Scam Casting, Agents & ‘Classes’ – Actor Beware

I listened to the voicemail from the NYC ‘castings office,’ with the telemarketer drolly promising thespians triumph in the trade, I got angry. No… that’s too polite. I was livid. Pissed.

Fraud

Paul Russell_HeadshotPaul Russell
PaulRussell.net

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I despise thieves of thespians and the shadow these delinquents cast upon honest professionals.

Despite having been an actor prior to jumping the audition table to directing and casting, it wasn’t until the release of ACTING: Make It Your Business, as well as teaching and writing for various publications—when my visibility went from ‘that guy behind the audition table’ to ‘that Paul Russell behind the audition table’—that I fully realized just how cautious actors are about relatively unknown-to-them casting, representation and/or educational opportunities.

My anonymity, which I greatly enjoy, and career stature had lulled me into a false sense of security that actors were trusting of entertainment professionals. Wrong. Oops. My bad naïveté.

Colleagues of mine—reputable agents, veteran casting directors, established teachers and other long-career-termed entertainment professionals—and I are suspect to a segment of the acting community. Why? Several reasons. First and foremost is because younger and/or newbie actors pay little attention to industry history. (Except possibly that Rent was some sort of songy-thing that came to Broadway after the movie—or was that High School Musical?—both answers incorrect, by-the-by.)

Second reason for reticence is the shysters and cons that sadly exist in our trade. While on this side of the audition table, I was peripherally aware of dubious entities on the Internet and the brick-and-mortar shams: The strip-mall ‘talent and modeling agencies’ or online ‘casting call-boards’ that lure starry-eyed hopefuls with a promise of career advancement for a hefty registration fee… and, “Oh, that’ll be an additional $1,500 for pictures with our photographer” b.s.

Often these backers of the promissory plastic notes of notoriety were less-than-promising professionals. They were sub-cellars far below my foundation. I believed that most actors were above falling for the piranha ploys, able to decipher the genuine from the faux-pros.

I was woefully idealistic.

During one of my classes, students and I were talking about those who exploit the hopes of actors—in particular, one organization that calls itself a ‘casting agency.’ The alleged NYC ‘castings office’ (emphasis on ‘NYC’ and the second ‘s’ in ‘castings’ and you may know who I’m talking about) contacts actors by phone with a sales pitch that, for a fee, they will register you within their files—which they then make available to talent reps. Actors buy this drivel.

Excuse me?!?!?!

Okay, first of all: A legitimate casting office will never, ever ask for money to keep your picture and resume on file. Never.

Secondly, casting directors do not submit talent to agents. Agents submit talent to casting offices. A casting office’s clients are producing entities. Actors are not clients of a casting office. Actors (you) are our resource for solving puzzles. We don’t ask you for money in relation to casting. We don’t get a commission if you book a job. We don’t get kickbacks. For our work in organizing and finding talent, our clients (the producers) pay us a fee. Casting is, as I’ve often said, nothing more than glorified human resources. We’re talent headhunters.

Back to my student and the paranoia-and-piranha problem.

As I listened to the voicemail from the NYC ‘castings office,’ with the telemarketer drolly promising thespians triumph in the trade, I got angry. No… that’s too polite. I was livid. Pissed.

It’s these practitioners of phishing performers for pence and pennies that by merely existing bleed-and-breed distrust among performers towards the true professionals. That actors’ mistrust that blankets us all with ire on both sides of the legitimate audition table.

Sometimes that mistrust is warranted when purportedly professional people cross the line into unprofessional behavior. The most recent example I encountered being when one student of mine began speaking of his agent in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia agent provides her clients with copies of breakdowns from Breakdown Services (which is an act of illegal copyright infringement). She also allegedly provides her clients with agency letterhead and labels. She then suggests to the people she is supposed to be servicing that they take it upon themselves to submit for projects they believe to be appropriate.

I was hoping that maybe my student was wrong, but when he forwarded me an email a few days later that was sent to him by the ‘agent,’ it did contain a breakdown from Breakdown Services along with instructions for the actor on how to submit themselves to Bernard Telsey.

