Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One "size" doesn't fit all: The search for the perfect agent or manager

One of the questions I am asked frequently is "Can you recommend a good agent or manager?" Beth, an actress in Los Angeles, just wrote to ask me about this. In short, the answer is "No, I cannot." The "whys" and "becauses" are many.

Finding a "good fit" with an agent or a manager must be a personal pursuit. An agent or manager I personally like and get along with could be someone you loathe. It's all about dynamics and chemistry. My advice: Do your homework; do your research.

Ask fellow actors who are represented by people they like and are happy with to tell you about their experiences, but don't rely just on that. Do your own leg work to see who is out there and who is looking for new clients at this time (though this is a tough time of year to seek new representation because everyone is so busy with the demands of a new television production season).

Also, it's not always fair and/or accurate to judge the worth, value or effectiveness of any agent or manager by the clients they represent (who you may know of). Past or current success with any particular client is indicative only of success with that person's career journey and does not guarantee similar success will find its way to you by your signing with that agent or manager.

I have many agent/friends I could call and ask if they would take on a client of mine -- or someone else I recommend -- and I would probably get a "yes" from them. But that answer is not always in the best interest of the client or recommended actor. I am always quick to say that I'm not looking for favors; I always will be clear that I'm not looking for an agent/friend to take on a client just because I have asked them to do so.

I want any agent I approach to only accept a client I refer because it's in the best interest of the agent to add that particular actor to their roster. I want to be sure that the agent wants to pursue a solid business relationship that is in the best interests of all parties involved. For a client to be taken on as favor by an agent who won't really do the work because they are not personally committed to the actor doesn't serve anyone well, particularly the actor.

In this current climate, there is no need for every actor to have an agent; some will choose a manager, instead. Some will choose to pursue both.

Whatever path to representation you decide to take, make it a journey you have mapped out by yourself, for yourself. The opinions of other people you respect certainly do matter, but they should be used only as guideposts, not gospel.

If you have a story about how you sought and got representation that you would like to share, please send us a posting here or e-mail me directly at


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The L.A. Theatre Dilemma: Showcase vs. Art – A perspective from guest Blogger and working actress Pamela Roylance

I have been a big fan of Pamela Roylance for a very long time. From her contract role on “Days of Our Lives,” her regular series role on “Little House: A New Beginning,” to her more recent work recurring on the series “Jack and Bobby” and recurring last season on “Justice,” Pamela defines “working actor.” The fact that she has been a client and friend for 25 years has nothing to do with it. I admire her commitment to her craft; I admire the choices she makes; and, mostly, I admire her enlightened level of emotional fitness that feeds her professional and personal journey every day.

The discussion of the state of live theatre in Los Angeles came about after my attending a performance recently of the critically-acclaimed Elephant Theatre Company’s Equity-waiver, world premiere production of Robert J. Litz’s new play “One Fell Swoop,” in which she co-stars.

Getting involved with any theatre production is a huge commitment – or should be; lots of time, very little (if any) money. So, why then would any serious actor decide to do it?

Here is where the philosophical discussion begins.

As I have seen it, all too often there is a different art to small theatre production in Los Angeles than there is in New York. All too often, Los Angeles-based actors see a local theatre production as the opportunity to showcase their talents to a perspective audience of talent agents, managers, producers, television and film directors, and casting directors. Too often, I have seen too many Los Angeles-based actors use the L.A. stage experience to attempt to achieve something greater for themselves, instead of attempting to achieve something wonderful for the entire production. Doing theatre for art’s sake seems too often trumped by doing theatre for showcase sake, which removes the actor as “ensemble player” and elevates him or her to an “every man for himself” attitude.

Let me quickly say that this was definitely not the case at “One Fell Swoop.” What a terrific ensemble cast clearly committed to project – and the reviews show it.

