How Actors Have Better Careers | Answers for Actors

Talent representatives often share with me similar frustrations. They have clients who think that being ‘an actor’ makes them know best – over ‘the-business-of-show people’ — about the business. And the actors who refuse to listen do such for so long that a resistance against growth builds like wax clogging the inner ear canal:

This week: Actors Avoiding Advice

Paul Russell
Photo Credit: JackMenashe.com

Shut up & listen!

That abrasive instructive was the original title to ACTING: Make It Your Business. (Random House / Back Stage Books nixed it because “acting” was absent in the phrase.) But the emotion behind the in-your-face declaration was how I deeply felt – like many of my colleagues on this side of the audition table — when it comes to a percentage of actors,  continually belligerent, who shoot themselves repeatedly in their career’s foot because they refuse to heed cautions or advisories. These career gimped don’t listen and often blame others for fault. Blunders for which they refuse to accept responsibility.

My mantra above in this blog’s banner and at the beginning of ACTING: Make It Your Business which begins with, “Everything I say is right. Everything I say is wrong”, is not a caveat for me to hide behind for when someone disagrees with me. It’s honestly how I feel about nearly all subjective advisories. But there are times when “Take what works for you” is for some; inaction or a just-say-no attitude.

There are those among us, civilians and artists, who refuse to listen to supportive input offered and in doing so stay mired in whatever muck is presently their life. I’ve seen this behavior during my years of directing, casting and teaching. Unfortunately I’m not a lone witness.

Talent representatives often share with me similar frustrations. They have clients who think that being ‘an actor’ makes them know best – over ‘the-business-of-show people’ — about the business.  And the actors who refuse to listen do such for so long that a resistance against growth builds like wax clogging the inner ear canal:

– There was an actress who had signed up for my Access to Agents seminar awhile back whose wax build up neither advice nor swab could dislodge. Her resume was bloated with irrelevant and falsified items including community theater credits listed under the heading of ‘Broadway’. Her Sears Portrait Studio headshot was fodder for the freak-file. On first glance at the actress’ marketing materials I knew that the agents attending the seminar would harshly dissent upon her marketing misfires. I urged the actress to restructure her resume. Get new headshots. She refused. The agents? All of them wrote in their feedback unflattering commentary about the stubborn actress’ picture and resume debacle. When I privately gave the actress the agents’ reaction her response was, “Well, they’re not the right agents for me.” As long as she continues to think she knows best and refuses to listen NO ONE will be right for her.

– An actor at an agency was not happy that he’d not been getting appointments via his champions. So he called for a meeting of the minds. The actor accused the agents of being lax in their duties. They responded by showing him a lengthy list of projects they had submitted him for over the prior three months. When the actor suspiciously queried why he had not received appointments for a number of the projects, the agents explained that casting directors were not open to offering the actor an opportunity. The actor then requested that the agents call the casting directors regarding feedback on his most recent auditions.

The agents complied.

The response? Resoundingly negative.

When the agents relayed the requested casting director feedback to the unhappy actor he blamed his agents citing, “Well, if you had gotten me more appointments I wouldn’t audition so poorly.” (Uh-huh. Department of Delusion ringing on line two.) Several days later the agency dropped the “It’s not my fault” actor. Actors married to fantasy who have as their honeymoon an attitude of denial and dismissal for growth are not welcomed anywhere.

– While attending another casting director’s seminar as a guest, the CD related a story about one of his students who refused to follow instructions. The guidance ignored? That for a panel of agents the actor prepare a screen scene requested by the attending agents. The actress balked and insisted she do a monologue from a theatrical piece. This was not format material the agents required. So the actress, refusing to listen, failed in advancing her career and the agents unflinchingly let the stubborn actress know this upon the conclusion of the unwanted monologue.

You know… it’s not like I and others, who reach out and assist actors to strengthen their foundation for a better career, recline in overstuffed chairs while sipping Café Vanilla Frappuccinos and overtly muse between caffeine slurps, “Well, I know best, you’ll do what I say.” (O.K. there are some of my deluded peers who do that but not all.) For those who refuse to listen did you ever stop to ponder what is our return for offering advice? It’s certainly not money. Not ego. Speaking for myself, my reward is joy for the success of others. (Pollyanna? Yes, I have my moments but don’t you dare tell a soul. I know where you virtually-live. And does your mother know what you’re doing with those fingers on your keypad???)

Information for betterment when utilized is for the sole benefit of the advised not the adviser.

