Sunday, November 3, 2013

Getting it together is the whole trick!

Here's a little story
That should make you cry
About two unhappy dames.
Let us call them Lucy X and Jessie Y,
Which are not their real names.
Now Lucy has the purity
Along with the unsurety
That comes with being only twenty-one.
Jessie has maturity
And plenty of security
Whatever you can do with them she's done.*

I am Lucy and Jessie, and Polly and Mary, with a touch of a few other dames (certainly my mother) thrown in for good measure.  And how do we show that versatility to casting directors while staying true to what we keep hearing they want: the real YOU. The reality is that these women are all the real me.  It's about choosing what to show and when.

Just when I am finally getting around to getting my reel edited, it seems that might be obselete now.  Everything in this business moves fast. And, if you are looking for work (let's face it, most actors are) then you need to be in the race.

Most actors I know use Actors' Access to submit. And I know I always wondered about how to get noticed.  There is a very simple pecking order if you want to be at the top of the virtual pile.

The pile from top to bottom

1. Actors with headshot, slate and video clip (for so long I thought it had to be a full reel, but it can be any short clip  -  even better actually as you'll see if you read on.)
2. Actors with headshot and video clip (no slate).
3. Actors with headshot and slate.
4. Actors with headshot only.

I recently attended a seminar held by the lovely folks at Actors' Access.  Anything to keep in the loop and up to speed.  And, of course, I always share what I learned.  There were many depressing facts that could make one just want to give up.  We watched a live version of how the submissions work.  Within an hour of a job being posted there were THOUSANDS of submissions.  And the reality is that a casting director will call in around 20 people for the role.

So what can we do to help ourselves? Easy. Look at the list above and if you do not have a manager or agent, there is still so much you can do to help yourself.  Just give the casting directors what they want. Or at least try!

1. Headshot (still the king - or queen - of submissions)
2. A slate (a new addition to Actors Access)
3. A reel (although, that is becoming less important. Number 4 is taking over)
4. Short, specific clips. (more specifics on the specifics later).
5. Cover note: short, sweet and, above all, to the point.

And herein lies one of our major problems.  and it is so hard, as an actor, to step away from the trap.  We want to show EVERYTHING.  If I submit a short clip of a great dramatic scene, how are they going to know how funny I am?  The wonderful Heidi Marshall explains this problem: At Ease, Actors.

Given their advantages,
You may ask why
The two ladies have such grief
This is my belief
In brief:
Lucy is juicy
But terribly drab.
Jessie is dressy
But cold as a slab.
Lucy wants to be dressy
Jessie wants to be juicy.
Lucy wants to be Jessie
And Jessie, Lucy.*

So, given our own advantages, what can we do?  Let's go back to the list.  Headshot. Simple.  It should look like you and be recent.  Latest advice is that it should be no more than two years old. There is plenty of advice on this without me going on. Let's get to the new thing: the slate. Simple, clear. Do not try to be clever or fancy. Just state your name clearly. The way it is set up on Actors' Access is that when a C.D. clicks on your headshot, it comes to life with your slate: almost like a talking headshot. It may seem silly but you'd be amazed how much one can see from a simple slate.It is free to upload one take (under 7 seconds).  A second slate is $5 to upload.  And here's the best news: your submission is automatically higher up the list than actors without slates. The following was taped after I heard about the slate and I rushed to my go to on camera wizard, Heidi Marshall (I think I may have mentioned her before...just once or twice!) and recorded the following.  Obviously, this is before editing for final slate, but it's amazing what you can tell about me just from this little clip.  

Poor sad souls,
Itching to be switching roles.
Lucy wants to do what Jessie does,
Jessie wants to be what Lucy was.

One of the reasons I love acting so much is that I can switch roles.  I can explore all the sides of me.  And a good reel will show that.  But, here is the problem.  Casting Directors simply do not have the time to watch every actor's reel. And in my research for trying to get my own reel done (thanks to a wonderful friend helping me out), I have been watching other actors' reels and frankly, I quit watching most of them after about 30 seconds.  The ones that capture my attention, I might give a minute or two.  If I do not have time to watch them while I am specifically researching reels, how do you think C.D.s feel about the prospect of watching thousands of them to cast one role? 

So this takes us to number 4 on the list.  I had always felt resigned to the fact that I would be on the bottom of the list of submissions on Actors access, unless it was a role that my manager had submitted for me (agent and manager submission still get more attention from C.D.s).  But there is hope, unrepresented actors. Do yourselves a favour! Stop worrying about the reel and showing everything.  Sometimes, we have a great clip but not enough for a good reel.  And without worrying about showing every side of ourselves, every skill, we should just focus on the task at hand.  Specificity helps the casting directors. I had already taken Heidi's advice and posted specific short clips on my website.  And now I know it's what casting directors want and I can post them on Actors' Access.  So when you are submitting for a job, you do not need to worry about showing everything. Just be specific.

