Sunday, April 7, 2013

TV Billing 101

After waiting all day Friday for a phone call that didn't come, I shot a follow-up email to the agent.  He responded back almost immediately to give him the weekend.  He was trying to get the other agents at the office on board, but they were hesitating because of my lack of guest star credits.  (Ugh!)

Here's a little lesson in television billing:

First up, co-star roles.  They're very small, usually a single scene or two and very few lines.  The character is not pivotal to the plot of the episode and therefore they are the least important of the principal roles.  They usually add a little color or move the scene along -- as in, "Mr. Jones, you have a phone call on line 2."  However, it is a credited role and you get to see your name scroll by in the end credits.  They are most people's first step into the great big world of acting in television, including me, as I shot my first this week.

Next is guest star.  Hey, now we're talking.  Your character plays an important part in the plot line for the episode.  Perhaps you're the brother of the victim, who turns out to be the killer.  Maybe you're lucky enough to get a recurring guest star with a three episode arc!  Maybe you're the lead's new girlfriend or work nemesis.  Your name now appears in the title credits at the top of the show.  Get a few and you now have some serious street cred as a working actor and casting directors will start to take notice of your resume.  Get a few more and next pilot season your agents will likely start pitching you for...

Series regulars.  You're now at the top of the show, probably number ten or lower on the call sheet.  Your character is prominent in the entire series and if it gets picked up, you're looking at long hours of shooting, press junkits, award shows and hopefully eventually getting to that wonderful, exciting place in your career where you've officially become a "name".  What a place to be.

Agents work on commission only.  It's illegal for them to charge a monthly retainer for their work getting you auditions.  So agents pay their mortages, feed their families and buy their four dollar lattes with the 10% cut they take from anything you book.  But that's just it.... you have to book for them to make a single dime.  If they get you 20 auditions and you don't land any of them, you don't make any money and neither do they.  That's why good agents only want talent with credits.  
I get it, it's already such a crapshoot, why would they be interested in wasting any time and energy to see if you even can book?  Until you walk in with a proven track record of roles you've already nailed (i.e. Benjamins you've brought home) you're just a long shot.  A financial risk.  A new product that hasn't been proven to have any real selling power.  Sure, I have a co-star.  That's certainly a start, but there are thousands of people in this town who land one co-star and disappear off the face of the Earth.  There are far less with the bigger guest star credits, where the real money is.

Okay fine, I'll go get my own credits.  Well... as an unrepresented actor at my level, you're presented with that classic double-edged sword... decent agents ask you to come back when you've picked up some more credits, but very few casting directors will call you in for a co-star without a rep.  (And even fewer will bring you in for a guest star.)  It happens, but it takes serious time and energy to land even one audition (and remember, audition does not necessarily equal one booking).  I can do it, and I will get there regardless of whether I sign with this agency or not.  It will take longer to generate the same amount of auditions on my own, and there will be some offices that remain closed to me until I have a decent rep, but I can do it.  Still, I'd rather be spending that time getting through as many doors as possible, and more auditions means more bookings and a resume that builds faster.  I want to shake the shoulders of these other agents!!  Instead of waiting for me for the entire year who-knows-how-long it would take me to claw my way into a guest star on my own, why not get me into all those rooms in the next few months and watch me book away!!  I can do it on my own, but I could do it faster with their help.  That adds up to more money for us all.

Oh well, I still have to wait and see what happens next.  The silver lining is that at least I clearly have one rep in that office who is excited about me.  At the very least, I will keep him updated on all things Anony and build a relationship with him over the long haul.  When I finally do pick up those credits... and I will... I should have a guaranteed meeting.  That's definitely a plus. 

I'll take it.  So long as you promise I get to say "I told you so" when I walk in with a couple guest stars to my name.

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