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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

WEBSITES - Are They Necessary?


“Do I really need a website?”  This is a question I am often asked, and my answer is always, “Yes, you do!”  I’ve been talking about the necessity of a website for months, but haven’t gone into detail about why they’re important, until now. 

A website is your calling card.  It will enable you to have all your marketing tools in one place.  This information will be accessible to everyone, 24/7.  If your agent needs to send a potential client your info, they can simply direct them your website.  Think of it as hiring a publicist, only it’s a lot less expensive. 

Free Publicity
I think of social media as free publicity.  It's a great way to connect with fans, friends, family members, classmates, professional acquaintances, potential employers, and those who want to find out what you’re doing. 

Websites are similar, except that you will need to make a financial investment. But it won’t cost you much to set up and maintain, and is free for everyone who visits. 

Domain Names
The first step will be to purchase a domain name.  There are many companies to choose from, and their prices vary wildly.  Check out APlus.net, Register.com, GoDaddy.com, Whois.net, siteskins.net, etc.  Find out what they charge and do a comparison. 

It’s a good idea to register with the company who will also host your website.  I set up my domain name with Register.com, but then transferred it to APlus.net, which is the company that hosts my website.  However, it was problematic to transfer, and now that I know I can purchase domain names from APlus.net for a much lower price and no 'transfer' headache, I’ll do that in the future. 

I tried to host my own website years ago, leaving my computer on all day and all night, but that became challenging, so I decided to find a company with expertise in this area.  My web designer had done a lot of research, which is how we selected APlus.net.  They charge me a monthly fee of $4.99 to host the first website, and $1.99 for each additional site. 

Once you’ve made a decision on where you’ll purchase your domain name, enter the name you’ve chosen to see if it's available.  If you’re an actor, I would recommend choosing www.yourname.com.  If that’s not available, try yourname.net.


CREATING YOUR OWN WEBSITE

NOWCasting.com
If you sign up with NOWCasting.com, which is a website for actors, they’ll assist you with your domain name.  All actors should list themselves here for free.  Casting directors use this site to search for actors and their representation.  It doesn’t cost anything to upload your photo and resume, but if you want to include your reel, clips, etc, there will be a fee.  I signed up as a Reels & Clips member, paying $6.00/month.  This enables me to have my theatrical reel and clips on my Profile page.  I can email my this page to anyone who requests my information by simply attaching a link.  My NOWCasting.com profile page gives the recipient the ability to view my photos, resume, representation, personal website URL, email address, bio, and theatrical reel.  

NOWCasting.com offers a variety of services at a range of prices, including designing your own website.  Depending on how fast you make decisions, you can have your website up and running within a few hours.  They have dozens of great template designs to choose from, and your website can be as detailed as you’d like.  The down side is that, more than likely, your name won’t appear at the top of the search list when someone googles your name.  You will also have a longer URL address on your business card, which will look like this: www.nowcasting.com/yourname.com versus the simpler and nicer looking www.yourname.com.  Still, for $21.00/month, it may be the easiest and most affordable thing to do. 

siteskins.net
This is a very cool website design company that I just learned about from a make-up artist on a recent photo shoot.  She highly recommended them for creating your own website.  It’s free to set up your site; you just pay $7.95-$19.95/month for them to host it.  It’s a good value, and I visited the new website she created for herself and was very impressed.  She has a huge amount of information there, including hundreds of wedding photos and videos, for $19.95/month.  She mentioned that they were extremely helpful when she got stuck and called for advice.  They also offer domain names at a very reasonable price.  I highly recommend purchasing your domain from the same place that will be hosting your site.  As I said before, transferring your domain name can be challenging, and you want to avoid a severe headache or migraine.

iWeb
If you have a Mac, and have purchased iWorks, you can create a website using iWeb.  However, I attempted this and found the design choices too limiting.  You may have better luck.

Template Designs
If you’re computer savvy, you can chose a template, from one of many websites offering a selection of designs, and design your own site from scratch.  Once you’ve uploaded all your photos, clips, reels, and resume, you’ll need to know the secrets of how to place yourself at the top of the search engine list when someone googles your name.  You don’t want people to have to search through pages of listings trying to find you.  The goal is to be the first listing when googled.

You may be tempted to design your website in Flash, but I would recommend avoiding it, simply because iPhone users won’t have accessibility to your website.    Many business people are on the go these days, and they’re accessing information via smart phones, so keep this in mind.  How will your website look on a smart phone versus a computer?  Until Apple and Flash stop feuding, you’re better off designing your site so everyone can view it.   


Hiring a Web Designer
If you have the funds to hire a web designer, I highly recommend it.  This is the best option for getting exactly what you want.  Ask around and find out who your friends have used and if they’d recommend them. 

Do your research before you call the web designer.  View other websites, and make note of what you like and dislike about those sites.  Note the simplicity, the ease of getting around on the site, color scheme, layout, tabs, pages, and other design aspects that speak to you.  When you’re prepared, make your call.  Share this information with your web designer.  The more specific you can be about what you want, the easier it will be to collaborate.  You’ll pool your ideas to come up with something original that is unique to you. 

A voice-over actress I know had an artistic friend create a cartoon caricature of her as Samantha from Bewitched.  Her website even has the Bewitched theme music, and it’s fun to navigate.   The ideas are limitless.  However, what you come up with may require a lot of time and energy, and will depend on your resources.  You’ll need to gather your photos, resume, reels, video clips, write a bio, and write your own text.  You’ll have to make decisions on how many pages you want, where to place things, what font you want to use, and the overall look of your site.  It’s an extremely creative process, and it will be rewarding to see it evolving and taking shape. 

A Temporary Home Page
Have your web designer create a temporary Home page while you’re developing the site.  The creative process could take weeks, or months, depending on how involved it is and how much content you’re uploading.  Keep your temporary Home page simple.  Include your name, photo, and contact info, and let the visitor know that your website is Coming Soon or Under Construction.  You won’t be giving out your website address until you’re ready to launch, but this will be nice for those who search for you before the site is ready.  This step isn’t imperative, but it shouldn’t cost you any extra.


Website Servers and Hosts
Once your website has been created and is ready to launch, you’ll need to find a host, which we discussed earlier.  There are a lot of great choices out there.  Hopefully you selected your domain name from the same company who will be hosting your site, but if that wasn’t possible, you’ll need to go through the transfer process.  This will, more than likely, require some assistance from the company who will be hosting your website.  If you hired a web designer, they’ll know how to do all of this.

Launching Your Website
Once your website is completed and ready to launch, make a big announcement.  Tell everyone!  Post your new website on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social media sites.  Upload it to casting services like LA Casting, Actors Access, and the Casting Frontier. Mention it anywhere and everywhere you can think of!  Email the link to all your friends and ask them to share it with others.  Be sure to include your new website on your business cards, and hand your cards out wherever you go. Design a postcard announcing your new website, get them printed up, and send them out!  

Keep Your Website Updated 
If you’re not managing your website yourself, make sure you’ve discussed expenses with your web designer.  They may teach you how to make changes on your own, which is normally included in the initial fee.  I know a great web designer who charges $3,000 to design your site, but all future updates are included in that fee, and he teaches you how to make changes on your own.  Every website that he has designed looks amazing, and was well worth the investment. 

Landing one big job can potentially reimburse you for all your web design expenses.  That happened for me.  Shortly after I’d launched my new site, I was booked on an infomercial, and the director told me he was impressed with my website and that it was a factor in landing me the job.  He had access to my reels, resume, photos, and other info that helped him make his casting decision.  Although it’s hard to gauge who is actually viewing your site, you’ll know, because people will tell you.  Be sure to set up an email link on your site so your viewers are able to contact you directly. 

I update my website frequently.  My web designer is a friend.  I paid him an initial design fee and am charged on an hourly basis for the changes I make.  I email him updates, additions, deletions, new video footage, and new photos, and he bills me every few months or so.  This morning I emailed him, asking if he could put my October Newsletter link on the Home page.  He had it done within the hour.  A few days before that, I decided to include my Host reel on my Video page (as well as the Host page where it already exists) and he had it done the same day.  He also edits my theatrical, host, and commercial reels, which are constantly being updated, and keeps me at the top of the google search. 


Knowing What You’re Getting Into
Make sure you understand the agreement that you enter into with your web designer.  A flat rate could run you anywhere from $750 to $4,000 or more, depending on the amount of time and work involved.  You may be able to find a friend who can help you, or is willing to charge a lot less.  Maybe you can make a trade with someone.  Whatever the expense, this investment is a good one.  It’s also completely tax deductible!  Your website is an integral part of your Business Marketing.

Business Can Be Creative
Artists tend to lack business skills.  Acting is so much fun that they can’t be bothered with the ‘business’ of acting.  As I’ve said before, marketing is essential, and building your website can be very creative.  You’ll be making decisions that are design related and artistic in nature.  I found that writing my own text, bio, and photo descriptions, really made me hone in on what I was contributing to the world as an artist.  It was also rewarding to see a body of work take shape before my eyes, revealing years of experience.  Now it’s all in one place where I can easily share it with others.  It’s accessible 24/7 to casting directors, agents, potential employers, directors, producers, fans, friends, family, classmates, and anyone who’s interested.


