By: Jamie Painter Young
Actor Anna Nugent was frustrated when trying to come up with a selling point she could use to promote herself to agents and casting directors—one that she felt good about and that rang true to her. Then she had an epiphany one night while meeting friends over drinks: She wanted to play a cop on television. It was, as she put it, “her longtime dream”—one she had not admitted until then. However, a few things stood in her way: She didn’t have representation. She didn’t have any film or TV credits to her name (her résumé lists theater and training). And she was not yet well known to the casting community in New York City. But she didn’t let any of that stop her.
“In this industry, often it helps to show people what you can do. How do they know that I can be a cop—that I want to be a cop—unless I tell them? So that’s how the idea was born,” says the New Jersey–based actor, who trained and got much of her experience in Ireland before moving back to the States.
With her writer husband’s help, Nugent put together a group of actor friends and shot some footage in upstate New York last summer. It featured her as—you guessed it—a TV cop on a pseudo–”Law & Order” case. She put the footage up on YouTube and created a link from her website. She had headshots taken depicting her as the next Mariska Hargitay. And then there was the pièce de résistance: She created a postcard that she mailed out to agents and other industry contacts selling herself as the next great TV crime fighter.
Admittedly, Nugent hasn’t gotten any bites from agents yet. But, she says, “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people in the industry that I know and a lot of support from other people. What’s great is that it’s out there and can continue to work for me, and I can continue to send out postcards. I can do another episode. I’m in this for the long haul, so I’m not in any rush. I’m not deterred by the fact that I haven’t instantly received auditions from it.”
Indeed, if you want to get attention from an industry mailing, you need to be in it for the long haul and you need to be savvy about how you target people.
Inger Tudor, an L.A. actor, landed theatrical and commercial agents from mailings she did, and in the case of the commercial rep, she says, it took three or four mailings to finally get the agent’s attention. Tudor has also had success with mailings to casting directors: “I actually had a casting director specifically tell me, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you mailings don’t work, because you’ve been mailing to me consistently and I’ve been looking for something to bring you in for.’ So she had finally brought me in and she said, ‘So, I want you to know the postcards worked. That’s why I brought you in.’ “
Keeping yourself on someone’s radar is the key. Says Tudor, “Even when you’re mailing to people who have already cast you, what I’ve discovered in talking to them and to assistants in their offices is that a lot of times they like you; it’s just that if you’re not on their radar, they don’t remember to call you in. So what I find also is that the number of times I’m called in for auditions goes up shortly after I’ve done a mailing, because I think I’ve gotten myself back on someone’s radar.”
Tudor prefers not to send out mass mailings on a regular schedule but rather when she has something new and notable to promote. “For instance,” she says, “I have a small role in ‘The Social Network,’ which recently won best film at the Golden Globes. So I’m planning to send out postcards saying, ‘Hey, catch me as Anne in ‘The Social Network,’ and, of course, I put something about the fact that it just won best film.”
If she is doing a large mailing to CDs, Tudor will buy labels to put on the back of her postcard-size headshot and incorporate the logos of TV shows, films, or companies when they’re available. “Like when I was in a post office commercial,” she says, “I took the logo for the post office and put it on. So it’s stuff to make it pop, which you can’t always do if you’re handwriting a postcard.”
Tudor credits career coach Dallas Travers with recently helping her to be more effective in marketing herself to the industry. “She is a marketing guru,” says the actor of Travers, who wrote the book “The Tao of Show Business” and works one-on-one with performers. “She has a phenomenal way of helping actors market themselves—to not just think of it as a chore and to do it in a way that’s systematic and helpful, so you’re not just spinning your wheels.”
Gimmicks succeed on rare occasions, but not as a rule. Russell Boast, a casting director with Pagano/Manwiller Casting in Santa Clarita, Calif., says, “I’m a sucker for paying attention to blind submissions, and in particular, special skills. As a CD, producer, theater director, and acting coach, I am constantly looking for new talent across the board. I once spotted ‘zebra-pooping impersonation’ under someone’s special skills on their headshot—keeping in mind I’m from Africa. That actor not only got an agent recommendation; he also booked three films, eight TV commercials, and is currently in my live stage show, GravityWorks.”
Says L.A.-based casting director and acting teacher Craig Campobasso, “I once received a postcard from a male actor. It was the back of his head. He had a nice head of hair. The postcard read, ‘If you want to meet me face-to-face, call me in for a meeting.’ I did. I would suggest to other actors reading this to not copy this idea. It’s been done. I usually don’t like gimmicks, just professionalism. So make sure your mailings have only one great shot of you and a smart-looking résumé. That’s how you will get seen.”
Campobasso reiterates what Tudor says about staying on casting directors’ radars: “Mail your picture and résumé at the beginning of every television season to those casting directors. Enclose a short note that says, ‘For your season files. I am happy to come in and read for any role.’ Be open to all roles and get seen. That’s what it’s all about.”
Boast suggests, “Design your mailing plan like you are your own business. No actor is the same, and no casting director will have the same opinion, trust me. Try everything and then evaluate your efforts based on the response to those efforts. Most CDs hate this, but I actually salute the bravery of an actor who personally walks into my office and drops off marketing. It makes me pay attention.”
Here’s what other actors wrote in to tell us about their strategy with mailings:
“I send out postcards immediately after I meet a CD or agent, thanking them for their time and sharing any news I have. I save myself time by using an online service to print and mail the cards. (I use Cardstore.com, but there are several out there.) I upload my photo for the front of the postcard, can type out my note, and then place a scanned version of my signature on the back. I also keep all addresses handy online so they’re easy to get to. I send out postcards about once every three months or if I have a performance coming up. I also point them to my website, where I keep my news and online video clips always up to date.”
“While on set of ‘Law & Order: SVU’ one day, I asked a P.A. to snap a quick picture of me in character. It was by the trailer, out of the way and after I was wrapped for the day, thus it did not disrupt production in any manner. I used that shot, which cost me nothing, in the design of a custom postcard I crafted in Photoshop. It was an interesting, eye-catching character shot that offered agents an idea of one of the believable types I can portray. I also included such information as the airdate, episode number, and network. It was to the point, professional-looking (Reproductions printed the material), and answered the needs and questions of anyone receiving the notice.”
“When mailing headshots to casting directors, agents, and managers, I type my résumé, cut it to fit the same size as my headshot, and then staple it to the back with just two staples, on both top right and left corners. That way nothing is folded or hanging. I believe that makes it easier for them to review, as they can flip over the headshot to see the résumé without digging into the envelope to see if there is a résumé enclosed or, even worse, trash my résumé if it’s hidden or stuck in the envelope by accident. Ouch! Also, if they want to separate both résumé and headshot, they can just pull them apart easily and compare side by side, unlike if I had the résumé typed or preprinted on the back of the headshot. When mailing postcards, I order the most-current casting director mailing labels, as I have learned things change very fast. On the back, I handwrite something very simple—a tip I learned from my L.A. agent. I once heard her say something handwritten is more personal, as it shows that someone took the time.