I recently hired an actor named Jason Stuart (http://www.jasonstuart.com/) for a significant role in the feature I’m currently making and I did so because he wrote me a cold email. WHAAAAAT? Does that actually work? Let’s back up for a second.
Making it as an actor is hard – I mean HAAAAAARD. I remember auditioning for commercials when I was sixteen. I made it about four months before the sting of rejection really just got me down. See, when you’re an actor you’re at the mercy of literally everyone until you get on the A-list. You have to fight not just for the role but for the audition for the role. Even with more films being made then ever, there are still entirely too many actors for everyone to be working. So what does an actor do? The short answer – anything it takes.
Some actors decide to produce their own films to showcase their talent, others network, some sit in the corner and cry – and others do all three. But if you want to get booked, or at least get asked to audition for roles you hear about, you have to submit through one of the standard casting sites like actors access or the breakdown services. The problem with these breakdown services is that you are one of literally hundreds if not one of a thousand submissions for a role.
If you look at the screenshot below from breakdownexpress.com you’ll see that many of the roles for the film we’re currently in production on have gotten over 1,000 submissions – and one role has gotten over 3,000 submissions!
How are you supposed to stick out in a sea of over 3,000 actors? It’s tough. One way that can be effective is through cold emailing. This technique is usually frowned upon by most casting directors and studio movies. When people are trying to sort through thousands of submissions and dealing with agents and managers and publicists, the last thing they want to read is an email from an actor begging for an audition – HOWEVER – if you’re approaching an independent production or you have a particularly special connection to the role or project or even have credits that are impressive then an email can really help your chances of getting an audition and even getting the role.
The email Jason Wrote to me
If you’re interested in the exact email that Jason wrote to me, he allowed me to post it for you to see here:
Forgive my boldness. But when I see your work, and your choices and risks you take. I couldn’t resist contacting you directly.
Thought I might be right for “chuck: in IMMORTAL
I have been an actor for 3 million years and have appeared in over 140 film & TV shows. After having a nice size role in THE BIRTH OF A NATION, and appearing in TANGERINE and LOVE IS STRANGE, I was changed as an artist and a human being.
My Dad passed a few years ago. He was a Jewish immigrant who always said to me, in a thick Polish accent, “When go to the interview, wear a tie and show then you mean business”. I took that to mean, “Be your best self”. And that’s who I strive to be…
I look forward to the possibilities,
The only other thing Jason put in the email was an updated headshot and his direct contact information. He had a great look, a great reel and some major credits that I was impressed with so it was an easy choice to offer him the role. I didn’t have to make him audition either – he clearly had the chops. He did GREAT on the film by the way.
Now some of Jason’s email was definitely something that he sends out multiple times but his reel and credits were good enough for me to overlook that completely. If you don’t have a laundry list of great credits though you can still win over someone with a little research.
Here are some guidelines that I think you should use if you decide to write a cold email to a producer or casting director – this is all just my opinion from the cold emails I’ve received when casting so keep in mind not everyone will have these same sentiments when it comes to cold emails from actors.
Explain why you’re writing the email
If all you’re going to do is say “please please please let me audition” then skip it. I’ve gotten emails from people saying that the project sounds like fun and they’d love to be a part of it – there’s really no value there. You have to point out why you’re writing the email and going the extra mile to try to get your foot in the door.
If you read the synopsis and you have a personal life story where you can relate that’s something useful enough to mention. If you see someone who has already been cast in the film and you have a personal connection to them or you’ve worked with them on a previous film – that’s worth mentioning. If you’ve been in a bunch of shorts or features that have premiered at major film festivals – that’s worth mentioning as independent filmmakers are always looking for an edge to get our films into the big film festivals (if it’s not Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, Cannes, or Toronto though don’t even bother – nobody cares and it makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about).
After reading through that list you’re probably getting the gist of it. The idea is “what’s in it for me?” You have to explain why you’re a better or more suitable candidate than the other 3,000 people who have submitted for the role.
