Phew! Last week’s column on The CD Workshop Issue generated a lot (A LOT) of email and phone calls. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Thank you! I’ve been asked whether I could provide a PDF version of the column, with all of the links and information intact. I have done so, and that PDF is here. (Last week’s column was also featured in the free Actors Access Newsletter, but without the links embedded.) Again, thanks for all of the feedback! Here’s just a smidge of the notes I’ve received.

Hello,

I just wanted to say thank you for your piece on CD workshops. The simple matter is actors are paying to work and that’s illegal. I have debated my own membership to a well-reputed workshop-style facility here in NY: You audition to become a part of the facility (paying nothing) but then after obtaining membership you’re paying at least $35 a visit to meet with CD/agents from all over with these “extensive credits.” In one month I spent over $200, and I did that twice while working as a temp! And want I really wanted, obviously outside of representation or work, was feedback! I wanted someone to tell me that if they weren’t going to hire me, how I could get better! I can count on the three halves of one finger how often that has occurred. And I’ve had to ask myself, “Why am I doing this? I know I’m talented. I know I should be working regularly. Why am I perpetuating an industry that is more deleterious for actors than advancing?” And in the spirit of full disclosure, who knows my stance had I actually gotten work out of one of these workshops. We will never know.

In the meantime I’ve decided to start my own one-man! It’s not to showcase to agents and CDs and if it never gets bigger than ten people I will still be happy. Because what I want more than anything is just to act. And for people to love me for it. =) And that’s all. Thank you so much.

David Stewart Hudson

Congrats, David, on starting up your one-man show. Your motivation seems genuine and that’s the best foundation. May it turn into a wonderful industry showcase for you as well! Definitely, I’ve said if I had booked either of the roles on which I went to producers via CD workshops, back in my acting days, I’d have become the poster child for CD workshops. And that certainly supports the premise that folks do CD workshops because they do, sometimes — for some people at the right time — work. But because what we’re looking to do is build relationships, we must acknowledge that there are many ways to do that, and start embracing those that feel best to us, along the way!

Second email.

Bonnie,

Awesome article on casting director workshops! I think I read it at 9am this morning and am realizing now that it’s 12:15 and I’ve spent the last three hours clicking and reading link after link of your posts! Wow.

I have been in LA for about a decade (that’s the last time I’m going to admit that), and pursued my acting career like most actors: I spent about three years attempting to get an agent, got one, and kicked back to wait for an onslaught of auditions. After a mere one or two auditions that entire year, I blamed that agent, got another one, and kicked back again. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I realized how this industry is just like any other: Longevity and success come from hard work and a lot of great, targeted marketing. Duh.

I should admit that I joined The Actors’ Network when I first got to town and should have been able to sort this out on my own at the time, but I just felt so overwhelmed. It was simply easier to listen to fellow actors suggesting workshops or quick and easy ways “in.”

Thank you for taking the time to sift through and sort out what targeted hard work can be productive and what simply does not work, (i.e. sitting down and figuring out my “personal pitch” vs. asking a CD or agent: “What do you think my type is?or, “Can I pick your brain?“) Ugh.

I’m very excited to read and learn more!

Have a great day!
Gina Manegio

Awesome, Gina. Sure, it would’ve been great if you could’ve gotten to town, plugged in with a wonderful resource like The Actors’ Network, and immediately begun separating the good advice from the bad, selecting more powerful ways to build your foundation in Los Angeles. But you’re right; it can be overwhelming! And workshops seem universally recommended because they’re easy. It’s throwing money at a problem (access) and hoping you’re ready and also just happening to get in front of the right buyers at the right time both in your career and in their casting cycle.

At the core of success in this business, as you so rightly pointed out, is that longevity, that targeted marketing, that relationship building that is hard work… and that takes time. Good for you, getting it going now rather than throwing good money after bad. Now, when you do do workshops again, it’ll be a better fit and you’ll be more likely to have good results. Awareness is a good thing!

Third email.