Yes there are many conflicting opinions in this industry. That’s life. But if you keep hearing the same critical observation(s) made repeatedly about your action(s) and/or inaction(s) then wouldn’t you be wise to stop– open the ears and mind? Consider that the challenge(s) you encounter may exist because of how you pursue. Or refuse to accept:

– There was a student who bemoaned to me that she had been coached by too many industry-insiders. (She didn’t seem to realize that she was the one asking and paying for the ‘advice overload’.) Not happy with the sages prior the actress sought me seeking a differing answer which would magically end her prolonged career stagnation. When I inquired what insight the litany of prior, reputable industry advisers had provided her I noticed a trend. Their reactions, as alleged by her, had been that she was obstinate and felt entitled to a career that did not match her skills and product. (Not every waiter can don a tux in service for Le Cirque. Not every actor who grazes at a craft services table deserves an Oscar.)

When I asked why she wasn’t taking the alleged previous advice and moving towards advised options better suited for her skill set she hotly shot back, “No one is giving me answers!” Yes they are, dear. You just refuse to shut up and listen, and act on what is being repeatedly offered. Repeat advisories from variegated voices to a singular situation usually indicates the singular is experiencing a self-induced, set, behavioral pattern– not déjà vu. I politely voiced my observation. Her reaction of course was not puppy dog tails and cinnamon swirls.

For all of us: It is our honest objectivity — devoid of ego and stubborn allegiance to past behavior – that will advance our objectives. Shut up and listen. Someone may be saying something of worth.

Now a side note: A great number of regular readers missed the last post about agents, casting and the less-than-reputable persons masquerading as talent reps. I encounter actors who ask “How come I haven’t seen your blog recently?”

There’s a solution; become a free subscriber and you’ll never miss a post. There are several options in the right hand column. Choose one and be informed to keep your career moving. Shut up & listen. (I just had to go there… I really liked that original title for my first book ACTING: Make It Your Business. Oh, well. Next!)

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 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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Agents, Managers, & Casting v. Shopping Mall Scammers | Answers for Actors

I must be screaming in the wind. Or there are many willful deaf actors bumbling through their bank accounts seeding dead presidents to persons and ‘companies’ that are nothing more than hogs feasting on the hopes of the actor aspirants.

Paul Russell
Photo Credit: JackMenashe.com

I must be screaming and flailing into the wind. Or there are many willfully-deaf and blind actors bumbling through their bank accounts seeding dead presidents to persons and ‘companies’ that are nothing more than hogs feasting on the hopes of the actor aspirants.

Too, too often I receive e-mails from past students who write that they received an invitation for representation but only if that actor takes classes with said ‘agency.’ And often I encounter ‘actors’ who boast they received their representation, ‘acting learnin,’ and headshots all in a one-stop shop via a mall kiosk in Paramus, NJ….

I authored numerous chapters on the subject of agents, managers, and casting in ACTING: Make It Your Business. Not wanting to irk my fingers, grey cells or the readers with redundancy pulled from that Random House title; a brief, new, reminder.

It’s time to scream once more into the gales about this.

What’s ‘this?’

Who is a talent agent? What is a talent manager? What is casting? Who and what are individuals who claim to be agents, managers and/or casting from which you should run your artisan ass away?

Casting:

Casting offices represent producers. Casting does not represent talent. Every day I get e-mails from actors that read similar to: ‘I wants be reppd by you as new talunt.” (Another dose of anesthesia to the Paul Russell table please.)

Legitimate casting offices do not charge actors to audition for projects. Casting offices can and may hold classes which broaden an actor’s skill and/or perspective but those classes are never to be deemed as auditions for casting. (It’s the short-sighted actor that thinks differently and often overlooks the long-term goals gained via a casting office’s classes.)

There is no governing union for casting. So to those actors who think that sending-off a virulent missive to the Casting Society of America (C.S.A.) about how a casting director who only gave you three minutes instead of four for your cow-costumed audition… you’re wasting your time.

Casting directors don’t hire the chosen actors. Casting directors assemble the talent for our clients to cast from. Reason why I often say, “I’m glorified human resources.”

Talent Agents:

For a person to hold the title of ‘agent’ who represents an actor the agent must be:

Franchised by the unions (Screen Actors Guild, Actors’ Equity Association, and AFTRA). Once franchised the agent can then represent both union and non-union talent. If an ‘agent’ is not franchised; they’re not an agent they’re a manager or shopping mall scam. (Go to Auntie Annes for a pretzel. You’ll be much happier.)