Start the email off with a small apology
If you’re sending a cold email just know that everyone’s first reaction is to get a little annoyed so starting off with a small apology is totally appropriate. It doesn’t have to be long just a “forgive me for being so bold” or something along those lines will usually start you off on the right foot. Here are some lines people have used that I thought worked well:
“I know I’m not supposed to email you directly but…”
“Forgive me for the cold email but…”
“Forgive my boldness, but…”
“Even though my agent already submitted I just had to contact you personally because…”
Short and sweet but something that acknowledges you know it’s not the normal course to take.
Complement the filmmaker
If the filmmaker is someone you’ve heard of and you’re a fan be sure to mention it. If you’ve seen some of the filmmaker’s previous works (and they’re not a name director) they will usually be impressed that you are a fan. I know some of it is just people sucking up but if you can help it, don’t lie. Writing these emails takes time and you should really only be doing it for projects you really want to work on so if you have to make up a reason to get in touch with the filmmaker it’s probably not worth your time or theirs.
I don’t have many films that have been released yet but if someone wrote to me saying they backed me on kickstarter or watched a trailer for one of my projects and pointed out something they really liked about the visual style that would be enough for me to sit up and pay attention.
Don’t just send a form email
It’s very easy to see when someone is sending a generic email that they send to every filmmaker. Don’t do it. It just pisses us off. If you’re going to send a cold email make it personal and explain why you needed to actually flood my inbox in addition to submitting via the breakdowns.
Don’t make any kind of false claims
Don’t lie and say you know someone in distribution or at a film festival when you really don’t. This can blow up in your face fast and not only will you not get the role, you’re smearing your own name. Filmmakers talk to each other….a lot. Anyone who has made a feature knows how hard it is to succeed and we tend to be brutally honest with each other and send warnings to each other on a regular basis. I can tell you that every pain in the ass I’ve worked with is someone I’ve warned my friends about when making their films.
Don’t just write a one line email
Your email should be short but it should be more than just one line. Here’s an example of a bad one-line email you should never send a producer or casting director:
“Hi, your film looks awesome, please keep me in mind for the role of JAKE – I think I’d be great.”
Or even worse
“Hey, congrats on your new production. Are there any roles you think I might be right for?”
ARRRGGG – I hate those emails. Are there any roles you think I might be right for? Doesn’t that just sound like the laziest thing in the world? They’re not even reading the character descriptions that you posted. They’re just throwing up things against a wall and seeing if someone will respond – super annoying.
So with all that in mind, here’s an email I responded to from an actor recently that follows everything that I laid out in this post. This was one of only 4 emails I got about this role and this was the ONLY one that was worth actually responding to – and he got an audition.
Forgive me for emailing you directly, I’m sure you’re super busy in pre-production, but I wanted to reach out because I’m a big fan of yours. A friend of mine reposted one of your blog posts and I’ve recently been reading your daily posts about filmmaking. I especially enjoyed the one about how you got your first feature made – it was really inspiring to see how simple it can be to actually make a movie if you put in some effort.
I watched your trailer for “I’d Like to be Alone Now” and I can’t wait to see it when it gets released. The cinematography looks amazing and that music is just brilliant. The cast was full of actors I really admire.
I’m writing because I see you’re making another film and after reading the character breakdowns I think I’d be a good fit for Chuck. I’ve been acting for over 10 years now and you can check me out on IMDB to see my credits. I work hard, show up early, and absolutely love the art of filmmaking. I would be honored to audition for you or self-tape if you think I have the right look. If not, I understand, and hope to work with you in the future.
Thank you for your time,
It’s a little longer than it needed to be but it was still short enough and relevant enough that I felt like he put in the effort required to actually warrant an audition no matter what he looked like. Even if he was three feet too tall and twenty years too old, I would have told this guy to send in a self-tape…and if you he has the acting chops who knows – maybe he’ll get cast.
Have you ever tried to cold email a casting director or a producer for a short film? Feel free to comment on this post to let me know.