Hi Bonnie,

My name is David Tran and I attended your SAG Foundation cold reading workshop. I just wanted to write you to thank you again for hosting such a wonderful workshop. I learned a great deal about contracts and StarMeters, among other things, from you (my StarMeter is up 2% BTW, LOL). Often I get anxiety at these workshops and even though I know most casting directors are in the room rooting for the actor, somehow my mind translates that as pressure not to let the casting director down and boom, enter the nerves. But at your workshop, the nerves disappeared and my focus shifted on the work and it just became about having fun with the scene. You had this genuine, easygoing nature that really made the room feel super comfortable for me to perform in and I really appreciate everything you said about how actors don’t miss their opportunity by not booking a role, that the audition itself is their opportunity. I never saw it that way, but it’s a valid point and gave me a new perspective about auditioning in the future.

As far as what I’ve been up to since, I shot a funny commercial promo for the MTV Movie Awards spoofing The Hangover that just started airing last week on MTV. Other than that, I’m just trying to utilize my resources as much as possible and attending as many SAG Foundation events as possible, but with gas being so expensive and me living in Orange County, jobless, I can’t afford to attend them all. But I’ll be working as a senior counselor at a kid’s acting camp this summer so I’ll be able to have some money to take some improv classes which I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Also, you had mentioned casting directors who host workshops for actors where 100% the proceeds go to charity. Is there website for that?

Anywho, I feel like I’m talking way too much now, I’m sure you’ve got a ton of business to get to. Thank you so much for your time and I look forward to working with you in the future. Good luck with casting your new feature! Have a great week!

Best,
David Tran

Thanks, David. The SAG Foundation CAP workshops are some of my favorites. I really do love that program and wish more actors took advantage of their access by being a part of them. Good for you, making the drive up from Orange County and doing good work at the workshop. I appreciate your feedback so much.

As for the charity workshops, check out the Industry for Charity series from the Life Through Art Foundation. I’ve worked with this group for several years now, speaking to larger groups, doing CD workshops like the kind we’re all used to, and even donating a night with a top agent during which we did a talkback and no-holds-barred Q&A with as many actors as wanted to fill the room. This was a freebie for anyone who had previously paid to attend a charity event. Sadly, only a dozen showed up. So shortsighted.

I’m hopeful there will be more charity-based opportunities like these but until the business model we’re used to with CD workshops starts to evolve thanks to AB 1319 — improving not only the quality of workshops but also the access actors who are truly ready can get through the most legitimate venues — it may take a while to see these workshops pop up. Stay plugged in, whether it’s with a group like The Actors’ Network or a free online resource like Hollywood Happy Hour so that you can stay aware of how this world is evolving and what new access opportunities may exist for you. Set up Google Alerts on the people you’re most excited to meet (after doing research, of course) and you’ll start seeing some opportunities soon. I feel confident about that.

Congrats on your MTV spoof. What fun!

Fourth email.

Hi Bonnie,

I want to thank you for the direct and honest information that you provide actors who are new to LA. I consider your book, Self-Management for Actors, my second bible. I’ve been here nearly a year and only a couple of months ago I took part in my first CD workshop to see what they were all about. While it was with a legitimate CD who had some major TV credits, I wasn’t all that impressed with what I received for my money. I plan to try to make in-roads in this business by more traditional means, as I don’t agree with paying for access for something that basically amounts to playing the lottery.

I do have a problem paying for a service that should be free, because actors who have an agent and are SAG don’t have to pay to be seen by CDs, unless they chose to do so. With an overabundance of actors and a small supply of work, I suppose it’s easy for those running the workshops, as well as the CDs, to justify the existence of these pay-for-play deals. I almost equate it to so-called reality TV. Instead of the networks investing in quality, scripted programming that would require trained, talented actors to play roles, which in turn would require fair wages for their work, too many have opted to produce garbage with ordinary people who would do anything for the opportunity to be on TV for little or no pay. If actors stopped paying for the workshops then they would go away, in the same way that if American viewers stopped watching crappy, voyeuristic, so-called reality TV, that, too, could be replaced by higher quality fare.

If I was SAG, I would certainly take advantage of any free workshops for members, but I’m not yet a member, so what’s an actor who is struggling to get some credits to do? I self-submit, have tried drop-offs, mailings, networking, trying to partner with other actors making webisodes, but so far I’ve had few auditions, I’ve yet to book anything and I’m still seeking commercial representation. I will make it because I’m tenacious and will persevere. I just wanted to share a different perspective and what my experience has been.

Thank you,
Jennie M.

