The Acting Cover Letter - A 'How To' Guide
Ah yes, the acting cover letter. If you found this article, you're probably getting ready to mail your headshot & resumé to every agent, manager, and casting director in town. But before you do...
You need to write a fantastic acting cover letter. One that grabs attention. One that says, "I'm here. I'm available. Hire me!"
We used to do that too. We would beg, borrow, and steal the mailing address of every agent we could find. Then we would mail over 100 packages and start praying for a phone call.
But the phone never rang. And the worst part? We spent the 44¢ for postage.
Why Mass Mailings Don't Work
Mailing headshots is expensive, time-consuming, and utterly pointless. Why? Because talent agencies receive hundreds, even thousands of them on a daily basis. But less than 2% actually find their way onto the desk of an agent.
The other 98% find their way into the paper shredder.
So why would an actor do a mass mailing? Because it makes him feel like he did something to further his career.
But the only thing that will further your acting career is showing up. Attending auditions. Doing the work.
When to Use a Cover Letter
That being said, an acting cover letter can be useful. But how?
Let's say you meet an agent (or manager, or casting director) at a showcase, or a party, or a box social. That person is a new contact, so don't let that trail run cold. Instead, send them a package:
• A headshot & resumé, stapled back to back.
• A business card with your photo on it.
• A cover letter, addressed to them personally.
But what makes for an effective cover letter? That comes next.
How to Write an Acting Cover Letter
There's only one major rule when writing a cover letter: keep it short. Get your point across without wasting anyone's time. Remember, this is a business first.
1. Remind them where they met you. Your opening paragraph is a greeting, and a reminder.
Don't say: You might remember meeting me at John Smith's Christmas party.
Instead, It was an absolute pleasure speaking with you at John Smith's Christmas party. You gave me a lot to think about.
2. Show them you're serious. Tell them where you went to school, whose class you're currently taking, and what your career goals are. This will reassure them that you are commited to being an actor.
3. Show them you're in demand. Tell them about the play you're working on, and encourage them to come see it. (Maybe even throw in some comp tickets.) This will show them that there's money to be made if they represent you.
4. Refer them to your headshot/resumé. Go in for the kill. Once they see your headshot/resumé, they'll have a better idea of what kind of actor you are. (And whether you're marketable.)
Here's an example of a bad cover letter. I pulled this from Gordon Hunt's book, How to Audition.
And here's an example of a good cover letter, written by us.
Make it Look Professional
• Use business letter format. If you need help, follow the format of the 'good cover letter' above.
• Use high quality paper or stationary: This isn't essential, but it adds extra credibility and professionalism.
• Use titles. Like Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr., Esq., and so on.
• Sign it. Get a good quality black pen and sign your name at the bottom.
• Use a full-sized, catalog style envelope. This is important... Don't fold anything. Instead, get an envelope large enough to fit your 8 x 10 headshot, and your cover letter.
• Use a mailing label. Once again, not essential. But printing a mailing label could be the difference between the agent's desk or the shredder.
• "Do Not Bend." Take a marker or a Sharpie and write this in big, bold letters at the bottom of your envelope. Or else some disgruntled postal worker will screw up your chances of getting on Broadway.
• No crazy stamps. Stick to the American flag, or the Queen, something standard. If he sees Minnie Mouse or Betty Boop on the envelope, it goes into the shredder.
Drop it Off in Person
What's better than sending your package through the mail? Dropping it off in person!
When you arrive at the agency, you obviously won't get past the gatekeeper... er, ahem... receptionist. Here's what you do...
Smile, give the receptionist your package and say: "Hello, would you give this to Mr. So-and-so? He's expecting it."
Works every time.
The Bottom Line
What's the bottom line? Use the acting cover letter wisely, and with discretion. The thing that will garner you attention is the work you're doing on stage and screen, not letters on a page.
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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