I was enraged. I took a breath. Relaxed. And then I alerted Breakdown Services. That ‘agent’s’ behavior is not, repeat, not professional, legal or typical of what are a legitimate talent agent’s responsibilities.

A legitimate talent agent, franchised by the unions to represent actors within a union’s membership, is the only person authorized to submit an actor via a breakdown released on Breakdown Services on behalf of an agency.

(Self-submission via Actor’s Access is different, if you’re wondering. But if you’ve read my prior posts on breakdowns, you know that Actor’s Access doesn’t include access to the really good breakdowns. Sorry.)

I was annoyed. And yes, angered by practices of questionable or illegal motives of persons and entities that take advantage of artists (or anyone). An actor’s life is difficult enough in trying to survive financially. Exploitation beyond and within our ranks has me wanting any of the practitioner’s balls on a spit. And if the felonious don’t have testicles, I’ll take teeth as substitutes.

So what is an actor to do to differentiate the legit from the illegitimate?

Do your homework. Investigate. And by investigate, I don’t mean rely on Internet message boards where anyone with keyboard courage and a need for anti-depressants can flame-out a rant without accountability.

Ask working professionals who are actively engaged in your field about opportunities that are presented to you. And don’t assume because you or someone you ask hasn’t heard of a particular industry professional or entity that either is not above board. I’m often inquired of by actors who ask me about producing entities or industry people of which I’ve no knowledge. My reply is always, “I don’t know them, but that doesn’t mean anything other than that I’m ignorant to who that is.” No one is omnipresent (except maybe Oprah).

Caution is fine when used with reason and knowledge. Don’t be quick to cast-off an opportunity because you haven’t heard of a name or institution. There are many respected people working diligently behind the scenes that not every actor has heard of. Do you know: Kevin Huvane, Pat McCorkle, Richard Rose, Kim Miscia, John Clinton Eisner, David Kalodner, Sarah Fargo, Larry Hirschorn, Francine Maisler….?  Hopefully you do. If not, Google my friend, Google.

Now back to those frauds… Where’s my barbecue spit?

My Best,
Paul

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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 over two-dozen universities including Yale, Elon, Wright State University and Rutgers. He 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.

Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors

Love the Best-Selling Book for Actors
ACTING: Make It Your Business!

AMIYB_Amazon“Humorous and witty…
Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:

This is your roadmap!”
BERNARD TELSEY, casting director – CSA
(NBC’s Peter Pan – LIVE!, Into The Woods – The Movie, Wicked, Sex & The City)
“All the right questions asked and answered…
and with a generous portion of good humor.”
SUZANNE RYAN, casting director, CSA
(Law & OrderUnforgettable)
“I love this book!
Paul’s book tells you what you don’t want to hear but really need to know
EVERY actor should read this book!”
DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agent
Harden-Curtis & Associates
“Paul’s book made me proud to be a part of this community we call ‘show!'”
KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress
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Bret Adams, Ltd.
“I had my Business of Acting, BFA Seniors, class do book reports on a variety of “business of acting” books and ACTING: Make It Your Business came out a clear winner—considered to be essential for their bookshelves!
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Chapman University

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Summer: Actor Heaven, Hell or Rebirth?

When the Season of Sweltering Stagnation arrives, for any actor, summer can be hell or a rebirth. What’s your destiny? Do you know how to exploit the entertainment industry during the summer months? Answers for Actors has tips and resources.

This Week: Actor Career Summer Strategies & Actor Renewal Resources

Paul Russell
Photo Credit: JackMenashe.com

For those of us north of the equator we’re gleeful that winter has passed and summer’s reborn.

Snow drifts that swallowed four-legged pets have completed their Wicked Witch of the West ‘I’m melting’ turn. The run-off now teases our toes on beaches. Blown away are the Arctic blasts of Donald Trump’s empty bellows for a Presidential run. Accompanying the sun’s lingering warmth sanity has returned. Almost.

If you’re an employed actor this summer performing on stage, on screen or even on the seas you’re probably a beaming busker happily depositing paychecks. All is nearly well and sane.

Not employed this summer as an actor?

Uhmm…

Employed, under-employed or unemployed this summer as an actor but waiting for a wave of auditions to swamp your schedule?

