Actor Breakdowns over Blackmarket Breakdowns (Part 1 of 2)

Actors & black market breakdowns (Part 1 of 2)

Keep Calm and Audition On

There’s a not so secretive practice among unrepresented and represented actors: black market breakdowns.

If you’re not familiar with the term “breakdown” it’s the casting notice that casting offices release to agents through a service called Breakdown Services. Franchised agents and vetted managers pay a subscription rate to receive these casting notices.

Black market breakdowns are unauthorized copies of these breakdowns that are sold (or shared in some form) within the actor/entertainment community. It’s illegal: i.e. copy-write infringement, plus theft of services. Engaging in black market breakdowns is also harmful to professional representation relationships of repped actors who receive black market breakdowns and often contact their agent bemoaning, “I saw on Breakdowns today the following roles that I want to be submitted for…” The harm is two-fold: the behavior displays that the actor does not trust the agent to work diligently on behalf of the actor. Secondly: the agent is aware the actor is receiving black market breakdowns. There are agents who report their clients to Breakdown Services that the actor(s) has access to black market breakdowns. Why? The agent does not wish to risk being implicated of being in compliance with the actor if the actor is found by another means to be engaging in the illegal activity. If the agent if found to be complacent the agent, and/or the entire agency, may loose their legal access to the life blood of casting: breakdowns.

Where you can get black market breakdowns? I don’t know. I do know that the now defunct operation of Redwood Talent, a ‘management’ company, formerly run by actors sold to actors breakdowns. Redwood Talent also charged monthly rates to their clients. The more the client paid the more the actor was submitted in response to breakdowns. Allegedly one of Redwood’s owners (again an actor) would visit backstage the Broadway houses and sell breakdown access to actors in the Broadway shows.

Breakdown Services attempted to stem the tide of the black market breakdown flow between actors by offering, via its web site, a service called Actor’s Access. Actors would receive the same breakdowns that talent agents receive. That was the original intent. A fair and transparent one offered by Breakdown Services. Up until several casting directors complained that they were receiving what they considered unsolicited submissions directly from actors. A compromise was reached between Breakdown Services and the complaining casting directors:

Casting offices now have options on who in the industry receives their breakdowns via Breakdown Services: subscribers of Breakdown Services, Actor’s Access, or both. With each breakdown–if the casting director wants to cast wide their net for talent beyond agencies–the casting office must inform Breakdown Services to release the breakdown to Actors Access. A number of casting offices are either not aware of this option, forget, or choose not to have submission from Actors Access. But Actors Access remains one of the must-have actor assets for casting information.

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned forty-plus 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

How Often Should Actors Send Headshot to Talents Agents & Managers

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“How often should an actor send a submission to an agent when seeking representation?” was the question that came flying at me this week during my master class. I got a cartoonish jaw-drop gape from the questioning actor when I replied, “Every other month for 12 months.”

There’s reasoning for repetition:

While visiting a popular talent agency office I perused multitudes of actor mailings trash bound. At this agency an intern opens and filters which actors get an agent’s glance and which actors’ headshots are to be hauled away in a Hefty bag.

While perusing the landfill bound P&Rs I noticed an actor’s mailing that required a once over by the agents. The actor is a regular on an ABC series. His cover letter stated his want to divorce his present representation. His resume was being tossed. I alerted a thankful agent.

Often at agencies, incoming actor inquiries (e-mail & land mail) are filtered by a young assistant or a collegiate intern. The juvenile gatekeepers are told by agents to only save actors, “who look interesting,” or “have good credits.” Trusting entertainment-industry knowledge and esthetics, of a post-adolescent whose knowledge of “looks interesting” and “good credits” is limited to BuzzFeed is a serious flaw in an agency’s assembly line of procuring new clients. It’s a deficiency actors must be aware of and aggressively overcome.

Your resume may have training, projects, directors or other information a talent representative respects while an early 20-something intern or assistant is woefully ignorant of and foolishly questions, “Oskar Eustis? Never heard of him.”

Contact talent representation more than once; preferably every other month for 12 months. If your submission(s) have been misplaced, or overlooked, you’re giving your marketing materials more opportunities to be seen.

Now you may be thinking; But Paul, agents will think I’m being rude, obsessive, compulsive… They’ll hate me. Guess what… if the agent(s) eyed your materials once and trashed you; they weren’t interested in your offering to begin with. So what are a few more mailings to someone who wasn’t previously interested? But you could change that. Also, how do you know the agent even saw your materials?

Plus another reason I advocate re-sending several times is that if you have new project announcements on your resume or heralded in your cover letter (an actor must always, always have a business-formatted cover letter written in the natural voice they speak to friends and family with) there’s something for the recipient to discover about you. You’re working. Which means you’re a valuable asset that an agent can champion.

The Tipping Point, brilliantly explores a study demonstrating the point at which someone stops saying “No” to an inquiry and relents with a “Yes.” You could hit that tipping point with someone with multiple mailings (just don’t do it every week or month). Don’t believe me? Ask my current literary agent how many times I contacted him before he offered me representation: 3 was the magic number.

So send. But make sure that what you’re sending is professional, clearly defines you, and doesn’t have a lot of prose bullshit or gimmicks. If so, you’ll be always dumped into the trash. Or worse placed into the Freak File.

This industry is as much about talent, and resilience, as it is about, image, image, and image. Never give up on your marketing. And never let your marketing be less than your best performance.

For more info on finding agents and successful mailings read 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 is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working ActorFor more information, please visit


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