The casting paper trail is almost obsolete. Gone are the days when a messenger would drop off paper headshots and resumes at a casting office via a crosstown bicycle or van ride. Most casting is now online. Agents can e-mail links for casting directors to see their clients' websites, Vimeo and YouTube videos, and copies of their headshots and resumes.
But for those actors who are just starting out, don’t have agents, and don’t know any industry professionals, it still is essential to introduce yourself by submitting a headshot and resume. With any submission, you should also write a short cover letter. Here are five tips to writing the most effective cover letter.
1. Target your audience. Mass mailings are not as effective as a targeted list of 12-25 potential agents who might be looking for your type. Generally, most agents are not looking for actors at the beginning stages of their careers. So, do your homework. Look them up in Call Sheet or Google them! Then figure out who might be a match. Some offices specialize in representing actors who are athletes, speak another language, have model experience, are over 50, etc. Be sure to find out which department—commercial or theatrical—your prospective agent works in. You'll get more responses if they know you did your research.
2. Make sure your stationary is smaller than 8 ½ x 11. Note size is better than a full-page letter. Why? It doesn't fit to your 8x10 photo and the overlap can become wrinkled or shredded in the mail. Quick Hint: Program the settings in your software so the page is in Landscape format. Make two columns and cut/paste what you say in the first column and put it in the 2nd column. Then cut the paper in half. You now have two duplicate notes that are 5 ½ by 8 ½. Add a small thumbnail photo and your contact info. The size is just large enough to attach with a paper clip. Well done!
3. Keep it short. Get to the point and don't waste a sentence on the obvious. Don't start your letter with "I am an actor and my name is ______ and I'm looking for representation...." Duh! Cut to the chase. They know you’re an actor. Who else would send them a photo and resume? Don't go into exquisite detail about your childhood on the farm in Iowa, your favorite show tunes, and how many character roles you played in junior high. Instead, talk about your type and brand (girl-next-door, quirky neighbor, suburban Mom, beer-drinking dude, Home Depot husband, spy, ivy league college guy). This will tell the agent that you are savvy and know how you will be cast. Also, make sure you share what major roles you played, respected theatre companies you worked with, and established actors you've acted alongside. This is your "hook." If they decide to call you in, it's because they have something to sell when they chat about you with a casting director. "My new client worked with blah-blah who just directed a Broadway show." "My new young client has two network spots she booked in the Midwest so we know she'll do great here. Please see her!" Make sure to address where you are going in the business, not just where you’ve been. What is your "niche"—a Broadway musical, a film, a primetime series, or commercials? If you believe in yourself, they'll believe in you. Express your enthusiasm, your passion, and your clear focus about what you will achieve. They will help you make it happen!
4. Use personality in your writing. "I'm submitting my professional material for your consideration"—No! Try not to sound like you work in the corporate world. Be yourself. Use the language you would when speaking to someone you just met. It's OK to use your own personal expressions—that's who you are! Sign off with a sincere line being you! For example, "From a striking brunette with an infectious laugh, Hope to meet you soon!" or "Can't wait to have a meeting and chat about my fabulous successful future with my fabulous new potential agent—you!" or "You guys are so cool. Can't wait to meet up!" Use your own style. It pays off.
5. Don't threaten to call the agent in a week to follow up. Most agents are busy trying to get work for their current clients and don’t appreciate the interruption of phone calls from actors they don’t know yet. There are exceptions but usually if they’re interested, they will call you. The follow-up phone call doesn't apply to acting. Stop. Don't go there! Instead, follow up with a postcard reminding them that you sent your resume and photo a month before or that now you are in a show or now you booked something. If you tell them something that says, "I'm successful, I’m booking work!" they will respond.
As the founder and executive director of The Actors's Market, Gwyn Gilliss provides free monthly info seminars, agent/casting director interview tele-seminars, weekly marketing tips, as well as many coaching programs to help actors break into both the NY and L.A. industries. Gwyn has tremendous success with her private career coaching clients. More than 90 percent get agent representation launching their careers with performances in feature films, Broadway productions, and Emmy-award-winning primetime TV series, such as "The Good Wife," "White Collar," "Grey's Anatomy," "NCIS," "House," "Law & Order," "30 Rock," "Criminal Minds."
Email her to request a free 15-minute career session: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Are you trying to convince someone to hire you? Of course you are! You’re an actor! You have essentially entered into a tacit contract to continue begging people to hire you on a daily-to-bi-weekly basis for the remainder of your existence.
As per this agreement, you will have to get creative about the methods used to promote your employability. A favorite ritual demand of the acting gods is the cover letter. Sacrificed on the altar of talent agents and artistic directors alike, the cover letter is a baffling creature whose mysteries actors have struggled to illuminate for ages. In interest of supporting all pilgrims on this glorious quest, here are some quick tips to help you get started.
1. Make it Look Pretty. Spend some quality time with Microsoft Word, or your chosen composition program. Get back to basics and model your visual structure after a traditional business letter. Play with design. Maybe find a way to make it look distinctive without allowing it to venture into the territory of a preteen girl’s scrapbook page. It is DANGEROUSLY EASY to acquire that vibe. Less is more.
2. Research Your Target. Figure how you should address the letter. If you are submitting to a boutique agency, for example, snoop around online, or plug into the grapevine and see if you can figure out exactly who will be reading your submission. Make sure you call everyone by their appropriate titles.
3. Follow Directions. Most agencies will post submission guidelines on their websites. Make sure you follow those instructions exactly. Anything less will make you look lazy or amateurish.
4. Include the Appropriate Information. Even if it is on your attached résumé, make sure you have all your contact information, including the URL to your website, on your cover letter, probably beneath your typed name at the bottom (but be sure to sign it, too). Make sure your updated résumé and reel (if you have one) are included. Mention a couple of your accomplishments in your letter, but don’t boast.
5. Have an Interesting Greeting. Don’t start with “Hello, my name is . . . ” But alternately, don’t try to be too cute. Shoot for that sweet middle ground where your greeting shows personality, yet isn’t trying too hard. It’s like you’re trying to date them. You want to show them how fun you are without being needy.
6. Brevity is King. No one really wants to read your cover letter. At larger agencies it may not get read at all. So increase your chances by hitting all the pertinent information and then getting out of Dodge. We want it quick, clean and informative.
7. Watch Your Tone. Ideally, you want to sound confidently professional, yet warm and approachable. Make it sound like you, but on your best behavior. Save a little for the honeymoon.
8. Offer Them Opportunities. If you are in an upcoming production, offer to comp them, even if you have to buy the tickets out-of-pocket. The more of your work they see, the better your chances.
9. Don’t Apologize. There are people who have way more experience, and cooler websites, and fuller reels than you do. Just show them the best you have. Don’t apologize for where you are in your career.
10. Spell Check.Grammar Check. All the Checks. DO NOT rely on your computer programs to do this for you. Read it over with your own eyeballs. Even better, read it out loud to make sure everything sounds right. Then have at least one other person check it for you. You do not want to lose a gig over a typo. That would be silly.
Writing cover letters gets easier with practice. You will develop your own style and tone, and find a formula that works for you. Save all your work so you can track your progression. Have experienced actor and writer friends help you out. And good luck. Keep talking until someone listens.
This entry was posted in Career Advice, How To Guide and tagged Acting, actor, actors, actress, actresses, Agents, career, cover letter, cover letters, demo reel, managers. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com