Paranoia, Phonies & “Phrauds”

This week: Actor Apprehension, Apocryphal Agents & Con “Casting”

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 my book, 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” bullshit.

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 a legitimate talent agent’s responsibilities are.

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 them. There are many respected people working diligently behind the scenes that not everyone 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

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.

Bookmark and Share

E-mail This Post to a Friend or Two…

Get One-On-One:

Get New Insights:

Get The Feed:

Classes with Paul Russell Paul's book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

Answers For Actors Feed

Visit Paul @ PaulRussell.net and/or:

Paul Russell on Facebook Paul on Twitter Paul on MySpace

Actors Effectively Using Social Media

This week: Modern Actor Marketing via a Modem

I found a wonderful status on Facebook recently:

“Christopher Stadulis TODAY – Auditioning for a role on Law & Order: SVU & auditioning with CD Jamie Schulman (Jen Euston Casting) & CD Jessica Kelly (Chrystie Street Casting) THURSDAY – auditioning with Agent Holly Vegter (Hartig-Hilepo Agency)”

One day later it was followed by an updated status:

“Christopher Stadulis got a callback for L&O:SVU! Just finished auditioning with CD Jonathan Strauss who loved my work. He wants me to go back today @ 4:15 to audition with the Director of this episode of L&O:SVU. Then I will be meeting & auditioning with CD’s Jessica Kelly (Chrystie Street Casting) & Jamie Schulman (Jen Euston Casting).”

Finally! An actor, among the thousands who have friended me as a “networking receptacle” using their Facebook status for something other than telling me:

  • My cat is in heat and so am I.
  • I hate life and people. You should too!
  • I just took this quiz to find out that my personality for religious sects is: Amish.

People (i.e. bitter career-barren-actors) have written nasty notes to me that I utilize Facebook as a marketing tool for my book ACTING: Make It Your Business and for my classes. My reply? “Why, yes. Yes, I do. I’m also marketing my career as both a director and casting director and dispensing casting and career information at no cost to actors. Got a problem with that?”

And here’s something I don’t openly share (until now); I’m not thrilled with having to be a self-described “marketing whore” but when it comes to survival we all have to have a bit of the selling slut in each of us. Online social networks have become a modern medium for everyone to sell their wares with the least amount of cost for the most return.

As I replied to a mean-spirited missive from one actor (I’ve never met) who friended me to market himself:

“Facebook is a marketing tool for all. Know that our office daily receives inquiries and requests from actors to attend their shows (often at a cost to us), seek representation (of which we do not do since we are not an agency), provide employment (of which we’re happy to offer access if the actor is avail., willing and correct for a project).”

What I really wanted to reply was, “You friended me. Stop bitching and market yourself.”

In my classes I often instruct my students to watch what I do on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and excel past me. Some do. Others remain timid. It’s timidity that keeps one from advancing.

Joining a Facebook or MySpace group that is administered by a casting office, producer, director, theater or an actor collective is not actively marketing oneself. It’s passive and lazy. Friending same and expecting the person you networked to suddenly look upon you as brilliant for your talent just because you’re on their friend list will garner the similar response; electronic crickets.

Like Christopher Stadulis, put in your status something of use. Provide career advancing information to the person(s) you’re networking. Let the people from whom you want notice know that others are noticing you for your talents and/or achievements.

I recently had a student who exploited Facebook well with the release of his film The Graduates. For weeks he would put in his status, links to trailers for the film plus announce screenings and praise for his performance. A few of his friends may have tired of the promotion but what kind of friends were they if they didn’t support and encourage his achievement?

If you’ve joined an online social network you should be seeking out directors, writers, producers, agents and casting directors. And not just the household/industry name names… go for the up-and-comers. They’re the ones who need you as much you need them. Find industry people who have friends in common with you. Strangers are more apt to electronically accept a virtual friend if they see there are a number of mutual friends between themselves and the person inviting the online friendship. They’ll ignore the ignore button for fear that they may offend someone whom they may have met but can’t recall. It’s that fear, doubt and potential for embarrassment that is the Achilles heel to a stranger’s friend list.

If you’re not comfortable with networking online. That’s O.K. You’re leaving open vacancies to be filled. Thousands of other people are taking your place and their fearlessness to network is putting them ahead of you in this journey that is life.

I’ll be the first to admit that I hate promoting myself. Always have and probably forever will. But I’ve learned to deal with my squeamishness of selling out of necessity (medical bills, rent, food, etc). If I didn’t get a reality check I wouldn’t have worked on Broadway, wouldn’t have done films for 20th Century Fox, gone would be my directing credits, and never would my book have been published by Random House. I also would not have been able to share my insights here with you. My fear would have left my life empty. And it did for awhile at the beginning of my career to which I have great regret. What I missed can never be recovered. For I’ll never know what opportunities I let pass me by for my being passive.

The choice is yours. Use effectively the social network tools provided. Or ignore them and they’ll ignore you.

My best,
Paul

AMIYB_AmazonRead advice from legendary talent agents,
plus Hollywood & Broadway actors in Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

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.

 

Bookmark and Share

 

E-mail This Post to a Friend or Two…

Get One-On-One:

Get New Insights:

Get The Feed:

Classes with Paul Russell Paul's book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

Answers For Actors Feed

Visit Paul @ PaulRussell.net and/or:

Paul Russell on Facebook Paul on Twitter Paul on MySpace
%d bloggers like this: