“Phoning in The Favor”
An up-and-coming talent approaches a well-placed, working friend or acquaintance and asks something like,
“Can you walk my headshot/résumé/demo in to your agent for me?”
“Can you get me an audition on the show you’re working on?”
“Can you walk my demo/script/headshot in to your show creator-friend for me?”
“Can you get me a meeting with that casting director who always calls you in?”
Asking questions like these– without asking for advice or input from your contact/friend first–demonstrates a number of things:
1. You assume that your work is ready to be seen by a “gatekeeper,” with no need for any change, analysis, or even confirmation. You see yourself as completely ready to go.
2. You assume your friend/connection would feel good about placing their reputation on the line by recommending you and/or your work to their connections.
3. You assume that walking in your script/materials will go well and reflect well on you both.
This request can be fine– assuming you and your materials are indeed ready to go. But let’s consider a not uncommon Hollywood scenario: Your script is actually less than stellar, your promotional materials are less than convincing, your demo is weak, you are actually not ready for that all-important meeting. To top this off– and most importantly– you don’t realize (or want to acknowledge) any of this, and frankly, you’re not interested in hearing any of it. In your mind, you have arrived and all it takes is a quick and easy phone call from a friend and you are “in.”
In this case, your original request also demonstrates to your friend/contact that:
4. You probably don’t have an accurate understanding of your own abilities or the stakes involved with making a professional recommendation.
5. You also probably don’t respect or understand what your contact has gained professionally. You may come off as implying “The only difference between me (with no agent/work) and you (with an agent/work) is just a phone call or an envelope plopped on the right desk.”
6. You are apparently the kind of person who has no problem asking a friend or professional contact to essentially endanger their career on your behalf.
As I say elsewhere, I’m not discouraging you from asking for help or even a favor. When you are ready for that, you absolutely should. What I want is for you to be mindful of what you are asking of your friend/contact. It goes well beyond this “small favor.” You are asking your contact to put their credibility on the line as well as for their time and hard-earned expertise– for free. In a sense, it’s like asking a childhood friend who is now a doctor if she would mind taking out your appendix– for free.
There is a better, more professional and respectful way of asking this. A better version of the initial four questions might be:
“I’m considering submitting to your agent. Would I fit in there? Am I ready for your agency?”
“Would I be right to read for anything on your show? Are they auditioning and what is that process on your show? How would I go about meeting the casting director?”
“Since you’re established and working, would you have time to look over my spec script/demo/headshot, maybe tell me what you think? I’m thinking of submitting it, but want to make sure it’s competitive and represents me well. I need to know whether I’m ready and if not, that’s fine.”
“Do you know if your casting director friend does general meetings with actors or even classes? I’d love to meet her/him.”
Leaving it open for your friend/contact to make the suggestion to submit or call or walk in your stuff is a much better way to go. It’s more respectful, more self-aware and just smarter. It takes the embarrassment and onus off your professional friend/contact, which is more considerate and professional.
You are not just asking someone to share their expertise, perhaps more importantly, you are asking of them their time. Asking for someone’s time is no small thing. Asking an expert– friend or not– for their time as if they have plenty of it, as if you were asking for a glass of water, is not good at all.
Asking for any help or expert advice–and genuinely seeking an honest opinion, not just confirmation– is a good sign that you are open to learning and have a professional mindset. This demonstrates a desire for improvement, that you “get it,” and shows that you understand that this business isn’t just about people phoning in favors. It is, rather, a competitive economy of earned trust and hard-earned ability.
The golden currency of this economy is talent and the search engine for it is often a recommendation from a trusted colleague.
Put your best foot forward on your way up. Phone in the favor when you are ready, but with respect for your contact and a readiness to re-polish that gem of yours– or even go back to the drawing board– if need be.