Dedicated Answers for Actors followers know that on occasion I’ll quietly play professional match-maker between actor and agent. Sometimes things go swimmingly. Sometimes… well, the pairing should — like the possibility of Will Ferrell frolicking as Lear — never be attempted.
Recently I noticed, via an online social network, the early career of an actress. I had never seen her work but I was peripherally aware that she was making advances on her own without the assist of a talent rep. “Heather” had worked in the civilian world for most her adult life. She hadn’t any formal, accredited arts training. She was learning the tribulations of our trade via acting books and studio classes with industry professionals. In short; Heather was coming to acting late in life with few skills but strong on ambition married with physical attractiveness. Hollywood is ripe with these Paris’, Brittanys’ and Peaches’.
I reached out to “Foundation Talent”. At first Foundation was resistant to my recommendation of their meeting Heather. But after several weeks of my lobbying the agents relented. Both parties met.
The meetings — as I was told from both actress and her potential champions — went well. Great! Heather was offered to sign with her first agency ever. Not an easy feat for an actress of her industry-viewed maturity and neophyte background. Celebration and congratulations among all were made.
Then came the confidence party-crasher un-masked to reveal unsightly insecurity.
Just hours beyond the final meeting and shortly after business hours of the agency Heather left a lengthy voice-mail for her new representation. The recorded message, as I was told by one of the agents, was allegedly probing and rambling. Shortly thereafter that same evening Heather followed up her voice-mail with an e-mail. A copy to each agent she met with. Her intent was to reinforce her phone message; the one that the agents would discover upon returning to work the next day.
Below is Heather’s e-mail:
It was great meeting you both! I left you a voicemail at the office stating I’d love to sign and work together. I know you said the office concentrates on film, TV & theatre equally but because of time and money, I would not be able to commit to theatre projects at this time. If you are fine with this, I’d love to come on board Foundation Talent!!
I look forward to hearing from you guys tomorrow. If you get this tonight, you can call me.”
The yet to be officially-signed actress was showing signs of insecurity and neediness. Worse she displayed several unrealistic expectations; the most obvious being an after-hours return call. Even a signed client rarely receives such courtesy from their agents unless it’s of vital importance; an offer of work, an audition for the next morning, or a medical emergency. Heather — while thinking her questions not out of line — was coming off as obsessive, needy and unmindful of boundaries. Agents, at any agency, are very wary of this behavior.
Her phone message and near simultaneous e-mail were not reinforcing the positive impressions the agents had of Heather from the meetings. As I’ve said many, many times; this industry is all about “image, image and image.” Heather was tarnishing hers.
She further besmirched her meeting-polish by sending yet another e-mail that same night. The second missive (immediately following the first and the voice-mail made an hour prior) typed to only one of the agents but addressed to both.
“Hi Don & Toby,
Again, it was a real pleasure meeting you today. I have a few more questions.
-Do you focus equally on film, TV and theatre? More film & TV than theatre, or visa-versa?
-How long of a contract were you thinking of?
-How much commission goes to Foundation Talent?”
Waiter? Check please!!
I should never have sat at this table and invited all to join me in what was unraveling to be a poisonous affair.
Heather’s questions may seem innocuous to actors new to the business but the inquiries revealed that she had not been listening during her meeting with Foundation. Also, Heather, an avid reader of business of acting books, had access to this basic information regarding agents. Obviously she wasn’t doing her homework. Franchised agents are only permitted by the unions to receive 10% commission on commissionable projects. Contracts between an actor and an agency are either for one or three years. No less. No longer. Union rules.
Not only was the second e-mail further displaying insecurities but it also raised concerns as to how trusting Heather was. Would Heather be a client constantly contacting the office about breakdowns she either heard about or got through other sources? Would she be able to let go of auditions and not ask for feedback on each? (Casting directors do not give feedback for every actor. If we did we’d have no time to be in auditions from which we could garner feedback.)
