Covering the Cover Letter

In a recent column, I very casually mentioned the cover letter. “Hey, wait a second! Don’t be so casual about that, Bon. We have questions!” I heard you. I heard from a lot of you on this topic. So, here it is: The Official Bonnie Gillespie Guide To Writing That Dang Cover Letter!

First Rule of the Cover Letter: Keep it brief. Agents and managers know submissions are arriving from actors who want representation. Casting directors know submissions are arriving from actors who want either a shot a role in a project the CD is casting right now or to be placed in a CD’s files for a future project. There’s not a lot of mystery to the mail, in this town. We don’t open submissions thinking, “Why is this guy sending me his headshot? I’m so confused!” So, your cover letter needn’t go into major detail, to explain its purpose or your reasons for sending it.

Second Rule of the Cover Letter: Include P, P, and P. That’s personality, professionalism, and proofreading. Your personality should come through in your written word. Depending on what type of person you are, your letter will be either light and casual or very serious in tone. It should be conversational and should give the recipient a sense of your vibe. Still, the letter should be professional. Remember that, although the entertainment industry is unlike any other business, it is still a business and you are writing a letter in pursuit of an interview that will lead to representation or an acting job. Before you close that envelope and drop it in the mail, make sure you have proofread the letter. Carefully. You might even want to double-check those rules you are absolutely positive you know, just to be sure. [Check The 100 Most Frequent Spelling Mistakes, any number of the Grammar Quizzes at Quizilla.com, and play The Punctuation Game, if you’d like to test yourself. You may be surprised!]

Third Rule of the Cover Letter: Do your homework. There is nothing so amusing as receiving a cover letter that praises me for my amazing work casting the series Girlfriends. Seeing as I’ve never worked on that show, you can see why that might confuse me a bit. But I have received cover letters that go into great detail commending me for my work on projects I’ve never even heard of. I appreciate that actors have done extensive homework, but note that their lack of attention to detail has caused them to simply exchange two names on a list of credits, perhaps. Of course, the main purpose of doing research before a mailing is to cut down on wasted materials (by eliminating out-of-date addresses, narrowing the list of agents and managers to ones who are looking to expand their talent roster to include more of your type, narrowing the list of CDs to ones who are actively working on projects that regularly use your type, etc.). Doing a targeted mailing will always net you better results than a mass mailing. That’s the “toss the spaghetti against the wall and one strand will stick” philosophy of headshot mailings. Headshots are pricier than noodles, though.

Fourth Rule of the Cover Letter: Include contact information. I know that seems very simple, but you’d be surprised how many people go to the trouble to put together a mailing with a wonderful headshot, fantastic resumé, and stellar cover letter, only to neglect to include contact information of any kind. At the very least, a service number, pager, or cell phone should be listed both on your resumé and in your cover letter. If you have a website, include a URL in your cover letter and on your resumé, as that allows you to keep your contact information updated online, as you change theatrical representation or add a manager to your team.

Fifth Rule of the Cover Letter: Let us in on your status. A cover letter is a great place to mention that you’re in a show we can see for the next few weeks (include a number to call for comps), appearing on TV on a certain episode of a show (mention the channel on which it will air, as well as the date and time), or in a great class that has inspired you to reach new levels of confidence with your craft. If you’ve signed with a new agent since your last encounter with a CD, you should mention this fact in your cover letter too. If you’ve just made the leap from supporting roles to a starring role in a new indie film, mention that shift. If you’re submitting to an agent or manager, use the cover letter to explain a bit about what steps you’re taking to elevate your career to the level at which they will want to be a part of your team. Whoever you’re targeting, know that we all like to hear what it is that you have going on. What are you excited about? If you write about it with enthusiasm, chances are we’ll be excited for you too!

Finally, let me address two very common questions about cover letters.

Do I even need a cover letter? Not always. If you are self-submitting on a breakdown for a specific character in a specific project, a Post-It note with the character name on your headshot and a notation on the envelope of the project title is certainly sufficient. In fact, some actors write the character name right on their headshots! That’s fine too. Whatever works for you is going to be fine, in that situation. If you are writing to introduce yourself for the first time, you may choose to err on the side of formality and include a cover letter, rather than simply tossing a headshot in an envelope with no note, no, “Hello,” no nothing. Some CDs, agents, and managers see that sort of thing as disrespectful and may not be as interested in bringing you in on anything. But, of course, you can’t go around trying to analyze what every person out there prefers before doing your mailing. You have to come up with what works best for you and then make adjustments when you do happen to hear what a particular CD, agent, or manager likes or dislikes.

What about gimmicks, gifts, silly stunts? Do they work? Work at accomplishing what, exactly? Some people will respond to the unique letterhead choice or an odd-shaped or brightly colored envelope. Others — whose assistants or interns may open everything and discard such items that make a mailing unique — may never even see the trouble that you’ve gone to and then the point is moot. Basically, everyone on the receiving end of your mailings is going to have seen it all by now. As I mentioned in Self-Management for Actors, you’ll hear the story about the casting director who received a roll of toilet paper with an actor’s credits written all through it. You’ll hear the story of the actor who sent a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself to a casting director. Actors get drawn in by these wild ideas and decide to try them and they forget the punchline: Stunts don’t work! I’ve heard so many stories about crazy things actors have tried to be “different.” It’s just amazing! And most casting directors pretty much feel the same way one exec described to me in an interview: “Sure, we remember these people… as freaks.” Special paper, custom letterhead, or some slightly unique kind of presentation can be fun, but remember that professionalism is key. Go that way, and you can’t go wrong!


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/000103.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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