Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Journey to the Screen: Cover Letter

Like those kids from Dino City, I am about to adventure into the screen. That is, contact local casting companies for the opportunity to audition for film background work, print work, and the like.

I'm not afraid to admit that I asked Google how I should write a cover letter to a casting director. I am a little ashamed by the results that came up, though.

I found a sample cover letter on ActingBiz.com from an actor to a casting director. It starts like this.

Dear Mr. Hireme:

This part is incredibly important! Always address your cover letter to a specific contact.

My name is Marcus Caparcus and I am a new actor to Los Angeles. I am interested in stage, film and commercial productions. My cousin Vinny Babarino mentioned your name to me as he remembered that you and I attended the same performing arts school. It is simply amazing to me that we both grew up in the same town and attended the same acting school.

See how short and sweet that was? I also managed to drop a contact name and a reference that makes a
personal connection between me and the recipient.

As for my recent work, you can see me in a guest starring role on 'The Office' next week and I also have a film being released as part of the Barleytown Independent Film Festival. I should also tell you that I will be starting a new role in an off-Broadway play called 'Where the Kitty Kats Are' and can easily arrange some tickets for you.

Let me stop right there and show you two specific things that make this sample extremely unhelpful.

As for my recent work, you can see me in a guest starring role on 'The Office' next week and I also have a film being released as part of the Barleytown Independent Film Festival.

If you're writing a sample cover letter for actors, you must in some way assume that the actors who would glean any insight from it have not written many cover letters to casting directors. And if they have had so little contact with casting directors, you must then assume that they have not had much experience in acting professionally for the screen.

What is so disheartening about this example is that it seems to suggest, before contacting a casting director to get work, you should first be cast in a prime-time, award-winning television comedy. Clearly the imaginary guy in this example doesn't need to Google "casting director cover letter". He would already know how that works.

Oh, and this is stupid.

It is simply amazing to me that we both grew up in the same town and attended the same acting school.

Okay. And what do you say if that's not true? "It is simply amazing that I don't know anyone that you know."

In my Google search I've learned that most websites called "Actor[Whatever]" or "Acting[Thing]" are silly and give really broad, vaguely sweeping advice.

But there is a good thing to take away from this example. An actor's cover letter seems to come in three paragraphs:

1. the declaration of intent (I am interested in auditioning for screen work)

2. recent work (I just finished [doing this] and I am currently [doing this])

3. Thank You (Thank you very much for your time and consideration)

If you can at least hit those points, I say don't sweat the rest of the letter. Just write what you need to say in the way you want to say it.

Another ActingBiz piece mentions that the cover letter should be printed on "top-of-the-line" business stationery, because it shows that you care. I mean, I get that. We're already paying for headshot prints, why not go all the way?

I'm considering it, it's just that... What the hell am I supposed to do with this stationery after I write my cover letters? Can I go somewhere I just buy, like, five sheets of it?

I guess keeping up appearances by making semi-necessary purchases is something I should be used to by now as an actor.


  1. First of all, this is a great article that cuts to the core of writing a cover letter.

    Second, in reference to using nice stationary... I do feel that it adds that little something extra, even if it just ends up in the shredder, at least you stood out for 2.3 seconds.

    About seven years ago, I searched the Yellow Pages and found a paper supply store in my city. I went through the store and found a ream of tasteful, unique paper with a watermark. It cost about $10 or so for 500 sheets. Over the years, I've used it for all my special correspondence, including cover letters to agents and casting directors. I still have around 350 sheets left, so I'm in no danger of running out and I feel I've gotten my money's worth.

    As an added bonus, the company stopped making this particular stock of paper so I now have a unique paper that is owned by no one else on the planet.

    1. Hey, Travis, I appreciate your point. There's a fine line we have to walk - the boundary between standing in and standing out. Things like stationery provide a subtle, classy manner in which to separate yourself from others.

      As for the article, it mostly stands as a testament to the difference between the mindset of the budding actor and that of the accomplished actor.

      It's like working at a new office. No matter how many people have had to adjust to the new environment, there's always a handful of things you won't be told. Someone will likely tell you which printer to use, but they won't tell you to load the paper into tray 2 and bang on it four times to get it to work until you've already screwed it up.

      Because so much information about casting available online is so broadly written, without focus on the training level of the actor or where they're currently living, I have trouble completely trusting it. What if I DON'T have any screen credits on my resume? What if I DON'T have any industry connections?

      Which I guess highlights the insanity of the trade. People of all walks from all sites often have as much of a shot as anyone else, and conversely they all are just as likely to be shot down.

      When you take advice and it doesn't work for you, often it means the advice wasn't meant for you. But in acting, it can mean a jillion other things. The casting director thought you looked too old. The casting director put you on the shortlist, but the client didn't think you could represent their brand. OR you just totally blew it.

      That's why I, a dopey young actor, like to keep this blog as a record of not how I COULD do it, but how I DID do it. Honestly, I wish more actors did - we could make a little graph showing what techniques work and when they go out of style.