Now these points may seem like assumptions to you but the agents having been on this side of the table for decades with clients of varying caliber and notoriety have seen — by many inappropriate behaving actors — the same red flags Heather’s behavior signaled to indicate that this was not going to be a smooth journey together as equal partners. And so an e-mail from one of the agents went out to Heather in response:
Thank you for your email. Toby and I have spoken at length regarding this. We both feel strongly that perhaps we are not the fit for you. We completely understand your reasons for sticking to film and television solely at this point, however, we truly believe that at this point in your career, it is not wise to push aside any possibility, be it in any one of the three mediums. Rather than push you towards theatre after knowing your needs, we would urge you rather to seek elsewhere and keep us posted on your future endeavors.
It was truly a pleasure meeting with you, and we wish you great luck in your future endeavors.”
A polite “thanks but no thanks” but all this font exchange was not the best form of communication. On both sides there should have been conversations that took place live on the phone or in person. But the email volleys continued. Beginning again by Heather:
I hope you are well. I just wanted to express my concern in greater detail so that you and Toby don’t get confused or discouraged by what I stated in my previous email to Toby.
I am not one to push aside any possibility, especially at the level I’m at in my career. My only concern is, and correct me if I’m wrong, that I understand there is not much money in theatre and requires a lot of time rehearsing and then performances. I do understand if I book a nice role in a big film and I am required to be on set for let’s say 3 weeks in LA, yes, there is time commitment there too but I would be making more money, which would allow me to commit the time to that project…”
Overall communication just wasn’t working here. Too much passive-aggressive keyboarding on one side (Heather’s) and not enough live conversation from the other (Foundation’s). And yet the font continued to fly back and forth. Foundation’s response:
My email to you was in response to the emails which makes me nervous enough to forgo a relationship.
So sorry Heather but we are going to have to pass.”
And the volley back from Heather:
“Thanks everyone. I’m not sweating it. It’s simply another chapter in my life as an actor. An experience that continues to shape who I am. One day I will be one of those incredible stories on the E Channel where certain industry professionals regretted not working with Heather Stumpp. I look forward to the day I share my successes with an agent who truly believes in me.”
Is that a bridge I smell burning?
After all this back-n-forth Heather finally made a communication in person. She arrived unannounced at the office of Foundation Talent to ask that the head-shot and resume she presented at the first meeting be returned.
Instead of wasting my and your time with a lengthy explanation as to just how inappropriate this action was let me put it simply with a five word question.
Are you fucking kidding me?!?!
I continue to be amazed how some people prematurely put nails into their own coffins. Also, how many times do you as an actor go back to an audition for which you weren’t hired and demand return of your picture and resume? Or in the civilian world after a job interview — which bears no profitable outcome — do you ask for your application or resume to be returned? (If you answered ‘sometimes’ to ‘always’; you need a happy-pill prescription accompanied by several slaps of reality. Fast.)
Moral of all this?
- The best form of effective communication is live, one-on-one.
- When meeting with an agent; listen.
- After the meeting; respect boundaries. The agents will respect yours, please return in kind.
- If and when you have an agent and if that agent has been doing their job successfully for longer than you’ve had pubic hair; trust that they are doing the best for everyone’s mutual interests. Remember this simple truth: You don’t make money, they don’t make money. It’s that obvious.
As of this writing Heather has yet to get that E Channel expose. But she has auditioned and met with a plethora of agents yet remains unrepresented in either LA or NYC. There’s a cause for patterns. It’s called repetitive behavior.
HEADS UP!: Because actors have gotten agents (and more importantly) work; Access to Agents is back! Two versions are avail to you: Stage & Screen or Musical Theatre. You and I will work together on your audition and marketing skills, plus interview technique and then I’ll introduce you to a panel of agents for film, TV and Broadway who’ll give you feedback on your audition and potential as a client. Full details @ Access to Agents.
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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