I’ve gotten quite a bit of email about the lack of SAG Foundation-like opportunities for nonunion actors. I have a few thoughts, not all of which will be popular, I’m sure. One, there are options like the aforementioned Industry for Charity series. That’s not a high-volume opportunity like the workshops that are up and running as big businesses, nightly, but it is an opportunity that does exist. There is also the opportunity to get seen by industry when you take classes with certain coaches whose weeks-long class series end with an “invited guests” night. That costs you no extra fee above what you’re spending to be in the class anyway, which certainly has its benefits that far outweigh the “getting seen” aspect that comes at the end of the series.

There are industry showcases, although fewer now than before. Some independently produced showcases have gone online, which is very strange to me, as the overwhelming majority of the expense in producing a showcase is related to the physical performance (rental of the space, hiring the crew, insuring the venue, printing programs, catering, booze, parking, security, printing and postage to mail the invitations, etc.) and these online showcases are charging a huge fee for hosting a taped scene at a server and blasting out a link to industry email addresses. *shudder* This, I fear, is the next major ripe-for-scam territory in the pay-to-play arena. Still, there are some traditional industry showcases being produced independently and by the networks. They’re tough to get into and it’s a lot of work for something that may have lower industry turnout than you’d hope to see, but you know for certain that those in attendance are actually looking to scout talent, as they’re not being paid to be there. So, consider quality over quantity, when you shop around for a showcase opportunity, if that’s your thing.

Of course, there are the other relationship-building endeavors I discussed last week: networking functions, drop-offs, panel discussions, self-producing, film festivals, online social networking, and more we’ll see cropping up over time, I’m sure. But I know you’re asking specifically about doing CD workshops, for free, while not yet being a member of the unions. I’m just not sure actors who are not yet in the unions need to be so totally focused on getting access to CDs who work on top shows or major studio films. It’s possible that there are still a few hoops to jump through, a few tiers to level onto, demo footage to amass, relationships to build, SAG eligibility to obtain… all before getting in front of “the right buyers.” Now, before everyone yells at me about how many “not ready” actors or career extras are getting in front of folks via the SAG Foundation Casting Access Program, please know that I know that too, which is why I place such an emphasis on research before doing workshops (and why some CDs will only do SAG CAP events with actors who have a certain level of credits, to create a baseline for the actors who will be in the room).

I know that SAG membership doesn’t automatically equal talent, or readiness to see CDs, any more than lack of SAG membership is an indication of lack of talent or lack of readiness to see CDs at a certain level. I know. But because SAG does have separate but connected groups like SAG Foundation helping create opportunities for its members, there are certain places folks will get access simply due to their union status. What can nonunion actors do? Maybe begin producing a series of CD workshops — do ’em right; get bonded and follow the CSA guidelines as well as the law — exclusively for top-tier nonunion talent. Find CDs who are at the top of their game but who do need nonunion actors more than union (or who love to Taft-Hartley people). Make the experience so positive and the talent so excellent that you build a reputation as being the place for this sort of access. I guarantee you’ll never run out of customers, if you do it right. The most popular topic in the follow-up emails, Tweets, and calls I received about last week’s column was how to create SAG Foundation-like opportunities for nonunion actors.

Fifth email.

Bonnie —

Hey! I learned and agreed a lot about your column on workshops. It really is about access.

But Bonnie, you missed the salient point that even you (casting recently a film with a decent budget) were over the moon when you got to cast a “name actor” through your casting endeavors. It is completely frustrating to work in theatre/class/attend functions and then have the CDs call some actor with a larger resumé because the agent/manager has access to you. Workshops help the smaller resumé actor be remembered and have that access chance!

My skill set is solid and I have confidence in my talent, but because you and I have not met and I am not a “name,” I won’t even get the shot to read for you. I am not saying for that particular role, since the famous dude probably was on your mind already, but just the fact that the workshops let us be seen help the actor hopefully stick in your mind. It escapes me how if we met at a party and I charm the pants off of you that that would somehow qualify me to be in your picture. The workshop atmosphere is more about learning how the CD works/how I can sharpen my skills and how we can meet further as professionals. At least that is how I have used them.

I appreciate your taking the time to care about our craft. Still love your book — it helps a lot — especially now in June/July.