Nonetheless, Pamela and I began a discussion after the performance about the state of Los Angeles theatre, in general. I found her perspective so refreshing, so helpful, that I asked her to join The Business of Acting Blog as a guest Blogger to share her reflections on this topic with our community.

You’ll have your opportunity to chime in, too, later. But, first, let’s welcome Pamela:

“I was playing a role on a daytime drama when a fellow cast member asked me if I thought it was important for an actor to do live theatre. I remember being so dumbfounded by her question that I couldn’t even find my voice for a moment. It had never occurred to me that an actor would not have spent time on the stage. I thought the theatre was where all actors came from. I wondered if she were either the bravest or the dumbest actress alive to step in front of a camera without knowing the fundamentals of bringing a character to life. Granted, stage and screen are separate art forms, but that foundation of stage disciplines and character development is critical for anyone wanting to act, whatever the medium.

So, that bit of stage philosophy aside, I ponder the question 'Why does an actor who is focused on carving out an on-camera career in Hollywood, choose to get back on the stage during her free time?' Money? Not here. Not Equity-waiver. Fame? Not here. Not equity waiver. So what is the attraction?

For me, there are several lures, not the least of which is the flood of a thousand memories that rushes through me, reuniting my senses with former times spent rehearsing and performing on a number of stages wrapped in the darkness of a theatre, in a variety of locations, with countless fellow actors and directors, wearing closets-full of costumes, handling cupboards-full of props, smelling the “greasepaint,” sensing the pulse of hundreds of audience members and enjoying the applause they offer. One simple footstep on a stage brings back every memory, and I feel like I’m home.

Then there is the challenge of the work that I find exhilarating. It’s the digging in, the uncovering and discovering, the creating and fine tuning of a believable character I can hardly wait to share with an audience. It’s the undeniable fulfillment that comes from submerging myself in the task of unveiling my vulnerabilities to myself, to my fellow actors, to my director and eventually the audiences. It’s the frustrated feeling I get when I’m not quite there yet with the character, and the overwhelming satisfaction that envelops me when I do finally get into her skin and know who she is. Plowing through the work like a farmer gives me the chance to hone my talents, to sharpen my skills, to get rid of lazy habits that may have formed, and to reconnect with the basics. And like the farmer’s harvest, the reward is enormous.

There is an undeniable thrill that comes from performing live. The setting is raw, it’s vulnerable, it’s risky and it has an immediate payoff. I love that kind of card stacking. You would think the instability of the career itself would be enough, but no, I like to keep the stakes raised within the career by exposing myself to this “no do over” challenge. And on a more stable note, acting “live on stage” also offers the experience of performing with continuity. I love the feeling of getting the ball rolling, controlling the energy, taking the audience on a journey, and telling the story from start to finish without interruption.

I also love the experience of building relationships between my cast mates and myself. There is great joy in learning to trust each other. It’s a huge payoff the moment I discover there is no place safer than on stage with these fellow thespians. I’m at an age now where my work is less egotistical than it was in the past. I find myself focusing on the awe and respect I hold for talented, disciplined, professional actors with whom I share the stage.

So, for this actor, yes, it is extremely important to do live theatre. My purpose for returning to the stage is simply to rejuvenate myself. I am fed by the challenge, rewarded by the relationships, warmed by the memories, improved by the practice and like a builder or gardener, satisfied and contented by the results. It’s a great high. What kind of actor would sacrifice that?”

Your comments are welcome by posting directly to the Blog or by e-mail to


Monday, August 13, 2007

The Actor's Lead Role, Both Pre and Post-Union Card

I had a remarkable experience this past week. Simon Anthony Abou-Fadell, Program Director at SAG Foundation, had invited me to present my “Business of Acting” seminar to an audience of union members through the “Liferaft” program he heads.

At the end of our more than two-hour session with a very smart group of actors, I came away with an interesting, maybe even helpful, perspective: Union actors face many of the same career issues that non-union actors face.

