Archive for the ‘Audition’ Category

Breaking down gatekeeper blockades

June 16, 2017

Hi Dave – No, I’m not a comic. However, I’m a WGA screenwriter with a total focus on comedy screenplays. Can you tell me how to contact comedians’ agents without running into blockades? I mean the blockades typically set up by the gatekeepers of those agents. Best – HK

“Someone will get back with you. Yeah… right…”

Hey HK – The bigger the comedian (think celebrity) the bigger the agency blockade will be. When you make a call without prior personal contact or a great reference, plan some extra time for holding, transfers and a final request to leave a voice message and “Someone will get back with you.”

Does anyone really know who that “someone” is? I doubt it because they rarely call back without the prior contact or reference. And unless you left a voice message with a great pitch (offer) that includes the opportunity for a lot of potential $$$’s (yeah, I’m jaded) you’ll spend a long time sitting by the phone waiting for that return call.

HK and I traded a couple emails and I remembered a past FAQ And Answer article about dealing with gatekeepers (the person who answers phone calls and forms a human blockade to keep you from speaking directly to an agent or celebrity). Except the suggestions in that article are different from the answers you’re looking for since it concerned comedians getting past gatekeepers to book paying gigs.

This week’s question is about contacting comedians and agents that would be interested in a screenplay.

But the theory is the same. You have to be SEEN and involved in the SCENE.

I know through experience from working at the LA and NYC Improv clubs (talent coordinator) that a lot of valuable entertainment industry contacts are made by networking. It’s being part of the scene. Not only did I get to work with many great comedians, but I also met a lot of agents, managers, producers and writers just by being in the clubs during shows. They’d come in to watch the comics, and then socialize (network) in the restaurant or bar areas after the show. Sometimes they were there because the comedians they already represent were performing, or they were looking for new talent.

On the lookout

And believe me a good agent or manager is always on the lookout for new talent. Some of them may claim to have a full roster and not accepting new clients, but if a performer simply blows them away and the agent or manager sees a good career opportunity for both of them, it’s their job to pursue it. That’s good business sense.

Now, to get back to today’s specific question…

I’ve also seen this with producers and writers looking to interest comedians and agents in a particular project. For instance, when I worked in LA I remember getting a LOT of calls from television and film people looking for comics that fit a specific “type.” The casting call could be for male or female, tall or small, fat or thin, black or white – or for whatever the TV or film part called for. They wanted to know if any comedians fitting the desired “type” would be on the show that night or if we could put together a live showcase (audition) during a future show.

That’s why you can sometimes go to a comedy club in LA or NYC and see a number of comedians in a row who are similar in type and only do a few minutes (3-5 minutes is norm) of material. They’re showcasing (auditioning) for someone in the audience.

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After the showcase you can usually find everyone – comics and business execs – networking in club’s restaurant or bar. Business cards are exchanged and meetings are scheduled for agents and comedians who are right for the project.

The ones selected for these meetings and potential projects should have no problem getting past any gatekeepers. They’ve made a personal contact.

My point is that the comedians were SEEN because they’ve worked hard at becoming part of the SCENE. They were known by the club bookers as someone who fits what the writer, producer or casting person is looking for. That’s why the comics were called in for the showcase. It’s rare (in fact I’ve never seen it happen) that a booker will call in a comedian he’s never seen perform and knows nothing about for an important industry showcase.

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It’s the same when you’re looking to hire talent or get them interested in a project such as a screenplay. Quit a few newcomers (amateurs) with stars in their eyes will jump at a chance to “be in a movie!” But the comedians who’ve been around for a while will not be so naïve. They understand it’s a business (at least they should). They might listen to a pitch if it’s from a reliable or known source (friends in the biz are always throwing ideas at each other) but if they’re really interested and have decent credits, they’ll probably have an agent you’ll end up pitching to before any deals are made.

Hang up and make the scene!

So basically in your case, I’d forget about battling the gatekeepers by cold calling and scope out the comedians in person who you think would right for your screenplay. Become a part of the SCENE by going to the clubs and checking out their live performances. You might even discover a comic you’ve never heard of and further discover he’d be perfect for your film. Don’t be too aggressive (as a talent booker, that’s what turned me off the most). But take an opportunity to network after the show. Be professional and don’t come off like a stalker (you know what I mean) when you tell the comic about your project.

If the comedian is interested he can get you past any agency gatekeeper with one phone call requesting his agent talk with you. If you meet the agent and he thinks the project is right for his comedian client, he’ll have his gatekeeper set up a meeting.

Sound too simple? It’s really not and I shouldn’t make it sound that way because there are a LOT of people in the entertainment industry who practice the art of schmoozing. I assume that’s where the phrase, “Let’s do lunch,” was developed. But remember one thing:

No one would be doing it if it didn’t work.

If you’re already a known name with a big number ($$$’s) gatekeepers are no problem – you’ll get through. For everyone else (assuming talent and experience are already a “given”) it’s all about networking and contacts. Be part of the SCENE and there’s always a chance you’ll not only be SEEN but also HEARD.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Does anyone send out DVDs anymore?

January 30, 2017

Hey Dave – Does anyone really send out DVD’s anymore? Do bookers even look at them? I think online is the way to go. – C.L.

Hey C.L. – The answer to your question was obvious to me when I was (pretend) shopping for a new computer. I wasn’t actually going to buy anything, but I wanted to see firsthand the new features I’m missing out on.

DVD hammer

Unloading a DVD

The techno-wizard I was soaking for information was in the middle of his sales pitch for a popular brand miniature laptop when I asked a question that stopped him cold:

“Where do you load in the DVD?”

To describe his response, imagine you just walked onstage. You’ve delivered your opening line and the audience responds with a silent stare. THAT’s what this guy did to me. On stage you start to sweat because no one laughed. One-on-one in a computer store I just hoped this guy DIDN’T laugh.

Mr. Wizard showed me a flash drive and said it takes the place of a DVD. If that gets too full or you start collecting too many, all your videos can be stored in a cloud.

The obvious joke right now is to say my head was in a cloud after this piece of information. According to him, DVD’s are old school – similar to how my kids describe my musical tastes.

No doubt there are talent bookers and event planners that are techno-savvy, but I also happen to know a few who make me seem like a computer genius. One even looks at his DVD player as an evil device that made his trusted VCR obsolete (really old school). I’m serious – no joke.

So that brings us back to your question. Does anyone send out DVD’s anymore?

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Not really – but sometimes…

From talking with comedians, bookers and personal experience, almost everything today is done online. You can really see a generation gap if someone requests a DVD (old school). It’s a lot easier to watch comedy sets online. I do it all the time – and you probably do also.

Of course nothing beats a live showcase. But if you can’t arrange that in person or through connections, a film of your set is the next best thing. And if you’re not online you’re not in the business.

I've got the time!

That was easy!

With comedy clubs, a great video can lead to a scheduled showcase or even a paid gig. And as I’m sure many of you know there are a lot of comedians hoping for one of those spots. With the amount of videos club bookers are asked to watch, it’s a good idea to make the process as easy as possible. And as you should also know, clicking an online link is a lot easier than loading and ejecting DVDs. It’s also faster which allows them to watch more comedian submissions.

When it comes to the corporate and college markets, I can’t remember the last time I had to make a DVD and send it to a client. Videos are now imbedded into websites or through links on YouTube or Vimeo. When an event planner or student activities booker is searching for entertainment they watch online videos. It’s immediate and they can also forward the link to any other decision makers. It really makes business practices from only few years ago seem like we were working in the Stone Age.

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But there will always be exceptions. I’ve heard of a few bookers who still require a hard copy promo package and DVD. I’m just mentioning that in case you run into any. If you have a good website it should be easy to burn a copy of your video onto a DVD, run off copies of your bio, resume and headshot, put it all in a two-pocket folder and send via snail mail.

Burning a DVD

A good argument for DVDs would come from comedians with television credits. Of course it’s impressive for bookers to see your set from an appearance on Comedy Central (or another network), but with copyrights and other legalities chances are they won’t let you post it online. The networks usually give comics a “personal copy” and they’re allowed to use it for “personal reasons.”

That would include burning it onto a DVD and sending to bookers for potential gigs. But don’t try selling it after your show unless you also want the credit of “bootlegger” on your resume.

So getting back to your question…

No – nobody sends out DVD’s anymore and…

YES – sometimes they do.

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Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.