How to Pass Like a Pro: Part II

In Part I, we discussed the general use of passing and how it’s commonly used to turn down projects or certain steps of the casting process. However, the uses of passing doesn’t end there, and knowing when to strategically pass can literally alter the trajectory of your career–for better or worse.

 Advanced Passing Mechanics

When done tactfully, passing can help elevate your career and take you to the next level. Passing is also one of the few (if only) tools you and your team have when negotiating deals. As previously mentioned, the “process” doesn’t end once you get an offer. If anything, this is when things truly heat up, since negotiating actor deals can involve multiple moving parts with agents, managers, lawyers, business affairs executives, and producers going back and forth on all the deal points. Whenever negotiations come to a halt, more often than not, the best way to move things forward and get what you want is to say no and PASS. When you’re in the market to buy a new car you don’t just walk into a dealership and say yes to the first price they give you. You have to haggle with the sales associates–you tell them the price is too high and then they come back to you with a lower one, and you continue the dance until both parties are happy with the agreed upon price. These same principles hold true in actor deals and is really no different from any other type of negotiation.

However, like all other negotiations, whenever you say no and pass on something you HAVE to be prepared to possibly lose the offer. When this happens, the producers/creative team have to either come back with better deal points, or move on to another actor. What many actors don’t realize is that when you are offered a role in a project, that means you are the number one choice for the part! You’re THE person for the job, and everyone involved wants you to get the role. Because of this, when you pass during the negotiating process, these folks (more often than not) would rather try and make a deal work with you rather than having to make an offer to their runner up choice(s). When you pass (especially for the first time in the negotiation process) there is a very high probability that the team will come back to you with a better deal. It is not uncommon for actors to pass several times during negotiations before finally agreeing to something. Unfortunately, many actors are too afraid to risk losing a project, which often results in agreeing to a less-than-stellar contract, but, once again, sometimes the only way to get what you want is to say NO. Thankfully, passing in negotiations is usually done with the expert guidance of your reps, and they will always advise you on when you should pass as well as ask for your permission before doing so.

Besides negotiations, strategically passing can also help elevate how you’re perceived in this industry.  Everything in this industry is precedential. If you’re an established working actor with an extensive resume and tons of credits under your belt, and you get a request to pre-read with a casting director for a guest star on a TV show not unlike the dozens of shows you’ve worked on, it will probably do your career good to pass (in some form) on this pre-read. Going back to the different types of passing, you can have your reps tell the casting office that you will pass on “pre-reading” but would be open to reading for the director/producers. One step further, you can even have your reps pass altogether on auditioning for the part, letting casting know that you’re “offer only” for the job. In some cases, assuming you have the reputation and credits to back you up, passing and saying offer only will lead to just that–getting a straight offer for a part. Once you obtain this precedent of getting offered roles in television projects (for example), you and your reps can then use that to foster the reputation that you’re at that level in your career where you readily merit receiving straight offers. Casting directors will quickly realize that if they want you for a project, they need to offer it to you rather than making you go through the motions of auditioning, thus making you more exclusive, and ultimately more desirable (everyone wants what they can’t have after all).

You’re probably now thinking, “I don’t mind auditioning for projects. The more actors who pass on auditioning means less competition!” This mentality is slightly faulty because, truth be told, if you’re seen as an actor that will audition for any and all projects, you’re going to be less appealing compared to an actor who doesn’t read as much. Casting directors often make two kinds of casting lists when throwing around ideas–“offer only” ideas and actors that will read, and the “offer only” list tends to be the first one that they focus on. Casting directors, especially in television, love to be able to make straight offers for their guest star roles–a straight offer means they don’t have to spend the time and energy setting up sessions and reading actors. Here’s an extra insider tip: even if you do achieve that “offer only” reputation, it definitely doesn’t hurt to still give the impression that, for the right project, you will still read. Even when dealing with A-list actors, the casting of a role often falls down to an actual reading or screen test with the actors in question. Being willing to fight for a role will immediately give you a leg up over actors who outright refuse to read.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you pass too much, that can have a negative impact on your reputation. If you casually pass on every other project that is sent your way, not only will you probably irk your representation, but it will also cultivate the perception that you’re extremely picky about your projects, or you think you’re too good to audition for things. There has been more than one occasion when I was pitching an actor to casting and they responded with, “Every time I try and bring her in, she passes. Why should I bother this time?” Having a reputation like that does not make your reps’ jobs any easier for you! Although there are plenty of successful actors that have these kinds of attitudes, they tend to be extremely well known, A-list types–someone like Robert Downey Jr–can pass on whatever project he wants. For everyone else though, you just have to be mindful about your actions and their ultimate consequences.

The act of passing is an integral element to building a solid acting career. Being able to say “no” is often the best, and only way, to get what you want, and it shows that you are assertive and serious about your career. Passing, like any negotiating tool, should be used carefully and strategically. When dealing with the auditioning process, don’t fall into the misconception that you need to say yes to everything. Just because you’re new to the world of acting and don’t have any credits underneath your belt doesn’t mean you should agree to do anything that is thrown your way. Unfortunately, Hollywood is full of people that will try and take advantage of you and your willingness to work–you don’t need to make it even easier for them! If you’re ever unsure about passing, remember you’re not alone! That’s why you have an agent/manager: they are there to give you advice and guidance in these types of decisions and matters. Even if you don’t have a rep, reach out to a peer or friend and ask them for their opinion. If you’re an actor, chances are you have friends that are actors–actors who’ve probably been where you are now.

Finally, it’s important to know when to pick your battles. Certain projects/roles will be more important than others, and you need to be able to prioritize your time and energy. If you get an offer to do a one day guest star on a television show, and you’re not happy with the deal points, it’s probably not worth ruffling feathers to try and improve the deal. A one-day role like that will typically be tightly budgeted with little to no wiggle room, i.e., the deal “is what it is”, so it won’t be the best use of anyone’s time to try and fight that.  Larger roles like series regular deals or the leads in feature films are, by their nature, more complicated and require more time and attention in the negotiating process. Picking your battles is important here because if you give a casting director a really hard time for one project, they aren’t going to be too excited to work with you (and your team) again anytime soon. When you become an actor, you have to be in it for the long-haul. Most people’s acting careers grow and develop slowly over the years, but knowing how and when to pass can certainly help speed you along your way. Passing on a small role on a critically-acclaimed TV show can result in eventually being offered a larger role in the same show– a role that can then garner you a lot of critical attention and buzz!

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Kyle