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I was a theatrical agent for 18+ years at two reputable agencies in New York City. During that time I represented hundreds of actors working to develop and maintain their careers which I enjoyed very much.  An opportunity came my way to try something completely different and I became the Editor in Chief of a quarterly magazine which I also enjoyed very much.  However I really missed working with actors and being a part of showbiz so I have returned.

In the year and a half I was away some developments took place which fundamentally changed an agent’s way of accomplishing the same tasks as before.  I discuss some of those here.

1) We are in the electronic age! Where before I would call (as in phone) auditions out to actors I now phone, text and sometimes even email when the first two options don’t garner a quick response. That’s 3 steps in place of one!  However, when looking for immediate confirmations these do the trick.  Once an audition is confirmed by an actor, I will most assuredly email them all the details. I don’t have to wait for the actor to find a hotspot or even a pen and piece of paper to write down the details.  Cut and paste allows me to cull pertinent details from many sources into one email that gets to an actor in a matter of seconds.  This makes up for the double time it used to take spelling out all the details over the phone.  It saves time and errors but says something about dehumanization.  Call me crazy but I still like to hear a human voice so I’m sticking with the phone calls (along with the texts and emails, of course). I wonder how actors feel about this? Do you like personal calls from your agent or are you happy with texts and emails?

2) Email has its advantages—especially when it comes to actors “checking in” or making submission requests. It’s no secret that actors are privy to the casting breakdowns—these notices no longer being the secret material for agent/manager eyes only. With this a reality, when we start working with an actor we have had to lay down some ground rules.  We say that it’s fine to request being submitted for projects; we simply ask the actor to compile the list in one email and to refrain from sending an email everyday which feels like a “To do” list rather than request.  We encourage the actor to send any relevant information like a personal connection with someone involved in the project (director, writer, cast member) that might bolster our case when making our push with the casting director to get an audition.

3) Agents are instructed to make "pushes" (follow up) by email.  In the past we phoned in our "pushes" to submissions. Now we are invariably given a separate dedicated email address to use.  These pushes, in effect, turn into second albeit abbreviated submissions to the first ones we made.  If you’re wondering whether this method is effective, I assure you it can be.

Just recently a push I emailed manifested in a last minute audition for a client.  A casting associate who had seen my “push” in the email contacted me by email to offer our client a slot in the next day’s audition schedule when there had been some dropouts.

It’s best to state the business of the email in the subject line, i.e. “Push from so and so for such and such project” because as we all know there is no guarantee that an email will be opened.  A specifically targeted subject line like this signals to an intern/assistant or casting director that a “push” is being made.  Like an alert!

Would I prefer conversing on the phone with a casting director? Yes and no.  Sometimes a call gets routed to an answering machine and the push turns into naming names which is not terribly effective.  Many times the casting director is so busy there is little time to warm them up with a “chat.”  So an email push offers an me the opportunity to be persuasive in my own space/time continuum.  I just hope it gets opened!

4) Are self-taped auditions effective?  Yes and no.  When requested by a casting director and if the role is considered worth the extra effort by agent and actor, the answer is yes.  Recently we put a client on tape which resulted in a live callback and subsequent booking.  Admittedly the actor came in for the taping session extremely well-prepared.  He was off-book, wore character costume (it was a period show), added some physical movement which created an environment and atmosphere.  By taking charge of his audition moment he created something memorable.

If your agent doesn’t have taping facilities make use of the places that are equipped to get the job done at cost effective prices.  Unless a casting director specifically says they will accept auditions done on a cell phone, it’s crucial (and expected) to send in self-taped auditions that are at the level of those done by casting directors.  [i.e., no readers sounding louder than the actor auditioning or wrinkled white sheet backdrops]

5) A picture says it all. The legit agent in me cringes at this notion because how can a 2 dimensional object speak for a 3 dimensional human being. However it seems that now more than ever the actor’s headshot has to work for him/her. Since most submissions are made electronically, photos need to suggest more than “interesting” or “appealing.”  They need to show genre, role type, etc. In the past an actor needed 2 head shots—a commercial shot and a theatrical one. Now, within those divisions, there are many sub-divisions depending on the marketplace.

Some things to shoot for in your next headshot session: a Law & Order shot, blue collar, white collar, hipster, girl/guy next door.  An agent needs to have an assortment of specific images to send according to the character breakdown.  Why the specificity Because when making selections the casting director scrolls down a computer screen of multiple thumbnail sized head shots.  If they are casting a role of a lawyer they probably won’t click on your stubble in a hoodie shot.  So we need options.  I’m not asking for the flat one dimensional poses characteristic of commercial comp cards. I think there always needs to be something going on in the eyes to denote a multi-dimensional living human being.

In closing, some time ago I remember having a conversation with an actress friend who said that the time was approaching when folks would watch their favorite TV shows on their cell phones in stamp-sized versions. I couldn’t quite believe that this would supplant the couch potato/flat screen experience.  But the time has arrived! Digital media in various sizes and formats abounds ushering in an abundance of production. The main story is the plethora of excellent new TV shows with Netflix, Amazon and others at their helms.  Proliferation (i.e. competition) is raising the bar and we agents are grateful and excited for the opportunities this affords our actors.

Margaret Emory is an agent at SW ARTISTS in New York City.

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