Let me clarify. The career journey doesn’t seem to be any easier with a union card than without one (which will be very disappointing for non-union actors to learn; many of them think that a union card is the ticket to a lucrative career in and of itself: it is not).

It’s not any easier getting an agent; it’s not even any easier getting seen for work.

Union actors may have the opportunity to earn more money when they do work (compared to what their non-union counterparts might earn for the same kind of work), but the frustration to find and get hired for this work remains a force to be dealt with for most.

Becoming an empowered actor is becoming a smarter actor. Learning where to put your energies and where not to waste your time is key. As I wrote on the Book Updates page at, there has never been a better time to be either a union or non-union actor. The technology we all have available at our fingertips has made us all potentially better at what we do – and what we want to do more of.

The availability of online services that allow actors to 1) keep up to date on many projects being cast and 2) the opportunity to self-submit yourself on those projects that have roles in them that you believe that you are right for has changed the business of acting landscape. It has also necessitated that you be smart in your assessment of the various sites out there, what these various sites charge for their services, and the value of those services for the money they get.

Clearly, Breakdown Services’ and Casting Network’s are the Los Angeles-based leaders (these services can also be used for actors based in other cities) and every actor needs to learn how to use these services to their fullest. It is one of the many positive things an empowered actor can do every day to avoid the negative feelings that can be stirred simply waiting for a phone call from an agent or manager for an audition for a job that you probably won't get. That's not me being negative; that's just the statistical truth.

I met a lot of terrific people at the SAG Foundation event. What struck me most was the positive attitude in the room. These SAG actors wanted to know how better to help themselves, certainly issues not unique to union actors, but issues and questions at the root of keeping a career journey moving in the right direction.

We talked about the self-submission services; we talked about empowerment in the audition process; we talked about communicating with talent representatives. We talked about the myriad of challenges in the new landscape that is the business of acting now.

I hope that one of the most important pieces of advice I left these folks with was a reminder note: Represented currently or not, never forget that agents and managers who you retain work for you. It’s not the other way around. As such, you have to be the CEO of your business. The product is you. Have a business day every day where you do something positive, some pro-active, in the interest of promoting your product.

It’s a big responsibility. I have met some actors (not at this seminar) who “just want to act.” Really, they belong in some other industry. You must take care of business. You will never have an agent or manager (even if you really like each other!) who will have as much passion for your career as you will have for your own career.

Take the reins and guide your team. Even if you are unrepresented and are a team of one, creating a business plan to follow will help guide you and inspire you.

There’s an entire chapter in The Business of Acting that will help you create your own, personal business plan; you can also read more about it in my Back Stage West article “The Product is You,” available on the Press Room page at

Knowledge is empowerment and the SAG Foundation knows it and is doing something about delivering this knowledge to actors.

I want to give a special nod to the work Simon is doing at the SAG Foundation. His impressive and important “Liferaft” program offers assistance and leadership to members of all three unions (SAG, AFTRA and AEA). More of those who qualify for these services should take advantage of this opportunity.

I also want to send a special nod of respect to those actors who attend these free seminars. So often, actors feel competitive with each other. These events, instead, create, provide and foster a community where actors can come together to help and support each other – not just benefit themselves.

Bravo to Simon and those of you who take the time to become better at what you do through the process of the education and networking these events provide. To all of you who were present last Wednesday night, I thank you.


Monday, August 6, 2007

East or west? How to avoid “coastal anxiety” in the pursuit of a career

Many young, newly graduated American actors eventually are faced with a significant geographical decision to make as they consider how and where to pursue their careers. I also want to include the many new-to-the-business actors of any age who also face a choice.

Although most of these people will, from conditioning or desire, think there is only one choice, there are actually four options. The answer to the question of where to go is rooted in the answer to another question: What kind of actor are you now and what kind of actor do you want to be?

Do you seek a full-time career that will take you wherever opportunity leads? Do you want the opportunity to perform in local theatre, but keep a job or develop a career in another field ? Would you like to be a career extra? Is it theatre that is your passion or do you seek experience and opportunity in every area possible?