In New York, LA and other major U.S. cities agents are required by some of the unions to have a union-approved office (meaning a SAG representative visits and gives the agent’s work space a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’) that has a waiting area for the actors and access to clean toilet facilities. If an ‘agent’ has neither an office nor toilet for the actor, or office space has not been approved by SAG; they are not an agent they’re a manager or shopping mall kiosk scam. (Visit The Piercing Pagoda for a new hole; you’ll feel not as incomplete.)

Franchised agents cannot offer classes directly to their clients as an agreement term for representation. If an ‘agent’ demands such; they’re allegedly a willful modeling ‘agency’ of Philadelphia, a manager, or a shopping mall kiosk scam. (Shuffle to the Apple store and further debt yourself by grabbing the newest I-Phone; you’ll feel superior over your CrackBerry devotees.)

Agents can only collect 10% of your salary on individual projects that are deemed commission-able by the unions. If an ‘agent’ asks you for 20% of your earnings from either performance and/or civilian wages they’re allegedly a Mary Contrary ‘agency’ of Philadelphia, a manager or a shopping mall kiosk scam. (Stroll to Nordstrom; another Jimmie or Madden pairing will keep the two dozen others in your crammed closet from feeling neglected.)

Agents can not require or request of their clients fees for:

  • Office supplies
  • Web-site inclusion
  • Yearly/Monthly membership

Agents can recommend preference of photographers but they can not insist an actor-client have headshots taken by a particular photographer. Nor can an ‘agent’ insist your headshots, which you pay for, be taken by his assistant (who happens to be a headshot photographer… isn’t that just special). Allegedly this questionable practice has been festering for far too many decades at a NY talent rep’s office named for a King.

Talent Managers:

Can do whatever they want and take whatever they will of which you sign-over in your contract with the manager. (This is where your grammar school English teacher test-trick of ‘read-the-entire-test-before-starting-to-discover-that-you-needn’t-take-the-exam-because-the-last-test-question-tells-you-not-to-take-the-test’ comes into adult play.) Read before engaging damn it.

Shopping Mall ‘You Can Be A Star’ Kiosks & Strip Center Trollers:

Pull aside parents who have children trailing and proclaim, “Your little Susie or Johnny is adorable. He/she should be on TV. I have connections to make that happen.” Some of these operators have kiosks. Others just roam the walkways or troll the cement before a Toys R Us and/or Wegmans. Some areas of the country are crawling with these cockroaches: Long Island, New Jersey, SoCal, and Florida. Anywhere there are gulable persons with gratuitous disposable income.

The operators deplete the savings of parents and/or the ‘actors’ with offering headshots no better than a Hicksville High, U.S.A. senior portrait. Also often included as a ‘representation’ requirement are acting classes taken with a teacher who may believe taffeta is appropriate audition wear for the role of a lawyer defending a homicidal ballerina.

Why do some ‘actors’ get taken in by the scammer-employed, bored looking teenage girls or middle-aged women with finger-on-chalk-board accents who flatly shout out to passersby: “You a movie star?! You a model, right?’ Because idiot is as idiot does. The people who fall for the scams are the types that would also go to the Garden State Plaza in Paramus seeking a personal injury lawyer from Johnny Rockets.

I’ve encountered stage parents bilked thousands of dollars for upfront fees for ‘representation’ and/or ‘consultation’ from cockroach shopping mall talent managers. And each time the parent says to me, “I just thought this is how the industry works. You pay $500 to be represented and submitted to casting…”

Why do so many abuses of actors exist? Because industrious interlopers of our trade know that there is a large percentage of ‘artistes’ who believe cash, instead of long term labor, can bring instant rewards. Ain’t gonna happen folks. Just ain’t. And there’s far too much ignorance among the victims who get taken by the scams.

If you believe differently; do me a favor. Stop reading this but not until you visit PayPal and transfer a thousand dollars into my coffers. My repeated advisories here, in ACTING: Make It Your Business and in person don’t seem to be enlightening the delusional. Maybe a significant loss from their savings with nothing provided in return might raise a modicum of awareness as to what and who is legitimate versus the fraudulent.

I would hope this the last of this type of advisory found here at Answers for Actors. We’ve all had enough of ‘actors’ thinking they can find fame via unscrupulous individuals who demand monies in exchange for false promises. Enough. Finis. No mas. Kaputt. ¿Comprende?

(Was that a pulmonary surgeon yesterday offering same-day procedures at his kiosk in the Willowbrook Mall? Hmmmm.)