Be well!
David Ghilardi

David, thank you for the email. I think you may be missing a few very important points: A role to which we attach a “name” level actor is a role on which we would never be casting an up-and-coming actor, no matter how “on our mind” that actor was due to access he or she bought at a workshop (or due to access that came from a relationship that started in any way, really). The name-level roles are — especially on low-budget projects like the ones I cast — the ones that get us the financing that allow the films to exist, thereby opening up dozens of roles for the “non names” out there. So, it’s not relevant that we are aware of an actor who doesn’t bring “name value” to a project, when it comes to the roles that we have been told — by producers and investors — are our “name roles.” That’s generally not negotiable. We need the name actor attachment to get fully funded, so there’s a film for you to be a part of, in some other role.

Not sure why you concluded that because I don’t know your work and because you’re not yet a “name” actor that I won’t bring you in for an audition. Where do you come up with that assertion? When we’re at the audition-level roles, I consistently bring in a chunk of actors whose work I don’t know. It’s part of my job to become aware of folks not previously on my radar! I’ve talked before about why CDs tend to limit that chunk of their day (some bring in very few actors whose work they don’t know, as they’re so over being burned by those who look nothing like their headshots, who lie about their credits, or who otherwise have no business being seen on that particular project — which is a huge risk when we’re seeing folks we don’t know or with whom we have no relationship already building). You seem to think that the only way to build that relationship is via a workshop. Nope. I can also get to know your work via a link to your reel you’ve sent in an email. I can see you in a play. I can watch your self-produced work. I can see you in a showcase. We can start building a relationship when you ask a great question when I do my regular visit to The Actors’ Network. You can attend a panel discussion at which I talk and make sure you’re a part of the Q&A in a well-researched and smart way. You can attend a networking event that I’m going to attend and be sure we get some face time. The “non CD workshop” opportunities are out there. I just don’t want you to feel limited.

That you don’t understand how building a relationship — even via a networking event where I’m not experiencing your work but instead getting to know you as a person — gets you a better shot at getting into the room when I’m opening up slots for folks whose work I don’t know baffles me. We’re looking to narrow the risk that we’re bringing in someone for one of those few “actors whose work we don’t know” slots who isn’t right for the role. Therefore, having had face time with us, having charmed us, having shown us you’re a good person who is at least worth checking out when what looks like the right role comes up is all good. That you think the only way CDs could possibly know you’re right for a role and deserve to be seen when the audition slots are being doled out is by having seen your work first makes me think you’ve oversimplified our job somewhat. It’s as if you’re saying the only way you could know someone is worth dating is by having slept with that person first. There is so much more to it. So, so, so much more. Focusing on the “showing us your acting” only is to ignore that this is a relationship business. And relationships start in many ways.

Sixth email.

Hey Bonnie,

Ever since arriving in LA after leaving New York 2.5 years ago, I had a huge problem with CD workshops. I never heard of them in NY but when I got here, all the actors I met were telling me that’s what I had to do. I went to two and thought it was such a waste of time and money. I looked around at all the wide-eyed actors who looked so desperate and excited for the chance to meet this person and I felt so sorry for them. I was even more disappointed when I got the chance to get up and cold read with a girl who I swear woke up yesterday and was like, “I’m going to be an actress.” Her lack of training and experience angered me for her and for me. I felt what was the point of all my training when people like this girl can just pay to get in front of these casting directors? This in turn made me question the casting director. Also — a side note — both were at least 20 minutes late which showed to me they didn’t respect our time so how much do they respect us?

Anyway, I digress. I just wanted to tell you I think your article on The CD Workshop Issue was very informative and inspiring. Inspiring in the way that it affirms my efforts on the business side and producing my own work as opposed to just paying for endless workshops.

I actually met you at ActorFest last year and you critiqued my resumé, so thanks for that too. Keep up the good work!

Cheers,
Chelsea Switzer

Ah, ActorFest! Yet another place out there where relationships are born. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the reminder. In fact, I sat at that SAG iActor table and critiqued resumés for 90 minutes that November 2008 afternoon, after having sat at the CastingAbout table with Breakdowns for 90 minutes doing mini-consultations. Yet more ways to build relationships! Just getting out there. Yes.

