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Heather Finn – A Woman with a Passion for Commercials

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If you want to really know about how to get an agent, Heather Finn is an incredible resource. She recently ran a class at NYCastings.com about just that and after two hours this speed demon of a woman had our heads spinning with so much great information. In fact if that phrase were true then we were all tornadoes by the time her session ended.

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When Heather remarked, “What I love to do is talk to people about the business and how to get an agent,” she wasn’t kidding. Here ticker tape of information quickly filled up my computer screen.

“I love helping people on their way up to doing their first job and their second job and their third job,” she continued.

Heather broke down the process for us in steps in between swirling her hair, putting it into a pony tail and pulling it out multiple times throughout the evening. Her energy was endless.

Finding an agent

Her first step was filled with what we should be doing to find an agent and included sending out headshots and resumes. Surprisingly, unlike some other agents, she is not as concerned about a great headshot. What is most important to Heather is that it looks like you.

However, she did suggest that you NOT ask friends and family to choose your best headshot but rather someone who is impartial (like your agent if you have one).

“You don’t have to wait to have the best picture of you,” she remarked. “You just need to have a good clear picture of you,” she emphasized.

“I am a commercial agent. I don’t necessarily need someone who has experience – though of course it never hurts - I want a good look and someone who has a personality.”

She then for just a moment took a serious tone (something you’ll rarely see as humor is part of her makeup).

“This is a business,” she said. “I do this for a living. You think of it as a job interview but it is more like a first date. It’s more personal.”

When asked how we know who to send our headshots to she broke it down for us beginning with getting a list of agents, but making it clear that mass mailing is not what you do.

“The Call Sheet is at any bookstore or online. It has all of the agents and managers and casting directors in every city. Do research on the company. Look for agents who work with your type,” she emphasized.

“Follow the rules on submissions,” she continued. The rules she was referring to are how the agencies want to receive your headshots. If they say email then send it via email but if they say no email then DON’T email it. Most want it sent via snail mail and following those rules is critical.

“Every time you do something opposite of what they want you are getting one strike against yourself,” she added, explaining that day in and day out she gets hundreds of headshots and she has to figure out the best way to weed them out.

She compared it to online dating where you pick and choose who you want to meet. The point is that you need to research what companies are a good fit for you and how they want to receive your headshot and resume.

Thinking back at some of the mistakes actors sometimes make she offered up such advice as, “I don’t want to see a business resume. I want to see your acting resume.”

And when it comes to languages it’s important that if you include it you must be fluent.

Skills are also important, as is mentioning any training you've had. Yet, even if you have very little on your resume, that’s okay. “You have to have what is current but it’s okay if you have practically nothing on your resume. People start from nothing,” she emphasized.

Then when you have what you need and have written a great cover letter, send it out to a lot of agents. You never know how they are going to respond.

“Give it a few weeks. No one is going to call you the day they get it in the mail,” she added. She also talked about the fact that first you should send an agent your headshot but after that updates on postcards are fine.

Tips to help you along the way

Heather then moved on to offering helpful tips beginning with, “Never use the envelope with the clear back. That will give them an excuse not to look at it. You want to make sure they are going to open it and look at it.”

If the agent has an assistant, send one to the assistant as well since they are in training to be an agent and don’t get a lot of mail. Heather then demonstrated with her colorful humor her reaction every time she received some rare mail when she started up the ladder to being an agent.

And if you are wondering how to find out the name of the assistant you can call the agency and ask.

“Then wait a few weeks and send again. Also do meet and greets. It is one thing to send your picture but it’s another thing to meet them in person. It’s like speed dating,” she continued.

After you get called in

Okay, you've sent out those headshots and resumes and one or more people have called you in for an interview. Now what?

First of all she said that it’s great if you get called in by several agents and just because you are meeting with an agent doesn't mean you have to work with them.

“As much as we are interviewing you – you are interviewing us. We have to get along and like each other,” she added.
And if you are one of those actors who doesn't get any responses, don’t give up, try again in six months. Sometimes timing is everything.

She also reminded us to be sure we bring our headshots with us even if they say we don’t need to. In fact you should always have a couple of headshots with you wherever you go because you never know. You can also provide your web site address (if you have one). And ask them if you need to prepare anything. Most of all take time to research who you are meeting so that you know a bit about them and their company.

As far as attire, in her mind it’s not about dressing to impress. “I don’t want you to come dressed in a suit, come in relaxed. You should not be wearing something provocative. Dress nicely, I want to see what you are going to look like for an audition where they generally ask you to dress either casual or nice casual.”

Her tips continued to flow as she offered, “Don’t look like you are trying overly hard. Be cool, not desperate. If this is not the right fit than someone else will be right.”