My best,
Paul

 Get MORE of Casting Director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book for Actors – ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes & Achieve Success as a Working Actor

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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, Elon and Wright State University. 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.

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Savvy & Simple NEW Marketing Tool for The Actor | Answers for Actors

…a simple delivery portal that can lead talent representatives, casting, directors, producers and other entertainment industry professionals to your recorded work, web-site, or online picture and resume.

Paul Russell
Photo Credit: JackMenashe.com

Have you got QR?

Do ya even know what QR is?

If you answered, “Isn’t he that omnipresent prankster from Star Trek – The Next Generation reruns?” pull off your Geordi La Forge visor and hide it in the dresser drawer aside your Mystery Science Theatre 3000 thong.

Over the past couple of years you may have noticed  square, maze-like, looking patterns mixing dots and boxes on adverts and posters. They’re not Rorschach blots to evaluate your fetish for cheese fries gulped in bed. Nor are they miniaturized paintings pulled from Pollock’s lost quadratic-period.

This little thingy to the right is QR code (Quick Response code).

The black-n-white, sneeze-splatter-de-squared isn’t as new as you may believe. These cubes, stylishly rigid to a virgin-mounrer wardrobe pallet, have been around since shortly after Picard and Q left our big-screen analogs in the mid-90s.

Created in 1994 by a Toyota subsidy; QR code was first used as an alternative to bar code (another slave to black and white couture but with a sleeker silhouette) for high-speed tracking of automobile parts inventory.

Japan, South Korea, and the Netherlands were quick to utilize the QR coding for various mundane tasks of tracking. The U.S. postal system, in the mid-aughts of this new century, began utilizing QR code for postage and letter/package tracking.

When marketers, pricked by an intravenous drip-line from Starbucks, discovered that URLs and other data could be squarely scrambled and compacted to resemble Pac Man’s ‘hood, then digitally translated by consumers taking pictures (with the aide of a smart-phone app)  the gigabyte Gods rejoiced. Another venti-expresso-quad-double-latte-nonfat-five-pumps-white-mocha-whipped-cream-macchiato-style-six-pump-caramel dolce-drip for all!!

Actors, wisely following marketers’ lead (minus the caffeine induced cardiac arrest), can easily create and leverage QR to deliver to casting and public their:

  • Web-site
  • Video demo reel
  • Voiceover demo reel
  • Picture and Resume
  • Screen and stage project announcements and invites

And to create your own QR code you needn’t be a basement-dwelling, Dungeons & Dragons geek with a pallor paler than Voldermort.

All an actor has to do is search-engine the phrase ‘create QR code’ or ‘QR code generator’. Or hell… if your fingers are Lindsay Lohan lazy; ‘QR’

Once you discern which QR generator best suits your needs the QR generator web-site chosen will require you to type into a field (text box) the target/destination (web-site address, demo reel location, etc.) you wish, via your QR code, to lead visitors to. Simple as that. The QR code generator will do the mash-n-mangle translation into a black and white cube image for you. And best of all this all comes via an actor’s favorite Funk and Wagnell’s entry; ‘FREE’.

Where to place your QR code in your marketing?

  • Postcards
  • Business cards

Having your own QR codes on your portable, hard-copy marketing, like postcards and business cards is a simple portal that can lead talent representatives, casting, directors, producers and other entertainment industry professionals to your recorded work, web-site, or online picture and resume.

To QR or not to QR on a resume?

Jury is out, still debating internally.

The marketing advocate in me rallies, “Sure. Why not place in the upper right-hand or left-hand corner of your resume an unobtrusive QR code that when captured by a smart-phone displays your reel on the visitor’s device?”

The observer in me cautions; “People don’t like change. At base we’re somewhat resistant to the unfamiliar. And a pristine resume blotched by an ugly little square of dark splatter spoiling the clean, visual esthetic of a properly-industry standard-formatted resume with no explanation as to what that splotch provides might be ignored or dismissed. But… we cannot control the reactions of everyone encountered.

If you have online information and/or media (demo reel, web-site) that expands or includes information not on your resume, do you place QR code in one of of the upper corners? That’s your call.

No matter on what marketing you place a QR code there are some drawbacks…

QR Code Cautions:

  • Not everyone has a smart-phone.

As shocking as that may be to some “I-need-the-newest-Apple-addiction’ actors who forgo funds towards training but incur a debt-load larger than an elephant to accrue technology’s latest toys (I know who you are)… QR codes do nothing when a person (like moi) has a simple, not-so-smart, cell phone.