How you answer these questions will help determine in which direction you should head, geographically-speaking.

To help you answer these questions, ask yourself:

1. What kind of work do I most want to do?

2. Where do I need to be (geographically) for the best chances at securing this work?

3. What do I need to do to best prepare myself for this next move?

4. Am I financially able to do this now?

Then, read (or reread) chapter 3 in The Business of Acting, “One Step At a Time,” which discusses the necessity to and benefits from creating a personal business plan to follow through this process. You will learn step-by-step how to do this in the book. If you don’t have a copy of the book, you can read an excerpt from this important chapter from an article I wrote for Back Stage West, call “The Product is You,” which appears in the Press Room section at

Having done this assignment, let’s get back to the “Where do I go” question.

Here are the four possible answers:

1. Go to New York.

2. Go to Los Angeles.

3. Go to city-of-your-choice.

4. Stay right where you are.

The “What kind of actor am I now” and “What kind of actor do I want to be” questions inform these answers.

If you want to pursue a professional, full time career in (primarily) theatre, go to New York, but be prepared for the challenges of both greater competition for every role and opportunity and for dealing with the challenges of financial survival in a big city where the cost of living is exorbitant.

If you want to pursue a professional, full time career in (primarily) film and/or television, go to Los Angeles, but, there, too, but be prepared for the challenges of both greater competition for every role and opportunity. Dealing with the challenges of financial survival in Los Angeles is similar to those your fellow actors who go to New York will face, with one major exception: transportation. If Los Angeles is your destination of choice, make sure to budget for a car and the costs associated with driving (insurance, gas, repairs, maintenance). This may all sound ridiculously simple, but you would be surprised how often I hear how bad-planning stories stopped a career pursuit in its path.

There are other cities in America with thriving arts communities and great opportunities to work as an actor (predominantly in theatre), including Boston, Chicago, Seattle.

For the person who wants to pursue acting as a passionate hobby and not as a full time career, fulfillment can be had by staying right where you are and getting active with local theatre productions in your community where great opportunities with minimal competition exists.

In short, there are opportunities to act everywhere. The journey to relocate to either coast to seek a career as a working actor is not a choice or a move to make too lightly or too soon. Many young actors set their sights on relocation right after graduation, but many are not prepared for what else comes with this decision: the ability to survive financially in the process of pursing their careers.

We each have our own journeys to make. Ask yourself -- and honestly answer -- the key questions to help you determine the when, where and why of your next step. Also remember, that any move isn’t forever, and it’s not the first or last time geographic options will present themselves during the span of your career. Do what makes sense for you to do at the time – and always be open to new possibilities along the journey of your career.

Thanks to Ken for e-mailing me about his current career “dilemma.” I told him that he’s not alone in his fear and frustration about where to go next, now that college is done. I hope this helps.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

There are always (at least) two sides to every story; The Non-Union issue, Part 2

I received a lot of correspondence in response to my last Blog regarding the downside of non-union work. Many of those who wrote pointed out that in several places in The Business of Acting book, I talk about the value of being a non-union actor. I was asked point blank, by Michael, a young actor in Manhattan, “Aren’t you being hypercritical?”

Fair question, Michael.

Let me clarify my position.

An actor must first and foremost by a smart, responsible businessperson; an actor must also always be pro-active in the pursuit, growth and maintenance of their career. To do this right, the bigger picture is always the key factor.

I have seen terrific work by non-union (and even some union actors) in non-union productions. But I have also heard first-hand stories of real non-union nightmares: actors having trouble getting the money for their work; long hours, unprofessional crews; other actors who are unprofessional.

In fact, a client of mine just the other day called to tell me that she submitted herself on a non-union film project through – and she got called in to audition.

