So, you’re expecting Bad Headshots, Good Headshots IV this week. We’ll get back to headshots next week. I had to take a detour this week specifically because I just days ago learned about a disturbing “service” for actors. The eQuery Online model is not “new” (it has been used to blast query letters to literary agents, producers, and publishers for at least three years now), but as soon as I realized this “service” was being sold to actors (and doing serious damage to professional relationships in the process), I had to sound a warning. And that’s what this week’s column is.
Before I get too deep into this piece, let me just make it 100% clear that these opinions are MINE. If the eQuery Online folk(s) want to take issue with anything I have included in this column, they need to come to me directly. Don’t bother the Breakdown Services, Showfax, and Actors Access management with your reaction to this piece. I am offended on a personal level by what you are doing to actors’ collective professional image. And if I didn’t have this column as a platform, I’d be posting this exact rant on my own blog. So, in case you’re planning to take aim, be sure the target is painted squarely on my butt.
A little Googling led me to many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many blog entries in literary circles where services such as eQuery Online, ScriptBlaster, BookBlaster, Instant Query Letter, Smart Author, and Agent Wizard are all basically discredited. So why have I singled out eQuery Online? Well, when the heat of the spotlight drove out the roaches in the lit-focused version of this “service,” the geniuses behind eQuery Online decided to access the deep pockets of aspiring actors. Make no mistake; this eQuery Online “service” for actors is just as much of a roach-infested concept as the one targeting aspiring screenwriters and authors. So, today, I am a floodlight, baby.
Here’s how I found out about this eQuery Online “service” for actors.
There’s this actor I know. He’s a good actor. He’s a professional actor with a wonderful resumé and loads of training. He’s a great type. And he’s someone from whom I would never expect such an amateur marketing tactic. I received an email from this actor, as I sometimes do (usually when he’s in a show or appearing on TV). But this email was weird. The email address wasn’t his, but the headshot and resumé attached to the email were his, the description of him as an actor fit. But why was he pitching himself to me as if we were strangers? And what’s with this clunky wording? And attachments? He knows better than to attach files to CD emails. What IS this?
I receive emails every day from actors hoping to get seen. When I’m as busy as I have been so far this pilot season, I usually just delete, delete, delete. But since this email came “from” someone I know, I read it. So, the email was worded as if it came from him. Sort of. But there’s no WAY he would reach out to me like this. We’ve known each other for years! And, as I looked for evidence of a spam scam (wondering if perhaps the actor too had been the victim of some nefarious mailing list-trolling), I noticed this lovely “received by” code far below the text of the email. Now that I knew what to look for, I pulled back a handful of other emails that I had received in the past couple of weeks. Sure enough, this type of “received by” code is on every piece of spam I’ve gotten from this “service.”
Because I know this actor, I contacted him directly. Using his “real” email address, I forwarded him this bizarre email and asked whether it had been sent to me with his consent. Sure enough, he had signed up for (and paid for) the eQuery Online “service” outlined at eQueryOnline.com. This email was what he had paid for. And allegedly “over a thousand” of us got this piece of spam. Wow.
I looked at the site (on which there is no direct contact information or details about the owner — although that info is out there — in case you’re into knowing who is getting your money… also no VeriSign logo, no membership with the Better Business Bureau, no secure server, nada). I guess, if I try hard enough, I can sort of *get* how actors could think this type of thing might give them an edge. I mean, getting your mug in front of “over a thousand industry contacts” might seem like a good plan. But think it through. The sales pitch on the site implies that “display on a static website” (like having a free Actors Access profile, I suppose) is “simply not enough” and that “[e]mailing a headshot and resume directly to industry people” will get an actor ahead of the pack. This is just ludicrous.
This whole concept dehumanizes the process. And in an industry that is based almost entirely on the depth and strength of your relationships, coming off as a “bot” is not going to get you invited in for an audition. I don’t care what the testimonials say. Hollywood is a two-martini lunch town and always will be. No matter how much technology revolutionizes how we do some parts of our jobs here, the human element will never be irrelevant. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the emails generated by this “service” are embarrassingly impersonal (not to mention grammatically incorrect).
The website has a footer on every page dictating that none of the site’s contents be reproduced without permission. Okay, fine. Y’all go read it all for yourself (and if they change the site in reaction to this column or your scrutiny, don’t worry, I saved copies of every page as soon as I became aware that this site existed) and I’ll share verbatim some of the lovely emails that the system spit out and dumped into my inbox, ever since I got “verified” as a casting professional in their database. (Oh, and you would be appalled to learn that one of the alleged methods for getting added to this database seems to include simply answering the phone when an “agent” calls to pitch a client, asking for an email address to send further materials. Within HOURS of engaging in a seemingly benign phone conversation, inboxes begin to burst with attachment-laden spam generated by this “service.” Nice. Now, it’s not like my email address is classified information or something, but this is still all very shady.)