  • The Techno-phoebes & Ignorant
How To Video: Actor Marketing

As with every new advance in technology there are more lagers in learning than there are advocates utilizing discoveries. A number of your targets will not be knowledgeable about QR codes and how to access the information portal (i.e. downloading an app then taking a picture of your QR code). If you begin using QR code for your marketing to direct a target to a URL (web address), remember to also provide, in text, an explanation as to what the QR code provides (see example to the right).

As to whether or not this will be embraced by older casting personnel and talent reps.? ‘Old dogs, new tricks’ need not be rambled. Before color headshots became the accepted norm there was a welcome lag of 5 – 6 years by entrenched industry. If a stalwart industry person remarks to you “What the hell is that thing on your resume?!” enlighten the horse-drawn carriage curmudgeon. Then add that they ‘need to move beyond Pong and polyester bell-bottoms.’

Six months or two years from now QR codes could be as obsolete as the 70s’ nifty, darling of music delivery; 8-Track tapes. Technology trends like fashion, “One day you’re in. One day you’re out.” (Thank you Ms. Klum…  now wobble off the runway.) And when the next techno-fad is pushed upon us– that technology will be leveraged for a time until the next generation arrives six months later.

QR code. The option is yours. You, as the owner of your business that is acting, can either take control of your marketing or let others advance before you as you lag behind typing out your web-site’s URL. So 1998.

Onward.

My Best,
Paul

P.S. Want more knowledge on: actor marketing; how to find and keep and agent; audition technique; negotiating a contract; interview skills and career advancement? Join the thousands of actors who have read ACTING: Make It Your Business (Random House). A must-read at universities including NYU, Rutgers, Elon, Millikin and many other great schools.

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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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Online Audition Information $ite Bullsh*t

Most pay-to-get-a-chance-to-play audition information websites often recycle audition notices previously released via legitimate audition outlets like…

Paul Russell
Photo Credit: JackMenashe.com

Too many times I’m asked the question:

“Should I pay to join an online audition announcement site?”

No… and yes.

Let’s begin with the ‘No’.

Abundant as cockroaches there are many online sites that promise actors asinine claims that any professional from my side of the table can readily see through.

Claims that unabashedly promise:

“Get audition listings not found anywhere else!”

“Have industry look at you daily!” (We don’t.)

Or the grammatically incorrect heralds like the ones I recently discovered on one such scamming site:

“Get more Casting, auditions resources and Talent Agents
than all other sites combined.”

“Get a call when Casting directors wants you.”

(Did you notice the typos in those last two blandishments? ‘Auditions resources’? ‘Casting directors wants you’??   Hello? Desperate, ghetto grammar check aisle five!)

Most pay-to-get-a-chance-to-play audition information websites often recycle audition notices previously released via legitimate audition outlets like: BackStage.com, Playbill.com and Breakdown Services’ Actors Access.

Who stumbles and falls to fork cash to the phonies? Stage parents, teens and delusional adults.

At present, the only online audition information paid-subscription services I recommend are:

  • BackStage.com
  • Breakdown Services’ Actor’s Access (But actors won’t get the coveted Breakdowns for pilots, episodics, major-studio films, Broadway, and the better regional theaters. Why not? Another blog at another time.)

Legitimate, free, online audition sites I recommend are:

  • Playbill.com
  • Audition listings on performers’ union web sites

In regard to job listings on performers’ union web site, some unions, like AEA, announce audition listings to the public.

Why these specific site recommendations and not something like the grammar challenged Explore*****t.***? Because I know my recommendations are utilized by most casting directors and legitimate producing entities. As for the myriad of other sites, in which actors must pay for recycled audition announcements, casting doesn’t have the time, patience or care to engage.

You may see a casting notice from my office or another popular casting director on some remote, online, pay-for-audition-info site but I can guarantee you that Paul Russell Casting never submitted a notice to an oddity like the fictitious AuditionsЯ_Us.com.  Casting notices are often submitted exclusively to Breakdown Services for agent distribution and then surreptitiously copied and posted to pay-to-play scam sites. Or the pay-to-play sites lift the auditions notices from Playbill.com or Back Stage then ask you to pay for these notices found elsewhere for free or cheaper.

While the prospect of the former — getting illegal Breakdowns via a pay-to-play audition info site — may seem appealing to you remember this; Breakdown Services continually seeks out these websites which steal copy writ material. The sites are shut down. Leaving you, the paying subscriber, at a loss in pocket and culpable to the crime committed.