An actor is the CEO of their business; managers and agents work for actors. It’s not the other way around, as many ego-challenged talent representatives would like to believe. As managers, we are charged with keeping a clear, strategic overview of the client’s career and offering advice and counsel on career matters.

My client asked me if I thought she should go on the audition. I responded, “What do you want to do?” She replied, “I’d like to see what it’s all about – and any opportunity to audition was even better than a class learning how to prepare for one.” Good point.

So, she went, being given the assignment of reporting back when she was done.

The next afternoon, an urgent e-mail arrived from this client. “I would never work for these people!” She continued, “They were so unprofessional at the audition, I can’t imagine what they would be like on a set.”

It’s all a learning process.

Just because a project is listed on a legitimate self-submission casting service doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t perform due diligence every step of the way.

About a year ago, a young man contacted me about an audition experience he had for a non-union project that he self-submitted on through Back Stage West.

He arrived at the designated appointment location (the back booth of a Chinese restaurant in a seedy part of town) where he met three men and a woman. The woman was supposedly the “casting director” he had sent his head shot to. She looked him up and down, then whispered something to the three men. They whispered something back to her and then she turned to this young actor and said, “We don’t need to audition you. You have the right look. We’d like you to star in all three films we have planned.”

She then handed him a paper and said, “Here’s our contract. Sign it now.”

Being a smart actor, the young man said, “I’d like to read it first. Can I take it home with me and send it back to you tomorrow?” “Absolutely not,” he was told. “Either sign it now or come back tomorrow and sign it in person, but we can’t give you an unsigned copy to take with you.”

The actor, fortunately, didn’t sign anything. He told them that he would think about it and call them. Instead, he thought about it and called me.

We had a long talk about this.

The casting ad in Back Stage West seemed legitimate enough. Were these people casting for something more “provocative” than what their ad stated? Who knows. The point is that is must always be “actor beware.”

As in my client’s audition the other day, if you find yourself in any situation that doesn’t feel right, leave – and never, ever sign any document that you haven’t first taken the time to read and understand thoroughly. Then have someone else you trust read it, too, if you can.

I was concerned about the other actors who saw and responded to the Back Stage West ad, so I called my friends at the paper to discuss the situation.

I like the west coast based-Back Stage West and their sister publication in New York Back Stage. They have both long been respected sources of news and information for actors – and they remain so. I have done a lot of business with them over the years.

I was pleased to learn that there is a system in place to weed out fraudulent casting ads. A part of this system is rooted in reports directly from actors who have answered ads in the paper and later found out (at an audition or on a job) that the ad wasn’t truthful or was anout-and-out lie.

A report was filed on this so-called casting director and the so-called production company. An investigation was launched that uncovered that every actor who answered this ad and got an audition (and most did) was never actually auditioned, but was nonetheless offered a starring role with a three-picture deal.

This company and these people have been barred from ever placing an ad in Back Stage West. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t seek (and find) other avenues to get to actors who are simply looking to work.

The young actor was smart enough to never get back to these people – and he learned an important lesson in the process: The opportunity to work is not a good enough reason to do any job. It has to be a safe, comfortable environment in which to work.

Union productions have many safeguards built into them because, as union productions, they have agreed to abide by certain standards and conditions that the union requires of them. This is not the case with non-union productions.

However, many non-union sets are just as safe and just as professional as union sets. But many are not. It’s similar to the bad manager scenario.

Since managers remain unregulated, there isn’t a code of ethics or set of standards we are (legally) obliged to adhere to. As a result, in an environment where anyone can call themselves a manager (and many who are unethical and unqualified do so), it’s not uncommon to hear a story of the evil manager who ran away with the client’s money or the manager who took advantage of the desperate actor by charging a ridiculously high commission.

There are others.

But, suffice it to say that when a story about unscrupulous managers gets out, it’s a quick and easy jump for a lot of people to think that all managers are like this, which, of course, is not the case.

The same is true in the world of non-union work. There are the horror stories, but there are also the glory stories. Learning how to size up any situation you are faced with and then taking the time to make a smart decision on how to proceed is the mark of the empowered actor.