Uhmmmm…. Ahhhh… Oh boy…. How about them Phills?

When the Season of Sweltering Stagnation arrives, for any actor, summer can be hell or a rebirth.

Hell if the actor wallows; continually asking and wondering where are all the auditions? There won’t be many if any at all. Summer is one of the annual audition doldrums on our calendar. Industry folk, if not project engaged, are off to the beach and/or mountains with their i-Whatevers.  From June until late July the U.S. entertainment industry’s focus on new ventures is about as engaged as Sarah Palin is in a library.

So what to do during this seasonal summer slow-down? Regroup. Review. Plan a rebirth for your career goals. Get ready for the industry kick-start to the late summer / early fall casting.

Below are considerations to mull followed near the end by resource recommendations to assist you in your goals for success.

Review Your Actor Marketing –

Can your sales tools excel to a professional quality that would survive the intense scrutiny of Simon Cowell, CAA, Stephen Spielberg, Bernard Telsey, Marci Phillips or Paul Russell? Would we review your envelope, branding, cover letter, headshot and resume then exclaim, “This actor is fantastic! They have their shit together on paper which usually means the actor’s talent is just as impressive.”

Or would we roll our eyes after peering over your blah, Staples, manila envelope which you poorly scrawled our name and address upon? Your ho-hum mailer is a clone of the 98% of the actor mail received, never opened and trashed.

Does your headshot match LA & NY top-agency standards? Is your puss on paper CAA, ICM or WMEndvr quality? Most actor headshots fail to exceed beyond the image stiff, wall-hung, corporate mug-shot of a manager at an IHOP.

Are your resume credits appropriately formatted to the industry standard? Is your resume bloated with superfluous Special Skills? Have you piled in non-skill “assets” like ‘running’, ‘acting’, ‘biking’, ‘passport’ and ‘good with kids and creatures’ resume lint? When actors landfill their Special Skills portion of their resume with basic garbage that nearly any breathing, walking primate can achieve we (principal casting) interpret this as the actor being overly insecure and trying to bolster what the actor believes to be a weak resume. Less is more. Let the resume lint like, ‘drives stick and standard’ patter a dust-bunny life on your Extras / Low-budget features resume.

Would your marketing materials excel – in style and presentation – in a civilian job-seeking market? Is the overall professionalism worthy of the attention of a Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Warren Buffet? If you’re confused or argue that you would never send your actor marketing to Bill Gates; I didn’t suggest such. I propose that your overall presentation; paper quality (textured white linen or cotton), layout, formatting, in-your-own-voice writing style be the sum of perfection. Your actor marketing for employ and representation must equal — if not be better — the pinnacle quality of a civilian’s job-search marketing for seeking employ at a Fortune 500 company.

Some actors become belligerent arguing ‘actor’ marketing does not have to equate in quality standards with the civilian world. Bullshit. The simplest truth to selling is that the sharper the marketing; slick without pretension, crisp and clean with professional lines– the better the buyer will respond to the seller. What’s on paper represents your work ethic, talent and professionalism. ‘Professional’ partly means that your marketing should resemble the sleek, styling efficiency of an Apple Store or the sophisticated simplicity of a Celebrity Cruises Solstice Class ship.

And most importantly; you must ‘speak’ in your own voice on paper. As if you’re writing a cover letter to your best friend. Avoid what you think others demand of your ‘professional voice’. Just be you (sincere, utilizing proper grammar and spelling). No gimmicks. No savvy-actor bullshit. You’re not a clone. You’re an individual.

Actor E-mail Marketing —

Have your past e-mail campaigns faltered? Do you even have an organized, digital address book with casting, representation and producer contacts? Do you know the basics for how to create effective, slick, professional, html e-mails like the ones you receive in your in-box which display fantastically formatted layouts with images, colored background cells, elegant font, hyperlinks without the underlines, etc…? You need not know computer gobbly-gook script to create for yourself an e-mail marketing campaign. A select group of actors are jumping on this effective electronic trend at advertising themselves to creatives who hire and represent. (Many are my Access to Agents students.) And those actors are 4G-ing ahead of chained-to-the-post office thespians.

