And it’s timeless.

Get on IMDb-Pro and start looking up client rosters at the agencies that are on your list. Keep in mind that there could be many clients represented by that agency that don’t yet have IMDb pages, so add a handful to the numbers you’re seeing, especially if most of the clients that agency does have are at the low-end of the StarMeter spectrum. Is there a good agent-to-client ratio or does this agency rep too many people to possibly be effective, rather than playing a numbers game? Click through to see what those clients are booking lately. Click through to see how many are of your age and type. Click through to get to know which casting offices are consistently calling in and booking actors from that particular agency’s roster. If your targeted buyers’ personal shoppers are crazy about this sales rep, then that’s a good fit for you, agent-wise. Get it?

And if you’re really smart, you’ll actually start this process from the showrunners and filmmakers you want to target. The buyers! Click through to see who reps the actors that consistently book their projects. That helps you make your agency hit list! Via your casting director hit list! Via profiling your ultimate buyers. Get it?

Next, set up a Google Alert for the top few showrunners, filmmakers, casting directors, agents, and managers you want to work with over the next five or six decades. Every time one of us is interviewed, speaking somewhere that you can attend, or profiled in the trades, you should be aware of it. If the WGA Foundation is sponsoring a talk with five showrunners and one of them is on your target list, you should pony up the $25 for non-members and be in that audience to soak up as much information about that buyers’ likes and dislikes as possible. If the SAG Foundation is holding a Casting Access Project event with one of your targeted casting directors, you’d better get on that wait list to attend. Your top-targeted agent is at a networking breakfast? So should you be.

And once you get very clear on the chain of commerce between buyer, personal shopper, and sales rep, it becomes very easy to know which agents you’d jump at the chance to meet with and which ones you needn’t be bothered with, no matter how good they make it look in that high-pressure moment in the office. Anyone can make it look good in the office. They’re salespeople. Watch for add-ons like undercoating.

If you’ve gone “ready, aim, FIRE,” you aren’t even sitting in an office that you wouldn’t love to call home! But when you go “ready, fire, aim,” you come home and hop on the Internet and type out questions like, “Is so-and-so legit or a scam?” while holding a three-year contract in your sweaty hand.

It’s not just agents and managers with which this happens, though. Actors will sign up for CD workshops weeks in advance, excited they’re going to get in front of so-and-so from such-and-such office and THEN they’ll research to see that there’s not a dang thing that office ever casts that would be a right fit for their type, age, look, etc. What a waste! I got an email yesterday from an actor who has paid a hefty sum to do an industry showcase at a venue not at all known for attracting industry at any level and, in his email, he asked, “Have you heard of this showcase? What do you think?” and of course, what I think is that it’s about a month too late for that kid to be asking those questions! I see folks pissed they’ve wasted time on a “bad audit” at a particular diva-tastic acting coach’s studio… and then I simply Google that coach’s name and, well, what do you know? Many stories of the exact ‘tude and lack of respect for actors, during previously attended audits.

Ready, fire, aim.

Jeebus. It seems so silly to even have to suggest that actors do a better job of researching the folks with whom they’re gonna do business before it’s too late. Sadly, I worry that many readers will be sent to this very page by way of archive link, months or years after this column originally ran. It’s just human nature, I guess (not my human nature. If anything, I over-research before jumping into business with anyone), to let enthusiasm lead and common sense follow.

Guess that’s why they say common sense ain’t all that common after all, huh?


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/001007.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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2 Comments

  1. Leah July 17, 2013 at 12:08 am

    Thanks bonnie! I already knew some of these things, but I also grew a wrinkle in my brain for learning even more stuff. πŸ™‚

    Reply
  2. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie July 17, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    I *love* that, Leah!!! So glad you found this useful. Keep rockin’ that research!

    Reply

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