Congratulations!
Once you’ve purchased your domain name, created your website, found a host, and launched the site, pop the cork on a nice bottle of bubbly and celebrate!  You have your own website!  Tell everyone!


All Questions Welcome
If you have any questions, feel free to ask.  And remember:  Marketing is the key to your success!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Agents - Do You Really Need One?

I love my agents.  All of them.  I work with three Talent Agencies in Los Angeles who represent me for film, television, theatre, commercials, hosting, voice-over, internet  and print.  I also have an agent in San Diego, Colorado and on the East coast.  Do I think they’re all necessary?  Yes, and here’s why.

Agents Get You Work
First of all, agents only make money when you make money, so it’s in their best interest to get you, and all their other clients, work.  Agents have access to casting directors and will be able to get you auditions that you can’t get on your own.  

Agents Negotiate Bookings
When it comes to negotiating, I’ve found that it’s good to let the agent handle the client, and not get involved in the negotiations.  If I receive a direct call from the casting director or client and they start talking about money, I refer them to my agent, stating that my agent handles the financial stuff.  That way, my agent can be the ‘bad guy’ asking for more money, while I remain the ‘good guy’ who shows up to work with a big smile.  However, I enjoy the phone calls from my agent telling me where they’re at in the negotiation process.  In the beginning it was difficult to know a booking could potentially be lost, but I’ve always allowed my agents to do their job, deferring to their expertise in the art of negotiating.  After all, that’s why they’re there, to do the very best that they can for you.

The amount of money you’ll make when you book a television job will depend on whether the role is a co-star, guest star, or series regular, your last quote, and how much money is in the budget.  If it’s a feature film, your rate will depend on whether the feature is an independent or studio film, your last quote (if you have one), and the money available.  Webisodes (short episodes for internet) fluctuate wildly, commanding larger fees for name talent.  Commercials sometimes vary in pay as well, although most SAG and AFTRA session fees are standard.  Non-union commercials usually pay less, but not always.  Hosting jobs are all over the map.  If residuals are negotiated for infomercials, it’s at a much higher rate than commercials, and if back end is negotiated, you could be an extremely wealthy individual, if the product does well.  Notice there are a lot of ‘if’s’ in that sentence. 

Agent Commissions – They Only Get Paid When You Get Paid
The Agent almost always gets their commission on top of whatever they’re able to negotiate for the job you booked, and normally that’s 10%.  Print is different.  Agents take 20% out of your paycheck, whether they negotiate an extra 20% on top of your salary, or not.

Whether the agent’s commission comes out of your paycheck or not, they’re not making money if you’re not making money.  Consider the fact that they have access to casting directors you don’t, and can get you the auditions you need to book jobs; it’s the best 10-20% you’ll ever spend.


How To Get An Agent 

Personal Contacts
Think about who you know.  You may have contacts who are able to open doors for you.  Maybe you have a family member in the business, or friends in the industry who can assist you in getting appointments.  I got my recent theatrical agent because a casting director, who had cast me in two different projects, opened a door for me.  She made a phone call to the agent and recommended me.  Prior to that, most agents I’ve worked with were acquired by writing cold letters, or by sending a headshot and resume to an agent recommended by a friend.   

An Approach That Worked For Me
Here’s how I got one of my first theatrical agents in Los Angeles.  I went to SAG and sat in a small room filled with stacks of big directories.  I knew the agents I wanted to target because I had read about them in the Ross Reports (which has been renamed Call Sheet) and in guides at the Samuel French Bookstore.  I looked up the agent client lists in the directories.  If I didn’t recognize an actor’s name, I wrote it down, and then looked up the actor in the Player’s Directory.  With all that information gathered in my notebook, I went home and wrote letters to the agents that didn’t have actresses similar to me.  I made sure that they weren’t representing five of my type already, and preferably only one of me, or even better, none.  In my letter, I told the agent a little about myself.  I wrote about how I was from Ottumwa, Iowa and the oldest of five kids.  I mentioned that I had been onstage since I was four years old, the names of acting teachers I’d studied with, and recent plays I’d been in.  I said I would be calling them to set up an appointment, and that I would bring in my demo reel when we met. 

