Thursday, 21 March 2013

When Resting Jobs Bite

I regularly write about the ridiculous things actors put up with and this post by actress Cristina Lark illustrates this so incredibly perfectly. Cristina wrote today on a casting website forum about the ridiculous 'audition' process she was put through yesterday to get a job with a promo agency. I feel this needs to be seen by everyone, not just actors on the site, so Cristina has very kindly allowed me to share her experience with you all. So, here's the post, brought to you by Cristina (and get following the lovely lady on Twitter too - @CrisLark.)

Nationwide, especially in a time when crisis haunts mostly every industry, TV survives on old cliché formulas, and the cuts in arts funding go deeper and deeper, many actors see themselves in the need of looking for a non-acting part-time job in order to keep going until the next paid acting gig.

They are generally cult and highly trained, with refined body language, charisma to speak in public, bubbly personality, great skills for improvisation, and have many other assets which would allow them to easily perform jobs such as waiting tables, handing out flyers or product samples, or hosting stands in trade shows. It should be a matter of knocking on a promotional staffing agency's door and joining theirs books. And that is why, even directory books as Contacts, by British leading actors' database website Spotlight, has a “non-acting jobs” section.

So that's what happens: an actor opens this book and applies to every agency from A to Z, in the hope of getting any flexible part-time work unrelated to their passion.

However, some promotional agencies (ehm, agency), whose managing personnel is probably made out of frustrated drop out actors, in order to seek attention and feel better about themselves, is deluded into thinking (or just thrives to make it look like) whoever applies to their “team” is desperate to join their books just because it's everyone's ultimate dream to hand out flyers for them, and has created the most outrageous and offensive “audition” to “select” people to be part of their staff.

I didn't know that. And that is why I walked into a venue in Camden yesterday for what I thought would be a serious job interview.

Arriving there, I found a little less than one hundred people waiting. Don't be mistaken by these figures: this “audition” happens only once every six months or so, I found out, so what they try to make look like an eager crowd is actually the eventual CVs they received along half a year.

And then you realise their cute name to call their staff, “Idols”, is due to them really trying to reproduce… an X-FACTOR ENVIRONMENT. Yes. We are all sent to the main room where the “talent scout manager” (again, they call talent the people who hand out flyers) “greets us”: “I'm Gemma, and you're all competing against each other”. So much for team building, team work, or whatever other nice and ethical work environment that anyone desires in a company. She carries on: “Is anyone following us on Twitter? Grab your phones now, this is your opportunity. Whoever doesn't do it is already out.” We are also told to tweet something (obviously with a mention and a hash tag to their account) saying why we shouldn't get eliminated, and that tweets would be monitored throughout the morning. Then she shows a video explaining (something else that whoever attended their “job interview” didn't know in advance to have the choice of deciding if they would like to submit to this or not) that “not everyone will make it today”, followed by a PowerPoint slide showing a neck being cut by an ax, and a terror movie sound effect. Attendants start to exchange what-the-hell glances.

The first round consists of a little circus setup where candidates are the jester entertaining that group of “manager” girls. Like an X-factor-slash-Britain's Got Talent unnecessary procedure to “get to know a bit more about the candidates personality”. Seriously, because making knots out of candy with your tongue or doing the Kate Winslet ballet balance on your big toes Titanic style will certainly be vital in your sampling job, and is also a very good way of measuring a person's skills and personality. After this round, the first cut: out with all the ugly and older-looking people.

In the second round, we were set in groups and had to develop an ad for a fictional product with a random name they gave us, then stating why this product is different, how we would attract people to our stand, and other ideas they should be having, back in their office. Ideas that won't be asked to the people hired to hand out the flyers. But ideas they get for free from every person they may or may not hire and never get in touch with again. Again, a “coordinator” comes to us and says “remember, you are set up in a group, but you are COMPETING AGAINST EACH OTHER.” So this is not team work. Nice.

The presentations go fairly well. No one stands out, absolutely no one, for the good or for the bad. Every one of the remaining 60 or so people could perfectly do anything from that task. Then a quick individual interview, where after they seem impressed with your experience, they ask “how old are you?”, and after a quick “why is this important now?” look you give, they say “sorry, but I have to ask”. No, you don't have to ask. You don't get away with veiled ageism just because you don't publicly and officially write on your website “we won't be taking people over 23, or 25, or 30 or whatever, so if you're older, don't bother applying”. Also, you don't insist asking over 5 times if the candidate has a car or can drive in the UK, if this was not a pre-requisite from the moment they fill in your application form.

Everyone is reunited back again in the main room, where they go through the 2nd and last cut of the day: everyone's name is called to join their books, everyone but FIVE PEOPLE. Five good looking, charismatic, completely blended in people, just as capable, for sure, to hand out flyers, host a stand, or demonstrate how to use expresso machines in supermarkets.

Their website states “London which saw 200 people sign up to try and get on our book”. Again, there were less than 100. And we were not “trying to get on their books”, we were applying for a job, like we did the day before and will do the morning after, to any other of the hundreds of agencies out there, regardless of who the agency is. Because we are not dreaming to be part of their team, we just happen to need a paying job. They also say “We have the reputation of being the toughest agency to get in”. It's not really tough when you dismiss publicly the profile of people other agencies dismiss in the first headshot screening, and then take everyone but five people selected randomly to make an example out of them and feel important and desired in your petty self-absorption.

In any case, all this agency showcased yesterday was an utter lack of elegance, people skills, respect, demographics understanding (as again, pretentiousness about the reason why people look for jobs with you only denote hysteria and self-absorbed amateurism), and one of the most valued assets any company should have: team spirit.


  1. After yesterday's ordeal I have received a bulk email from the same Gemma, offering me an "exciting opportunity" to be a sampler/data collector in stores for dog food (the chosen candidate has to be a pet owner, have experience with pets or other animals in a professional facility, retail experience, knowledge of human nutrition that can be translated into knowledge of animal nutrition, AND have a car, among a list of other requisites. That is, you need to be a vet, a nutritionist, a salesman and an experienced manager, to operate their data-collector iPad / tell shoppers to buy that brand inside a supermarket.

    To which I replied:
    "Dear Gemma,
    Thank you for the exciting opportunity.
    However, after having attended to your "auditions" yesterday and getting to know better your company procedures, unfortunately I don't think I will be willing to apply for any work with you.
    Please, also do kindly remove me from this mailing list.
    Best of luck,

  2. ,,,, CUNTS

    I put in 'anonymous' as it was an options but I always want Cunts to know who I am when I specifically state that they are cunts. What a bunch of new-age X-Factor type CUNTS. Stated unequivically by Christopher Tauers

  3. This is great and so true. I unfortunately also had the mis-pleasure of attending this very day 6 months ago and my sentiments were the same. WHAT A JOKE. xx

  4. Way to go, thats really encouraging new & old Artists to progress not !. I've just started to perform (although in mid life now) and would love to one day do this full time but with process's like this & lack of encouragement seeing how these people were treated what is there to look forward to ?

  5. OMG! I suspect they could actually be prosecuted for the ageism stuff! It's a telltale sign of how desperate we actors are if no one had the balls to walk out during the process, declaring loudly "this is bullshit". Good on Cristina for blogging about it, now what can we do about it?

  6. I agree what can be done!