Grab the Casting Directors' Attention

by Ruth Kulerman

Illustration of finding talent

Three essential ways to grab the attention of the person opening an actor's self-submission envelope.

"How do I grab casting directors' attention when I self-submit?"

There are several professional ways to grab the attention of someone who opens self-submission envelopes. A complete answer would fill a book. There are three essentials before a casting office (or agent/manager) will take your self-submission seriously. Let's take a look at two of those essentials today.

First thing they see is your ENVELOPE. As an assistant to a manager I have probably opened three or four hundred headshot envelopes during the past five years.

Here are some examples of how NOT to get your envelope opened. These make a bad impression before they've even seen your cover letter and headshot.

An envelope addressed in pencil, or heavy black felt pen, handwritten illegibly or printed so fancy it looks like Louis XIV channeled it.

Addresses typed on regulation labels in black ink. Simple bold font, size 14 minimum for the larger label. For the smaller return label: Smaller, same style font. I personally like Arial. The Times New Roman is done to death. You also don't want anything too fancy. Arial makes a firm business-like impression. The letters march like little West Pointers, all spiffy and neat.

Incorrect or misspelled names (people and company).

Research everything well enough to know the correct name and spelling.

Sending a request to be considered for xyz TV show when that casting office only casts for commercials. Or sending to a commercial casting office a request to be considered for any appropriate regional theatre role. Not too many casting offices really cast for everything.

Do your homework until you know which offices cast for what. If you are interested in print work, for example, no sense in sending to a casting office that only handles feature films.

Nailing or cementing the envelope flap down so tightly that it takes a champion WWO to open it. I have thrown unopened envelopes in the trash after spending three minutes wrestling with a flap. A casting office weekly receives hundreds, sometimes thousands of submissions envelopes. The harder it is to open an envelope, the more likely it will get thrown out (unopened). Numerous requests from casting offices ask that the submission envelopes not be sealed.

A couple of pieces of Scotch tape (not covering the clip). Or a lightly pasted flap. Self-sticking flaps cause a ruckus also.

Once you have passed the self-submission envelope test, next comes the COVER LETTER. Here briefly are some simple suggestions.

1. Invest in really handsome top-of-the-line expensive business stationery. WHITE, heavy weight (32 ounces is good), with watermarks.

WHY SPEND THAT EXTRA MONEY? A fine sheet of stationery tells the reader that you have self-respect, that you care enough to want to create a good impression, and that you have good taste. Even if all this is subliminal, still their fingers feel the difference when they touch your cover letter. No, your resume need not be on expensive stationery. Just the cover letter.

Recently I saw a letter written in pencil on lined notebook paper. No headshot. Just a letter in a small plain envelope addressed in pencil. Actually I felt like crying when I read the heartfelt desire of this twelve-year-old from the Southern backwoods. (Perhaps because I too was raised there.) She wanted to be a movie star and make lots of money.

I wrote her that a manager could not represent someone who lived more than an hour from her. But I really wanted to tell her to get an education, prepare for a profession where she could earn a decent living, and to live a normal happy life. Although my sympathy went out to her, I promise you, a white typed beautiful sheet of stationery will create a better impression than a handwritten note in pencil on lined school paper.

2. Design a handsome, simple heading for your handsome stationery. Have your name, Website, e-mail and cell phone info in this heading. No personal phone numbers. No address unless it is a Post Office box.

3. The letter MUST follow the acceptable formal format for a business letter.

4. Type the letter in print large enough to be read in a hurry. I've seen letters that could be read only by an ant wearing bifocals, crawling across the page. And please print dark enough so that we don't need a flashlight to decode the alphabet.

5. Dear Mr. or Ms. is the correct salutation. If you cannot tell the gender from the name, then address the letter "Dear Mr./Ms. Smith": But it's better to call the office and ask if "Avi Smith" is male or female. And keep searching until you find a name to address the letter to. Just "To Whom It May Concern" isn't good enough. If necessary, phone the office and ask to whom the submission envelope should be addressed.

6. Do not be cute, or "hi guy" friendly. Don't even try to be clever. Be simple, be polite. Very simply, state your reason for writing. Always do a spell check. Use correct grammar.

6. KEEP YOUR LETTER SHORT. Do not compete with War and Peace. Remember a lot of information is on the resume. Tell why you are writing. If you have used 12 words in a sentence, rewrite, edit, and revise it until you give the same information in 9 words. Be courteous by recognizing the necessity not to intrude on their time. I have seen lengthy letters used as ideal examples in "How To" theatre books. This is wrong. NO ONE has that kind of time.

A one-sentence introduction [This is being submitted for consideration for an audition for etc.] is essential. Write three short sentences stating your special qualification and a one-sentence conclusion. NO MORE. Have a point and get to it! End with Sincerely, or Yours sincerely, or Very truly yours. These are professional business letters. Follow the code.

7. Do not presume anything. I really dislike "I look forward to meeting you." Do not for one minute think it is a positive upbeat ending. NO. It is presumptuous. It is much more courteous to say that you would like to be considered for an interview. Someone lost a role because, at the end of a fabulous callback, he said, "I look forward to working with you." You cannot make that statement until they have offered you the role. You cannot "look forward to meeting" someone until they have asked you to come in to see them.

People are still judged by their appearance and their language. Have the appearance of your envelope and your letter create great expectations. Have the brief content of your letter fulfill those expectations.