[Please note that all bracketed text is information redacted (by me) to protect the newbies who signed up for this “service” unwittingly.]
Subject: Amanda Peet, Hilary Swank?
Good morning Bonnie. I wondered if you might you want to take a look at an actress who reads on screen as the younger, quirky sister of Amanda Peet and Hilary Swank and who would be happy to come in and audition for you.
Attached here is a low-res headshot and resume which includes Film/TV work on [title of project] with [name of professional wrestler], [name of co-director] & [name of co-director] and also with [name of director] at [name of theatre].
Can an audition with you be set up Bonnie?
Okay, first of all, this reads as if the first paragraph is a pitch by someone else, then closes with signature of the actor herself. And what is UP with that grammar? Ew! Where is my red Sharpie? Worst of all, perhaps, for this actor is the fact that the last director mentioned is a director for whom I have cast a project before!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? What a wonderful opportunity for an actor to reach out and say, “Hey, you’ve cast for so-and-so and I was cast in a project directed by so-and-so, so you already have an idea of my vibe and type just based on your experiences with him. Can’t wait to meet you on his next project!” But any good will that might have come from that bit of intersection is GONE, because I don’t buy anything from spammers. Not micro-stocks, not Viagra, not actors.
Here are a few more — since the website doesn’t provide examples of what you’re paying for, only very vague testimonials by nearly anonymous customers — just for your enjoyment.
Subject: from [actor’s name]
Bonnie, I’ve attached here the photo & resume of a Management-repped, SAG-Eligible actor who you may want to see, and who’s worked with producers [producer’s name, misspelled] and [producer’s name] and on projects for [studio] and [production company].
Can a time that works best for you be scheduled to come in and audition?
Subject: see co-star on [cable channel] show?
Good morning Bonnie. The L.A.-based co-star of the [cable channel] show [show title] is professional, takes direction well, is a team player, and would love to come in and read for you. Is it possible to set up an audition at a convenient time for you and/or take a look at a demo reel?
A headshot and resume are attached here for you. On it you’ll also see a supporting role in the film [film title], training with [acting coach], and nominee status for the [acting award] from the [award organization].
I hope everything’s going well with you Bonnie, and have a great start to your week.
Subject: meeting…[studio], [studio], [studio]?
Bonnie, is it possible you could have in to meet an experienced SAG & AFTRA Los Angeles actor who’s available to being represented by you and who’s had Starring, co-starring, and supporting roles on projects with [studio], [studio, misspelled], [studio], [cable channel], [network], [network], and principal work on daytime with [network]?
A pic & resume are attached here, and a demo reel can also be sent to you if you’d like.
Now, I do like that this last one includes a signoff of best wishes (Who doesn’t like that?) but how am I going to “represent” this actor? Um. I’m not an agent. Yikes! Nice work on that verified industry database, y’all.
So, now that you’ve seen the goods, can you imagine how I felt when I received one of these emails from an actor whose work I’ve known and enjoyed for more years than I’ve been a casting director? I’d love to know how this “service” is being pitched to actors. Are you guys receiving spam from them, asking you to sign up? Is eQuery Online posting at message boards, like a representative did back in 2003 when targeting writers? (One thread — in which the database is mentioned has having been “compiled at great expense” — is titled: “guaranteed way to reach producers, agencies, etc.“) Are there actors out there who are receiving referral fees for having turned other actors on to this “service” or something? What is it that actors expect will happen, when their materials are BLASTED AT casting directors, agents, and managers with as much “care” and “attention to detail” as evidenced in the above examples? Is it just the idea that you’re doing “something” career-related by signing up for this “service” and that’s enough?
Bottom line: You may believe there’s value to a service like this. Fine. Just be sure before you spend a penny that you are totally and completely aware of what the end-product looks like. You could be damaging your reputation otherwise.
Just like in the weight-loss industry, there is no amount of money you can “throw at the goal” and suddenly achieve success. Even those who have drastic surgical procedures still have to modify their lifestyle in order to stay trim. There is no “quick in” for the entertainment industry beyond being born to famous parents. If that ain’t you, get ready to work hard and stay disciplined. And even then, you may still have more weight on you than you’d like. Paying for an embarrassing, bot-like cycle of spam in an industry where we are always welcoming reasons to exclude you from our short lists is basically spending money on your own career’s demise. Yes, there are costs associated with pursuing an acting career. Choose the optional expenses wisely.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000680.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.