Actor Headshots –

To ensure that casting personnel, directors, producers and talent reps respond with an, “Oh my God, I love this picture and the look of this actor,” you must have a headshot that pops! To be noticed an actor’s headshot must excel in quality beyond the 150 plus headshots which daily, six days a week, land on my desk and the desks of my behind-the-audition table casting / representation colleagues. Be just a “passable picture” lost among your competition and you’re wasting your money. Sadder is; you’re not leveraging your optimal best during your short-existence upon this spinning ball of dirt.

The headshots below stand-up strong against the typical, trashed headshots. They are industry exceptional and respected. Some headshots below are utilized by actors represented by premier talent agencies.

 

If Your Actor Marketing Matches Excellence –

Great! But do you have strategies and organized marketing campaigns? What kind of campaigns? Are you sending your materials to industry on a regular basis when your targets are at their most receptive?

At the very minimal you, marketing yourself as an actor, should target the following:

  • Offices for Indie Films – target the in-house casting person and/or producer
  • Regional Theatres – target directly to the in-house casting person (often an artistic associate) and seek an audition at that theater. For a guide and assist refer to the Answers for Actors post “Getting Stage Work Before Others (Parts 1 & 2)”
  • Casting directors
  • Theater companies in your city / region
  • Agents & Managers (if unrepresented). During summer talent reps clean house and seek new clients. And when targeting don’t hit everyone in the office at once. Spread out your mailings so that the assistant or intern opening the mail doesn’t trash your bulk mailing (Interns – who mostly get the open-mail assignment — recognize envelopes coming from the same address. And thus when actors send several, individual mailings at once to an office, often only one envelope is opened as the rest are trashed.)

Actors Seeking / Needing (new) Representation –

Summer is the perfect time to grab a talent reps’ attention. With the industry in sweltering hibernation they’re dumping old clients for fresh faces. Go directly to the talent reps at agent seminars.

Actor Renewal Resources —

If you need to correct, adjust, or remake yourself,  your marketing materials and/or goals I recommend the following resources:

Headshot Photography:

All the above headshot examples came from the photographer that ABC Primetime Casting Director, Marci Phillips heralds as:

I see a lot of headshots and by far, Jack Menashe’s photography is the best of the best. Jack is dedicated to presenting actors at their best and he succeeds above all others.

Marci Phillips, casting director, ABC Primetime Television

I too highly recommend Jack Menashe. I trusted Jack with my book-jacket headshot. An industry insider from Independent Artists Agency; he’s offering a steep discount this summer. Details and his portfolio are at http://www.JackMenashe.com.

And if Marci Phillips’ word and mine are not enough; take a look at Jack’s work and the praise he’s received from clients and industry at http://www.JackMenashe.com.

Actor Resource on a Marketing Makeover, How to Find & Keep an Agent, Audition Technique, Acting Career Advice Directly from Agents and Actors of Broadway and Hollywood:

Grab a copy of what’s been hailed as:

The actor’s roadmap… humorous and witty.

Bernard Telsey, casting director / Broadway & Major Motion Pictures

Bernie, along with many actors and industry pros, has recommended the Random House book ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes & Achieve Success as a Working Actor. (Some casting director, director, former actor and Answers for Actors blogger penned it. His name escapes me…)

Resources for putting yourself directly in front of agents:

Actors’ Connection

One-on-One

And yes, the four week program that covers Finding & Keeping an Agent, Actor Marketing, Audition Technique, Interview Skills all of which climaxes with rehearsed, individual, auditions before an agent panel; Access to Agents (led by Paul Russell Casting).

Whatever device(s) you utilize for improvement is your choice. What’s most vital is that you leverage this period of inactivity to be active. Growing a career is tantamount to battle. If you judiciously plan your attack your odds rise for a successful campaign. Charge at your targets without an organized strategy, or be a summer slouch, and you’re bound to perish.

Be smart this summer. Be engaged. Renew.

My Best,
Paul

Related Links:

— Jack Menashe Photography: http://www.JackMenashe.com

— ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Achieve Success and Avoid Mistakes as a Working Actor: http://www.ActingMakeItYourBusiness.com

— Access to Agents: http://paulrussell.net/classes.html

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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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