Present the best you in your envelope's appearance.
Present the best you in your cover letter's appearance and content.
Ruth Kulerman is an actress and coach, known for "The Off Season," "A Walk in the Dark," and "Satan Hates You." Her series of articles is copyright by Chad Gracia and ActorTips. All rights reserved.
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Reader Comments

Although I appreciate your effort of writing this, I think a lot of it is complete nonsense.
Of course a letter needs to be professional and look decent.
But it is also very important that your own personality shines through. People are not robots.
It's your unique style that makes you stand out. Yes, you should be professional, yes, you should write a short letter that gets to the point. But you make it sound like you are a frustrated casting director that likes to scare young hopefuls.

You should remember that you are dealing with people here. It seems you have too much arrogance and attitude to see that. The sentence "Someone lost a role because, at the end of a fabulous callback, he said, "I look forward to working with you", actually made me laugh. That says a lot about you and nothing about the actor. Maybe you need to talk to someone, because if you react that way on a hard working, decent, good willed actor that is right for a part, just because of that sentence, then you are clearly not suitable for this job.

Posted by Mark (2012-04-30) 5872

This is ridiculous. Someone 'lost out on a role because they said looking forward to working with you'

It is YOUR job to cast the correct person for the role. Why have you got the right to interfere with this just because your ego got in the way and you wern't happy that the perfect actor wasn't licking your bum for once.

Posted by Joe (2011-10-08) 4891

FOOLISH TWELVE-YEAR-OLD. Just because she sent a lousy cover letter once doesn't mean she has to give up her dream!

Posted by Terry (2011-10-04) 4868

I'm a child actress and have just been asked to hand a resume in, does everything you said still apply to my age? I'm 13.

Posted by Georgina Taylor (2011-05-14) 3134

Good Morning,

I just read your article and I was wondering what would I say in this letter being that I am a new comer to the industry and I have not worked yet? I am clueless as to what I can say to capture the casting directors attention and focus it on me without having done anything yet.

Posted by Shavon (2010-12-03) 2799

Most of the time an intern or assistant is opening the mail. So I wouldn't worry about the handwriting on the envelope or fancy labels. As long as its legible they will get it. And someone will open it -- and probably file it in a pile of new headshots to go over. After that they sort and toss the ones they don't feel they can use. Most likely done by an casting associate or assistant but sometimes its just a trusted intern.

Posted by E (2010-02-20) 2376

Hello Ruth,

Is it alright to email a Casting Director?

Posted by Clark Bullen (2010-01-29) 2315

The advice you have on this website is so substantually incredible. I appreciate you taking your time and helping people like me out. I wish to be an actress someday but I doubt that that will be possible, but that doesn't bother me. Maybe one day my dream will come true. Life tends to surprise you with unfortunate things but things all things have a way of turning out for the better. Thank you for all you help and I hope that you continue giving advice to people. You really are a nice person.

Posted by Heather R. Fleury (2008-10-08) 462

I think some of the stuff you wrote is absolutely ridiculous; that is what's wrong in this industry. Stuck up phony people like yourself. Passing you along because you said, "looking forward to working with you" is the most insane comment. Have fun being a mindless drone.

Posted by John Stewart (2008-09-14) 363

Dear Ruth Kulerman: I can not thank you enough! You have saved me from making a bigger fool of myself. The "I look forward..." advice I had no idea about! I WILL NEVER do that again. I don't know what else to say but thank you. And, I owe you a coffee.

Posted by Tamira A. Henry (2008-09-11) 353

Dear Sierra Jones:
I am so pleased my article on self-submissions (envelopes and cover letters) was helpful. I think you will find the other articles included on this site equally helpful. There are 40 of them floating around the Internet, all free. You do not have to pay for them!
I am in the process of building my own website for writing about acting and hope to have it up and running this summer. I have not named it yet but if you will google my name you will find my coaching site and I will post a link to the new writing website the minute it is finished. In it I will answer all questions sent about acting.
Best luck to you.

Posted by Ruth Kulerman (2008-05-19) 90

This is really great information. Today I was sitting home and I thought to myself "acting is my passion so Im going to get up and put my name out in the world" Im glad while researching the professional way to do it, I came across this. Glad I wont look like a fool!

Posted by Sierra Jones (2008-05-15) 86

Thak you for your help. I am writing my letter right now.

Posted by Kayla Laws (2008-03-02) 62

My name is Jihad Abdo. I am a successful Syrian actor, and I have performed in several Syrian shows.

Recently, I performed in the multinational film "Valley of the wolves" (2006 ) with my friend Gassan Massoud who played Saladin in the movie Kingdom of Haven. and Billy zein and other American actors.

Though I am enjoying pleasant success in my country, I am hoping to continue acting in other films, or TV. Shows like this all over the world.

Posted by Jihad Abdo (2008-02-07) 33

I would like to say I got a callback last night. I went to my callback today. The casting agent told me she was very surprised by my envelope. I had a cover letter, resume, and headshots. Nothing special to me. However, she said she had not got a letter in almost eight years and that it proved how much I wanted this. She also said she would remember me forever because of it. Letters DO make a difference. I now will be remembered for a long time by a Vice-President of XXI Century Entertainment. I'm just waiting to see what comes next. :)

Posted by Kimberly C. (2007-12-09) 12

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