Chelsea, I think the lack of quality control is one of the major changes we’ll see in the workshop culture, as a result of AB 1319. When not only the best actors are getting seen but the casting directors doing the seeing are the best ones out there, CD workshops are going to be something really wonderful and not so exploited as they can currently be (and have been over the years). That people love to suggest workshops as a “must do” for folks new to LA is a part of the problem. They’re not a “must do” for everyone. Not even for a small segment of everyone. But it’s something that people who do them want to see others doing, because it validates their choice to do ’em too.

I’d love to see more self-producing, higher attendance at events designed to demystify the process and connect folks for the long haul, quality control. I’m very excited to believe we’re at the beginning of a revolution, here. One after which actors will realize their power in this industry. No one makes a dime in this business without you fine folks. There should be no desperation simply because there are more actors than there are roles. I’m excited to see the skewed power structure get re-tilted. This is a good time to be an actor!

Seventh email.

Bonnie:

I just finished reading your long and wonderfully comprehensive article on The CD Workshop Issue. I speak as a represented 50+ SAG actor with many guest star credits who has, with great misgivings, sometimes dipped into the workshop well to try to move my career forward in these times when many of us “non-name” actors feel stuck.

Sometimes the workshops are good, sometimes, a waste of time and money.

But my biggest problem with workshops, as an older, experienced actor is the gnawing feeling that, just by plunking down my cash and walking into the room, I am placing myself in that most loathed of categories, the “needy” or “desperate” actor. I think it’s one thing for a young actor or actress — especially if they are new to town, don’t perhaps have an agent, and don’t know anyone — to do them as a means of networking.

But the saddest thing to me are older actors without much talent, squandering their time and money in a deluded exercise. Doing workshops is indeed a personal decision for every actor, but only after we take a long look in the mirror to make sure we don’t give up our dignity as artists in the process.

I can’t help thinking this new law is anything but a step in the right direction.

Thanks for devoting so much time and thoughtfulness to the debate.

Paul Norwood

Paul, thank you. It goes back to that whole, “I feel I need to be doing something, and a CD workshop is something easy I can do, so I’ll go do it,” vibe. It is something folks do even when they aren’t ready or are desperate or haven’t researched the buyers or don’t even know their own type well enough to know which CDs to see if they did bother to research the people before plunking down their bucks. Maybe it’s like gym membership in that sense: “I pay for a monthly membership, so even if I never go, I’m more fit just because I’m spending money.” Nope. We’ve gotta do the work. All of us!

Eighth email.

Hey Bonnie –

After reading your column this week — which was fantastic, by the by — I went over to the SAG Foundation to sign up for some CAP events. Found out you have to be CAP eligible to do so. You have to fill out an orientation packet that they only make available for a two-week period, four times a year. And one of those four times just started. Registration is open until June 14. I’ve signed up to receive it and am really looking forward to attending events in the future. Was going to send you a tweet about it so you could share with your followers, but the explanation (clearly) got a little long.

Thanks for the great advice!

Meagan Gordon

Meagan, awesome! What great scoop! Thank you. I’ve actually been a guest speaker at the SAG Foundation CAP Orientation events a few times. They are so much fun, go by really quickly, and just ensure that those SAG members who are going to sign up for CAP events are ready for what they’re about to experience. Fantastic! I hope all of our SAG members out there go through this orientation so they can start taking advantage of one of the benefits SAG Foundation provides.

Ninth email.

Bonnie,

Thanks for taking your holiday weekend and delving into the [blank] known as CD workshops. To me, what it boils down to is ethics.

Sure, an associate can (is able to) pretend not to take money for an interview or introduction and walk through the evening leaving with a thicker wallet and a cynical, jaded, attitude about what makes this town function. I’m sure many have in the past and will continue to do so regardless of governing rules or the legalities. As you said in one example, $20 million worth. However, just as from the CD’s side of the table in an audition, a guest CD at a workshop evening shows their attitude and experience in their answers and their viewpoints. Quality and professionalism shines well beyond the flash of glibness and are attributes that no one teaches but can’t be overlooked, either by the fresh-faced newbie from the sticks or the A-list actor, producer, director interviewing a gaggle of CDs for their next project.

The cream rises and the rest sink into mediocrity. Each chooses their own career path.

Thanks again,
Mark Burnham


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/001194.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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