I am a firm believer that a new-to-the-business actor should not rush getting into the union. Building your resume is the ticket to securing great representation because your resume clearly states what kind of actor you are and what your potential in the future is.

For a non-union actor, the only way (generally speaking) to begin this process is by working in non-union and student productions. As my friend talent agent Marc Chancer says, “Nobody is born with a SAG card.” So, go out and earn it by first doing the work to get the experience that will be required to make this happen.

The upshot of all of this is, as I discuss in chapter 7 in the book (“The Art of An Actor’s Resume and Bio”), when you list your credits on your resume, you never list whether the project you worked on was union or non-union, or even whether you were paid for it. Who cares? Certainly not an agent, manager or casting director who is assessing what you have already achieved on your way to working actor status.

In brief, always be a smart actor, always evaluate a potential opportunity as objectively as you can and make every business decision as if your career depends on it, because it does.

My thanks to all of you who shared your stories with me. Comments and questions are always welcome by posting through the Blog or by e-mail to


Thursday, August 2, 2007

A young actress experiences the excitement of getting a job, then the frustration of dealing with the landscape of non-union work

I received an e-mail the other day from Kelly, a young actress who was excited to tell me that she had finally booked an acting job. Then, she was quick to share with me her brewing frustration over the lack of options she seemed to have available to her when it was time negotiate the deal. Actually, she was quick to learn that in non-union work (generally speaking) and for new-to-the-business actors (generally speaking), there is no “negotiating.” You either accept the job or you do not.

There are some important lessons here for all actors, which is why I want to share my correspondence with her with you.

Kelly wrote:

“I booked a national brand product packaging model shoot. It's non-union and for a new hair care line that is branching off of its national brand mother company. At least that’s what I understand. I am scheduled to shoot this Thursday and am concerned about my image being used to their free will without me receiving compensation from it. In other words, because this is a modeling shoot, I am afraid that they will be able to use and reuse my image without ever having to pay me for it or for new shoots.

I don’t know how much you know about these sort of contracts, but I am being asked to sign a rather general consent and release form. I was wondering what your opinion on this is and if you think that are any questions I should ask these people before I do actually sign it.”

I responded:

“This is the danger and the frustration of work in the world of non-union. There are often no limitations as to how the work can be used -- and most contracts that you will be asked to sign include a very specific buy-out clause the includes "use in perpetuity" without any additional compensation to you.

The ongoing problem is that, if this is the case, the buy-out is usually (read hardly ever) enough money to warrant your giving up your rights to further compensation. I would see if the contract has this or similar terminology or language. I would attempt, if it does, to negotiate a limited time use for the payment you will receive, say all media for one year. If your image is to be used beyond that time frame, additional payment would be required.

They probably will never go for it, which means you won't do the job, unless you quickly adopt a ‘never mind’ attitude, that is if you really decide you want this particular work. As far as they are concerned, unfortunately, if it's not you, it will be someone else they hire for exactly the terms they offered you in the first place. There will always be someone to take the job and sign the contract, no questions asked.

The upside for a savvy production company is that they know that there are many actors who never work enough who will always say yes to any contract without reading the fine (or even the bold) print. Sometimes a bird in the hand, as it were, is not enough.

I'm assuming you submitted yourself on this and there was no agent/manager involved? This is mostly often the case when the production company doesn't want to deal with agents and managers who fight for fair compensation for their clients and say no to anything that is not right or appropriate.

Ultimately, of course, this is your decision to make. Be a smart actor in this process, Kelly, weigh your options and then once you have made your decision, proceed with no regrets.”

Most actors will find themselves in situations like this, particularly during the development years of their careers. Has this happened to you? How did you resolve it? How you handled this or a similar situation might be helpful for other actors to learn about.

Your comments and postings are invited, either through the Blog or by e-mail to me directly at