That approach worked well for me.  I have fond memories of receiving a response from the Gersh Agency, who have always been kind and encouraging to actors over the years, even in the face of rejection.  I haven’t worked with them, but they actually took the time to pick up the phone, call me, and say, “Thank you for your submission, but we’re not taking on any new talent at this time.  Stay in touch and let us know what you’re doing.”  It was so classy, and such a nice thing to do. 

Cold Calls
Some agents may not respond or even take your call, but do call them.  The worst thing they can say is “no, we’re not interested” or “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”  At least you’ll know where you stand.  If you hand-deliver your headshots, you may run into one of the agents in the elevator, or build a relationship with the receptionist which could be very helpful. 

Social Media
There are a lot of other ways to connect.  Social Media, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, are good ways to get the word out about what you’re doing, and that you’re seeking representation.  Make requests.  Ask friends and teachers if they know someone they could recommend.  If you’re not doing theatre, maybe you’d enjoy doing stand-up, improvisation, or making YouTube videos to get your work seen. 

Networking
A website is essential.  It should include your headshots, resume, bio, demo reel, and appear at the top of the Google list when your name is searched.  

You’ll need a business card to hand out everywhere you go.  It should include your photo, website, email address, and phone number.  For every card you hand out, be sure to collect a card.  You never know who you’re going to run into, or where you’ll meet.  I met a representative of Survivor waiting in a movie theatre line in Marina del Rey.  She gave me her professional business card which directed me to their website.  At the time, I wasn’t thrilled about reality shows, but they’re here to stay, and they’ve made many unknowns famous.  Look at what’s happened for some of those who have appeared on The Apprentice, The Bachelor, Survivor, Dancing With The Stars, Jersey Shores, and other reality shows.  Make sure you get out to events and mingle.  And, when you do, make the effort to look great.    

Here’s a good question from Garrett Goldenberg, Los Angeles, CA.
“What’s the difference between a manager and agent?”

Agents vs Managers
Is it possible to have a successful acting career without an agent?  It’s not impossible, but it is much more challenging.  I know actors who have a personal manager, but no agent, and they get auditions.  I know actors who have agents and personal managers, and they seem to do better.  Since managers receive 15-20% commission on the gross of everything you make, you could be giving away 25-30% of the gross of your earnings if you have both an agent and manager.  Still, if they’re getting you work, it’s worth it.  After all, commissions are a write-off, and work leads to more work.

What Managers Do
A manager usually has fewer clients than an agent and will give you more personal attention.  They may assist you in selecting headshots, updating your resume, getting you feedback, giving you advice, helping you with what to wear, and scheduling conflicts that may arise.  Managers will take 15-20% out of your gross earnings.  They’re not legally allowed to negotiate, though some do.  If they have great contacts and can open doors for you that your agent can’t seem to open, it will be worth it to have a manager as well as an agent.  If you just have a manager, they’ll be able to get you auditions and guide your career, although they may not be able to get you in as many doors as an agent would, depending on who they know and how influential they are. 

What Agents Do
Agents will service an entire roster of clients at their agency.  They will submit and pitch you to casting directors, set up auditions, and make sure you get the script and sides.  They’ll notify you when you get a callback, and negotiate for you when you book the job.  They won’t have time to coddle you or give you much advice, unless they get negative feedback about you from a casting director.  You may not have much interaction with your agent because they’re so busy, but they’re busy trying to get their clients work which is what you want.  My theatrical agent is wonderful about responding to short emails, but many agents don’t want to be bothered.  It will depend on your relationship with your agent. 

Getting Your Own Work
Actors also get paid work on their own, from time to time.  It’s always a good idea to make your agent aware that you’re working and offer them their 10% commission.  If you’ve signed contracts, they’re legally entitled to a commission on all your acting earnings within a 50-mile radius.   

Hiring Both An Agent and A Manager
I’ve found that, if you have a manager, they will deal with your agent, which means you’ll receive appointments and bookings from your manager rather than your agent.  I enjoy developing a relationship with my agent and acting as my own manager.  I pay myself 15% of the gross of every check I receive and invest it.  That way, I get to keep the money I earn.

Remember that as much as 30% could be taken out of your gross paycheck when you have both an agent and a manager.  If the manager is able to bring some awesome connections to the table, it could be well worth it, and when you get busy and have trouble juggling appointments, your manager can help you out with scheduling.  Propose working with a new manager on a trial basis, or sign a short term agreement, but it’s best not to commit to a longer term until you know what they’re capable of doing for you.  