And her next tip was a simple fact. “You are never going to book every job that we send you out for. Your job is the audition process. If you expect to book every job then you are setting yourself up for a failure,” she remarked.

“As an agent it is my job to offer you any opportunities I have for employment. I am generally not going to have time to work with you on a career trajectory – that is more of a manager’s job. And managers can sometimes open doors for you because most of them have relationships with agents.”

The interview process

The final topic was the interview process and before doing a role play of this with each actor who attended the NYCastings.com workshop she passed along a number of tips, noting that the interview process can vary. “They can be 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes or an hour. I’ll have you read copy. I’ll ask you a couple of questions. It’s not a really long process.”

As she put each one through the process Heather would quickly scan the resume and ask questions based on that. When it was my turn one of the first questions she asked was if I’d done commercials, obviously because that is what she casts.

Then learning I was an equine journalist she zeroed in on some of the controversy over the recent Triple Crown. She used the same tactics with each person. She wanted to assess our ability to communicate with whole sentences and not just one word. She was watching our energy level and she was looking for things that might help each of us stand out.

For me it was the 8 years I spent working with Christopher Reeve, an experience that afforded me the ability to see the acting world from many directions. And when we finished she used that as an example noting how something like that could end up creating a longer session.

Heather told us not to worry about how long or short the meeting was because that can also depend on what’s in their schedule for that day. While talking to us an agent may have to respond to an email, answer the phone or do some other urgent deed that warrants his or her attention.

“It takes a lot out of us to meet with people over and over and do the same thing with them. I often feel like a marionette,” she said as she demonstrated just that. She became the puppet doing the same thing over and over again. We chuckled at her puppeteering, but got the message.

As she went along critiquing each one of us Heather wanted us to dig deep and think about how we can stand out among the hundreds of other actors they meet every day.

“When you walk into a room for a commercial audition, how do you get people to pay attention to you? I want to see how you are when you walk into a room and you don’t know everyone. I need to know if you can roll with the punches.

“If we ask you a question have an interesting answer. Be prepared to have a conversation. It’s a give and take,” she noted.

Yet, she also emphasized what not to do and included on that list were some things she had mentioned previously: don’t appear desperate, don’t invade their personal space; don’t appear aggressive

“We all want you to succeed,” she explained. In the end it’s all about working with people they are (she is) excited about. “The only way I can sell people is if I like them.”

Heather concluded her evening with the best way to follow up offering this as her final remark:
“Yes you can send a nice little card in the mail or if the person gave an email then an email. But (and that was a big but), only email during business hours. It’s invasive to do it beyond business hours.”

A bit about NYCastings.com

The event was hosted by NYCastings.com at their offices in New York City. It was one of many events they host every month. And the man behind implementing these events is Philip Galinsky.

Philip is the one who decides what is needed and who would be the best person to teach each workshop. “We look for peers in the industry that want to really teach our members the best way to learn about acting in a wide variety of classes and seminars,” he explained.

And it’s not just about the teachers. Philip focuses on a lot of areas to insure each session benefits those who attend. “Our members get the one-on-one attention they deserve because we have our own large but intimate space. It helps them feel even more comfortable because the class size is small so the attention is focused on them. We do not overbook our classes or hold multiple classes on one night. There are too many places that have too many things happening on one night, in one space. It gets very distracting.”

Heather was a perfect example of the right person for the topic. “We are big fans of Heather and her approach. She also likes the fact that our space is conducive to a very supportive and cooperative atmosphere,” Philip continued.

And while Philip’s approach is important, it’s those actors who took the class who are the ones to truly let one know the value.

“After taking the seminar ‘How to get and keep an agent’ with Heather Finn, I feel smarter and have a very new targeted approach to getting my first agent,” remarked Dominique Prophete, a NYCastings.com member.

“Being a member of NYCastings.com and having access to all the great classes, including Heather Finn’s ‘How to get and keep an agent,’ I now have even more tools in my acting tool box to land my next talent agent,” commented Darnell Dudley.

It’s this type of feedback that most helps NYCastings know what types of classes to offer its members and, fear not, they do have a line-up of interesting and “horrifying” classes in the works.

“We plan on getting more feedback from our members so we provide the best workshops for them including a horror film class, booking extra work class, improv for the camera, commercial acting for kids and some more big surprises, that you will have to wait for, but it will be big,” concluded Philip.

For more information on NYCastings.com upcoming workshops visit their web site at www.nycastings.com or call 646-371-9296. And to learn more about the company Heather works for (Frontier Booking International) you can visit their web site at www.frontierbooking.com.

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