Do I Need A Cover Letter? Uh....Check!
I recently agreed to help a friend with a referral to my commercial agency. We just did a play together and we've also performed together in late-night sketch shows. He's terrifically talented and has the perfect clean-cut look for commercials. On top of that, he has a positive attitude and has a great work ethic! Why wouldn't I refer him?
Over the weekend, we exchanged information. I gave him the address and the contact person. Let him know that it was a good time to submit because I had just had a lengthy conversation with the agent, dropped off gifts and exchanged New Years wishes, and I had put in a good word. We were both feeling good when he dropped the bomb, "Do I have to write a cover letter?"
YES! Yes, yes, yes! You absolutely, positively, always need to write a cover letter! Especially if someone has never met you. When I looked at him like "Are you kidding?" he told me he didn't know what to write. I am always taken aback when actors overlook simple business tactics. It's not a surprise, really, because colleges aren't structured to teach students the business aspects of the industry, and many actors are so tuned into the creative left side of their brain that they forgo the right brain business side. I can't stress enough, you must cultivate both!
Long before I had anything resembling an "okay" resume, I knew how to make a cover letter work for me. I firmly believe that this alone got me my first agents, which led to my SAG Card, which led to better agents and better auditions and bona-fide work. Over the years, a good cover letter and a decent headshot got me six meetings with top commercial agencies, three theatrical agent meetings, two print agent meetings, and one manager meeting, who happened to sign me and put everything into high gear. And these were targeted mailings to people I had never met before.
I'm certainly not an expert, but here are a few suggestions for writing a kick ass cover letter that will get you into the room:
1) When submitting to an agency, drum up as many referrals as possible. Ask a friend at the agency for a referral and then ask as many respected industry people as possible if they would be willing to be a referral and/or be available to give the agency feedback. Factor in reputable teachers, casting directors who know and love your work, agents, directors, artistic directors from theatres, and producers and executive producers. After a quick, "hello," begin your cover letter with the words "I come to you on a strong recommendation from" and then list all referrals. By listing industry members who can back up your work, you are proving that you are desirable to others and have the ability to instantly make the agent money.
2) The second paragraph should be all about you and you should use your personality and zip to sell yourself as concisely as possible. This is where you list your schooling, classes you're currently taking, improvisation experience, award-winning productions you've done, quotes from glowing reviews, and, of course, recent jobs you've booked, currently running commercials they can catch and upcoming episodes they can watch.
3) The third paragraph is where you go for the kill. "At present I am seeking _______" commercial representation, theatrical representation, a manager etc. "and I would be thrilled to meet with you at your convenience." If you have a reel, you should specify this here. Let them know that they can contact your referrals for feedback (although they probably won't) and list their contact info at the bottom of the letter. I also offer to provide them with a list of casting directors who know and have praised my work upon request. And then list your number so that the lazy agent doesn't have to flip over your resume to get it.
4) Finally, let them know that you will follow up professionally with postcards (and then do it a few weeks later) and that you hope to meet with them soon.
5) Feel free to include a quick, upbeat P.S. I usually write something like, "Check out my website for more pictures, demos, & updates!" And then list your site.
In general, keep everything upbeat and concise. A cover letter should never ever be more than one page long. It should always be typed. And it should never enter "cute" territory. This is not the place for smiley faces and jokes about how your mom said you'd be a star since you were two.
I hope this was a little helpful. Remember, everyone has their own style. What works for me, may not work for you. But no cover letter at all won't work for anybody.