If you find a free service that recycles audition announcements; fine. But don’t pay for information which can readily be accessed elsewhere either for free or from a reputable, long-time channel of actor information. If you pay for notices such as from Back Stage you’ll do so with the confidence that the information is accurate because the site/publication received the casting notice directly from the people seeking actors. Go to where the industry goes to first and foremost to disseminate information.

Think of casting distributing audition announcements like the following civilian scenario: When you want to broadcast a message to your friends and networks do you utilize the popularity of Facebook or the desert that is MySpace and/or Friendster? If you answered Facebook then you understand what it is to publicize where the majority of your audience exists (which is what casting does). If you answered MySpace or Friendster then you deserve to be taken by the huckster pay-to-play audition information recycling web sites.

An actor doesn’t need to be Johnny Appleseed, spreading seed (i.e. money) to numerous sites for fear that they might just miss that one notice that’ll make them a ‘stahr!’ (Oh, puh-leeze.)

Be smart. Be judicious. And when visiting pay-to-play sites; if there are numerous mistakes in spelling and grammar more than likely there will be a volume of errors in the recycled casting notices.

Avoid pay-to-play recycled-audition-information sites. Be better than YouTooCanBeFamous.com (No, thankfully, that site doesn’t exist… yet.)

– Priority Actors –

What Is A Priority Actor?

Aaaannnd… it’s almost time again. My office is accepting names; for good reason.

Last season nearly sixty actors received meetings and/or call backs with Legit agents. Dozens got signed. More are now freelancing. Many actors I’ve met utilize learned marketing/audition skills to get more auditions and/or jobs. All of this success happened through Access to Agents. And this Fall, I’m going to renew the four week seminars. But…

Priority Actors get first access to the seminar’s limited seating. Then if leftover seats remain they’re opened to all. Historically; remaining seats are taken 72 – 96 hours after being announced.

To be a Priority Actor choose a series below. Then join the free sign-up located on the middle of each page:

Access to Agents TV/Film (September)

Access to Agents Broadway (October)

Read feedback from past successes, students, and from the universities I’ve visited: Thank Yous

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 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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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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Actors & Thieves. Original Artist or Acting-Con?

How original are your auditions? Are you masquerading in the performance of someone else? Or are you bringing your own, fresh and unique perspective to the work? Are you dead-sure, certain you’re unique?

Photo Credit: JackMenashe.com

At a recent round of auditions my producer client in good-nature stopped an actor in the midst of singing “If I Can’t Love Her” from DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

“Why must every actor singing this song in auditions,” he began as he rose from his chair, “take a fucking wide-stance when performing this song?”

He then came from around the back of the table to demonstrate the near testicle splitting breach we had seen throughout our several days of open calls. The producer’s inquiry was spurned because of a previous auditioning actor who had come in, presented the same song, and stood with a similar Grand Canyon straddling-like stance that he oddly compounded with an awkward Elephant Man contortion. This actor had done no different for us a month prior at another open call. There was nothing new to discover. He was a clone of himself. And he was just one of dozens of men re-creating an interpretation of lesser performances of the role presented regionally in stock and schools.

When I was involved with the casting the original companies of BEAST we never encountered this wide-stance contorted phenomena. But once actors witnessed other actors originate/recreate a role- the carbon paper performances came rolling out. Then those duplicates became exaggerated as the role was taken on by creatives in second and third class productions. (That class delineation is not a snide swipe. In entertainment a Broadway production is often classified as ‘first class’ i.e. because it was ‘first’.) Now that I’m generations removed from my work on the original Broadway production of BEAST and presently cast regional stagings of it, I no longer see potential Belles, Gastons, Lumieres, LeFous or Beasts bringing in an artistry of their own that hasn’t been biased by witnessing someone else performing the roles. I now see actors imitating cartoon-ish presentations of inferior product. Nothing original. Just copies.

This phenomenon of cloned performances is not unique to musical theater. Whenever I cast a production of OTHELLO one of my first thoughts is, How many men this time will come in sporting a hooped ear ring? And never fail, in auditions, comes the men-of-color parade flaunting puffy white, open button shirts and dangling from an ear lobe a recent purchase from the Piercing Pagoda. When did Billy Shakes place the dark Moor at a Fire Island White Party?

Why can’t some actors be original? Why do some take it upon themselves not to be actors but imitators?

Insecurity is the first culprit. The actor who ‘presents’ is the actor that does not trust themselves for finding truth and invention within the art that lies within their muse. (O.K. a little heady there but I haven’t had breakfast yet.)