In the past, I’ve had a manager and an agent, and that was great.  Part of the reason it worked well was that my manager also had a background as an entertainment attorney and publicist.  He had a lot of contacts, which really helped me when I was on the soap opera, Another World, in New York City for two years.  Even though I was locked into a contract and paying him 15% out of every check, he was able to continue working for me from Los Angeles.  When I received my first paycheck from Another World, I was in shock.  I wasn’t incorporated at the time, so state & federal taxes were approximately 30-40% of my gross earnings.  With my agent taking 10% and my manager taking 15%, I saw less than 50% of my paycheck.  That was a real eye-opener.  When I talked to my manager about my meager paycheck, he offered to take 10% instead of the 15% he was entitled to, which helped a bit.  I don’t have a manager now, though I’ve recently been considering it.  However, I’ve always had an agent.  I wouldn’t have been able to get the work I’ve obtained without being represented by my agents.  I am forever grateful to each and every one of them.

Hiring An Entertainment Attorney
I also have an entertainment attorney who has been extremely helpful, going over spokesperson contracts and assisting me with my corporation.  I pay him whenever I need his services.  Even though I’m incorporated, I handle the business myself, without the assistance of a business manager, who normally takes 5% of your gross income.  My accountant helped me figure out how to do payroll, pay corporate taxes, file paperwork with the government, etc.  Incorporating is a whole different topic which I’ll cover in a future blog entry.  For me, it has been essential.


Garret also asked another good question.  “Should you leave your agent if you’re not happy, or stay with them and wait until you find a new one?”

Should You Leave Your Current Agent?
From past experience, I’ve found that it’s best to stay put until you have somewhere else to go.  You can utilize your current agent by using them as leverage to get into casting offices.  If you have an agent listed as your contact, vs a personal phone number, you’ll be more likely to acquire a meeting.  It’s more professional.  If you’re unhappy with your current representation, ask your agent to set aside some time to talk with you, and let them know you‘d like to get out more.  Ask what you can do to help.  Tell them you want to be proactive and assist them in getting work for you.  They may have some ideas.  Treat them with the respect that you’d like to be treated with in return.  Enlist them to work together as a team.  You are essentially hiring them, and they know that.   

Marketing Is A Must
You may find that you’re self-disciplined, motivated, and a good marketer.  However, most actors require assistance when it comes to the ‘business of acting’.  The creative part, where you actually get to act, comes easy and is fun.  The key is to combine business with creativity so that you enjoy doing it.  Otherwise you’ll need to hire someone to help you, or make a trade with a friend.  It won’t help you to send your material to agents if you’re resentful that you have to do it.  An optimistic attitude will make a huge difference and bring you better results.

A Job To Support Your Career
If you don’t have the funds, then you’ll need to get a job so you’ll have the ability to pay for top quality headshots, reproductions, resumes, a website, business cards, mailing supplies, and the casting services you’ll need to register with, such as Actors Access, LA Casting, The Casting Frontier, and NOW Casting.  If you’re a voice-over actor, you’ll need to create a professional one-minute demo reel and upload it to voicebank.net, voices.com, voice123.com, and other VO casting services.   It’s a financial investment in your future.  When I first started out, I worked at Maxwell’s Plum in New York City, waiting on tables.  The tips were good, and every bit of money I made that didn’t go to my living expenses, went to investing in my career.  I didn’t love that job, but I did love that it enabled me to pay for the tools necessary to get the acting work I truly wanted.  I waited on tables for two years, until I got a good agent, started auditioning a lot, and booked a few commercials.  When I was able to quit my waitress job and dedicate myself to acting full time, I was thrilled!

Don’t Sit Back And Do Nothing
Actors who get agents and think they don’t have to do anything more because they’re being taken care of, will be in for a big surprise.  Once you have an agent, you’ll need to market yourself.  That will never end.  Even major celebrities promote themselves.  They hire publicists to keep their faces in the magazines and on talk-shows.  Marketing is key, as well as keeping up with all your online acting resources.  You’ll need to keep all your materials up-to-date.

Agents Are An Asset
Good luck with your hunt for an agent.  In the thirty years I’ve been in this business, I’ve only met one agent I didn’t like.  He worked at a well-established, high-powered agency and was arrogant and condescending, kind of like Ari Gold on Entourage, but long before the HBO series was created and became popular. 

I’ve met a lot of agents over the years, and they have all been hard-working, passionate people who are trying to help you book jobs and get paid well for your work.  They’ve created many opportunities for me, and negotiated much better deals than I could have ever negotiated for myself. 

So, do you really need an agent?  Yes, I would say that you really need one.  Or more!



If you come up with a new approach that lands you a good agent, let me know.  I love to post success stories as well as answer your questions.