Hey J! Ask the Agent: How to make the perfect sandwich

Hey J,

What do I need to include when I’m writing to an agent? 

Thanks for your time, Ethan.

Hi Ethan,

Bank details are always useful. Mother’s maiden name. Favourite word that’s more than 8 letters and features both a number and a special character – that kind of thing.

Jokes aside, you’d be pretty surprised at what kind of personal information people include when they’re writing to an agent. Really it’s not necessary to include your entire autobiography or to précis your whole CV. The truth is, if we’re not going to take it any further then no delightful story about how you peed your pants in your first ballet class is going to change our mind. That’s an anecdote from an actual application btw. It made me laugh but I still didn’t call them for an interview.

A lot of applications I receive are really similar and almost all are overly long. My job is to represent the clients I have and they keep me busy enough – reading twenty novellas a day isn’t something I generally have time to do. So, while I do look at everything that comes into my office, I’m usually skimming for the important information. Applicants could really help me, and get my full attention, if they kept their email to just the important information.

I think a really good application is like a sandwich. Two slices of bread and a tasty filling. You can cover everything in one main paragraph – that’s the sandwich filling, all the delicious, interesting stuff, and either side of that are the two slices of bread. They might, of course, be interesting too – I do love a rosemary and salt ciabatta – but they’re absolutely not the main event.

If you have a personal connection mention that in the first sentence. For example, if your friend Maisie is represented by the agent and Maisie has put in a good word for you, get that in early. Similarly if a director or casting director has suggested you get in touch say that straight away. A lot of casting directors know the type of actor I like to work with and if they come across someone with a skill set they think will interest me they often suggest to the actor that they get in touch with me. That kind of personal connection is really important in the industry. Similarly if you’ve trained at a recognisable school, or just finished a well-known piece of work, bring that up as soon as you can.

In the bulk of the message, the tasty filling, I really think you can cover almost everything in about three – five sentences. Think about what makes you unique and individual. A lot of actors all say the same thing in their emails “I’m hard-working, passionate, determined.” We expect that from everyone. What you want is to be the stand-out who offers us something different. What is it about you that makes you unique? Do you have a particularly interesting skill set? A very high vocal belt? Do you play a variety of instruments or speak a number of languages? Have you just finished working with Brett Sheehy, or graduated from Griffith? Think about your particular journey and what makes it individual.

Are you inviting the agent to see you in something? Include a hyperlink in the email to make it easy for them to click through and find out more. Always make it as easy as possible for agents to click through and learn more about you. Use hyperlinks to direct them to your showreel on YouTube or Vimeo, to your Showcast or StarNow profile if you have them, or use a link to send them to personal website where you have your headshot and a more detailed biog. Keeping everything in one place makes it so much simpler. If an agent had their interest piqued by your initial application then directing them to one place lets them dive in and discover more about you.

The last piece of the sandwich can just be a sentence thanking them for their time.

My best tip is – once you’ve written your first draft, count the words and then cut the word count in half without losing any important information. This is my favourite exercise. It’s amazing how many times you can do this and it’s really useful to help you get right to the heart of what makes you unique and individual. You’ll notice how many filler words you have, how many times you use synonyms for the same thing – fervent, passionate, ardent, etc.

The other important thing is remember you’re writing to a person, not a building. You want to start a relationship with someone so think about how to make it personal to them. What can you find out about them before you apply? What is it particularly about this person that makes you want to be represented by them? Be interested in them as people, not just as someone you want to do things for you.

I said in my last column that there’s any number of reasons why an agent might not bite straight away so keep applying, keep thinking about your own unique journey and above all – keep the faith.

Stay connected. Stay creative.

J

Got a question? Email JBR at [email protected]

JBR

JBR is a UK Talent Agent based in London. He began his career as a child performer in the 1980’s and has spent more than three decades in the industry exploring creativity and working across a number of fields. He has been an actor, a director, a writer, a designer, a drag queen, a producer, a dramaturg, a teacher, a comedy booker, a publican, a marketing manager and an agent. He runs JBR Creative Management working with a small group of multi-platform creatives. JBR's first book, published by Nick Hern Books, will be released in summer 2021.

JBR

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