Lucy's a lassie
You pat on the head.
Jessie is classy
But virtually dead.
Lucy wants to be classy.
Jessie wants to be Lassie.
If Lucy and Jessie could only combine,
I could tell you someone
Who could finally feel just fine!*

At the seminar, Blair Hickey (actor and co-founder of the wonderful Casting About) told a story about being called in for an audition based solely on the DESCRIPTION of a short clip.  The common thread is that Casting Directors are busy and they want you to be right for the role.  And they can tell so much from so little.  They are seasoned experts and you'd be amazed what a simple slate can tell you.  Watch them.  Pay attention to other actors:  in your classes, in holding rooms. We all make instant judgments on people. Save the casting directors time.  Even if you have an amazing reel, post BRIEF and SPECIFIC clips with descriptions (e.g. White collar professional: procedural interview). This also pertains to number 5: short and to the point cover note.  I used to think I needed to follow my good old-fashioned letter writing skills. Do not waste your time or the C.D.'s time. If the notice calls for Spanish speaking, under 5ft 3 and able to play the piano, the note should read "Spanish-speaking, 5ft 2, proficient pianist." If you spend time writing "Dear Mr. so and so, I was so thrilled to read about this project and would be delighted if you would..." well, they stopped reading long before I got to the elipsis.

Casting directors are very busy people.  They want the right person for the job and they want him or her quickly. I have heard from some casting directors not to use clips from class, but, what can you lose, really?  Of course, we would all love Meryl Streep's reel, but the reality is that, if you're an emerging artist, you are scrambling to get footage from short films you have done and if you have a great clip right now that shows you could play a battered wife or a diligent nurse and it's from a class, USE it.  

Have a website, post a reel, post a slate, post clips, be specific, make it clear and simple. Submit.  

So, let's do ourselves a favour.  Do it all.  Why not?

Tell 'em that they ought to get together quick.
'Cause getting it together is the whole trick!

* The Story of Lucy and Jessie from "Follies"
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.


  1. You are lovely to share all of this information - thank you!

  2. I think it is important to share information. I hate the idea of being competitive in this business. We are either right for something or not and if we get caught up in being competitive it takes away from what is really important: going in and being ourselves and doing our work.

  3. Awesome! Thanks so much, Polly. I've been using Actor's Access for years, and although I have known about the hierarchy forever, I get lost in "how-to" of putting up a video clip or a slate. On the website it says that I have a send a hard copy to LA? Do you know how that works? There must be an easier way, no? Also, for the slate, I was under the assumption from the instructions on the website that I have to pay to use their slate service.. is this not true? If it's not, how does one go about getting the slate on there? I feel like their instructions are so confusing that I have resigned myself to using just a headshot, but I see that I am at a total disadvantage doing that! Do you have any words of wisdom on the "HOW" part of it? Maybe another idea for the blog ;)

  4. Here goes, Jena! I hope I get it right. And, if not, the lovely people at Actors' access can correct me! The first slate is free and you can upload it yourself. Even I managed to do it, so you can too. I think I want to go back and change it because the still from the slate freezes in an unfortunate position! So a heads up on that! A second slate costs $5.
    I had the same concerns about sending hard copy to LA, but you do not need to. Send them a video via HIGHTAIL to the email address they provide. It is all there. They have the information. It is $22 per minute of footage, I think. I need to double check that. Once you email the videos, they will send you a link to pay for it and then they will post your footage. Then after all of that, when you submit, you can click on which headshot to use and which video(s) to submit with it. Hope this helps.

    1. Absolutely!! I can't believe I have waited all this time because I didn't know how to put a clip on a DVD haha. In your post, you went over clips vs. reel which I totally agree with. Do you think it would look amateurish to put up a class clip? I don't have too much footage that really captures good, close up character work. Opinions?

    2. Read Heidi's Marshall's great blog about this very issue:

  5. Thank you for this, Polly. So insightful! Much appreciated. xxoo

  6. So great to read this! I have told people in my film and TV class over and over about how video is so important and will (in my opinion) one day be the new headshot. I don't use a full reel at all but multiple clips. Target marketed for roles I can play no longer than 45 sec. IT WORKS - short enough that casting will actually watch- specific to the type I can play. Hell I shot a 45 second one I wrote and it booked me a pilot. I put myself on tape for another and booked it.