Assumption is the second devious culprit. Actors assume an audience’s demands. Whether that audience includes casting personnel, a director or (cue Norma Desmond) all those wonderful people out there in the dark… texting during a performance. Don’t assume your work must be a clone of someone else’s performance. You’re not being an actor. You’re being a copy clerk at Kinko’s.

I doubt that before recorded media became a persistent prominence in modern life that actors were as lackadaisical for taking the path of least resistance; copying someone else’s originality. Yes, I’m sure there were the insecure, jealous actors who sought out the live performances of Kean, Burbage, Booth and Barrymore then later strutted on a stage an interpretation of what they recalled while fancying themselves resplendent replications. But were they being actors or thieves? If the latter– there is no penalizing sentence for the larceny committed except for the actor’s conscious (if they have one) gnawing constantly that the actor is no actor but a fraud.

Fear is the third and nastiest of provocateurs for actors replicating poorly the performances of others. Fear is that nagging voice in the head that like a serpent softly hisses, “If you don’t show them something they’ve seen before, they won’t like you.” Fuck fear.

I nearly didn’t write ACTING: Make It Your Business because I often maintained to others that what I had to offer had already been published in ad nauseam. My friends would admonish me, rightly so, replying that my voice, insight and guidance on the business had not yet been heard and that in itself was new. And they were right.

So next time you walk into an audition or rehearsal hall what are you going to offer? Your voice or a copy of other actors that have come before you?

There is no art in copying. That’s why copies are called prints and art is termed original. How original are your auditions? Are you masquerading in the performance of someone else? Or are you bringing your own, fresh and unique perspective to the work?

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 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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The Night I Found Arthur Laurents’ Wallet

There was composer Jule Styne pressed against an upper wall. Adolph Green and Betty Comden were emerging from Tyne Daly’s dressing room. Was that Sondheim sheepishly breezing past? Possibly, my eyes were focused above on the other Broadway luminaries…

Tyne Daly had gracefully dipped her final curtsy of the evening. The 1989 revival of Gypsy pushed past one more preview performance at The St. James Theater. My new boyfriend and I had a night off from the drudgery that was a labored production of La Cage Aux Folles at Bucks County Playhouse. Standing in the right rear orchestra of the St. James’ we turned to leave and strode up the outer aisle then shuffled with the crowd along the back of the orchestra’s last row. We came to the next aisle break. I peered down. A wallet lay under the last aisle seat.

I picked up the slender black leather billfold– searched for identification. A driver’s license? None. I pulled at one of the plastic credit cards; American Express. As fellow audience members brushed past me I looked at the name under the card’s brand. I was stunned by the raised, molded moniker pressed into the plastic; Arthur Laurents. I quickly pulled at the other credit cards in the wallet just to make certain I hadn’t imagined my discovery. Upon one piece of plastic after another was the name; Arthur Laurents, Arthur Laurents, Arthur Laurents.

I turned to my boyfriend. With shock I gibbered I’d just found Arthur Laurents’ wallet. He dully replied, “Who’s Arthur Laurents?”

Was I really dating an actor who was currently in an Arthur Laurents’ musical that limped weekly at a weary summer stock in New Hope, PA? And who had just witnessed for two hours a legendary musical co-written and directed by the same man? Yepper. And would this be the same boyfriend who would go on to become a talent agency owner and my partner? For better or worse…  yes. (Oh I should have recognized then what that spoken ignorance of “Who’s Arthur Laurents?” would lead to.)

Trembling I rushed backstage to return the wallet to its owner. The doorman seemed perplexed until I displayed the credit cards bearing Mr. Laurents’ name. I and the boyfriend were escorted into the privileged depths of the St. James. This was my first time ever venturing back stage at a Broadway house. We were told to wait at the bottom of a stairwell that led up to the dressing rooms. What would unknowingly become years later commonplace in my life, milling about the tight back stage passages of Broadway, felt at that moment like a fantasy realized only once. I was witnessing the elite behind-the-scenes world and participants of Broadway.

There was composer Jule Styne pressed against an upper wall. Adolph Green and Betty Comden were emerging from Tyne Daly’s dressing room. Was that Sondheim sheepishly breezing past? Possibly, my eyes were focused above on the other Broadway luminaries in the cramped stairwell. Jonathan Hadary, who played Herbie, ventured out from his dressing room to greet a perky, national, morning talk-show host. Surreal would be my response if at that moment I was informed that in the next decade I as a casting person would be chatting and calming Mr. Hadary as he readied to enter an 890 Broadway audition studio for the first national tour of Angels in America.

The doorman interrupted my reverie. Standing aside him was a short, compact man with a passionate fire in his eyes. He was introduced to me.

“Arthur,” the doorman grumbled, “this is the guy.”

Arthur Laurents asked for my name. He shook my hand repeatedly and expressed great gratitude. He then proposed a question I wasn’t expecting, “What can I do for you?”

“Nothing,” I gushed.

I wasn’t anticipating anything. This brief glimpse into a fanciful world I’d never witnessed before was more than reward enough. And why would I require a reward? I was just rightfully returning one man’s property. We chatted briefly. He again thanked me and instructed that I contact him if I needed anything.

Driving back to the dreariness of the dilapidated Bucks County Playhouse I was giddy. Upon return the boyfriend and I shared our experience with fellow cast mates. When informed about Arthur asking me if there was something he could do for me and I revealed that I replied ‘nothing’, many of the actors became bitter and angered.

“Why didn’t you ask to be in his show? Or for an audition?” came repeated admonishments.

I told the leverage-every-encounter thespians that requesting such didn’t seem proper. The only request I could foolishly think of, in retrospect, was to ask Mr. Laurents if he could arrange a dinner between me and Stephen Sondheim. (I don’t think that would have played very well.)

For the next twenty-four hours cast members castigated me for not seizing this ‘golden opportunity’. Young, confused and peer pressured I acquiesced and announced that I would drive back up to New York the next day and deliver my headshot and resume to the stage door of the St. James. The boyfriend insisted I deliver his P&R as well. I reluctantly accepted his headshot and stashed it under the front seat of my Honda where it would remain for months until the car’s next cleaning. I felt dirty enough delivering my headshot to Arthur Laurents. I didn’t fancy being a headshot mule for others.

When I met the doorman at the St. James he mentioned that Arthur had announced to the cast my name and wallet return during notes. Supposedly Arthur asked of the cast if anyone knew me. The doorman told me that several people responded ‘yes’. (They must have had me confused with some other Paul Russell. I was way under their level at the time.) With hesitance I handed the doorman the manila envelope holding my headshot to be given to Mr. Laurents. I can’t recall but I hope I wrote and included a kind and respectful letter.

For days after I felt like an exploitative dope.

Arthur responded within a week via a gracious note; ‘should the opportunity to audition ever come up…” and so on. Plus he offered return tickets to Gypsy which I happily utilized when Linda Lavin took over the role of Mama Rose.

In the years that followed Arthur and I wrote each other. His correspondence rests in one of my desk drawers alongside letters from two of his colleagues; Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim. When I ventured into casting Arthur unknowingly became a champion of some of my work. I next encountered him when he personally brought Stephen Sondheim to see a play that I cast. They had an interest in musicalizing the hot property. I chatted with both gentlemen. Thanked them for coming. Reminded Arthur I was the guy who found his wallet. To which he cheered, “You’re the guy!” He turned to Sondheim and re-told the story of how we first met. I then profusely apologized for my headshot submission. Arthur was very kind in his return remarks.

We would encounter each other again over the years. One of those times was at the George Street Playhouse. My partner had a client in a new play written and directed by Arthur. (Arthur had seen the actress in one of my prior castings and insisted she be cast in his production without an audition. At first she declined— the tale of her initial short-sightedness is in ACTING: Make It Your Business.) When the partner and I bumped into Arthur at the opening night gala he immediately thanked me again for finding and returning his wallet many years prior. He’d always do that whenever we met.

I’m grateful to Arthur for his kindness. His compassion. His support of the works I played part in as casting director. I never witnessed Arthur’s infamous irascible behavior. If I had I would have told others as I do now; Arthur Laurents had a right to fight. The man, while having a great many successes, was also the same man our government unjustly black-listed as a communist during the McCarthy era. His journey, while often appearing to glide smoothly over pristine pavement, had its share of pot holes. Yet the man always ventured forward. He never relented.

Now that he has passed; I’ll miss bumping into him and hearing, “You’re that guy.” Our community has lost a champion.

My Best,
Paul

FACEBOOK ALERT! Facebook will soon be archiving/deleting all groups created prior to October 2010.

Facebook will automatically eliminate your membership from the old Paul Russell Casting Facebook Group. Once the change occurs you will not be notified about auditions or Answers for Actors.

What you can do:

1. To continue to receive Answers for Actors; subscribe, for free, via one of the feed services to the lower right-hand side of this page. I would suggest subscribing via WordPress directly as Facebook may eliminate the Network Blogs app in the future.

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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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