After Danny Cron graduated from the California Institute of Arts in 2018, he did exactly what his instructors at the Valencia school recommended: he booked showcases in hopes of finding his first big acting gig.
But when the representation didn’t materialize and the roles remained unattainable, he was at a loss over what to do next. “I’m from Santa Fe, New Mexico. My mom was a teacher, my dad was a lawyer. I could not be further removed from this industry,” said the 29-year-old Cron. “You think, why am I not there yet? What’s going on? It’s almost like a scarcity mindset, or at least for me, a sense of panic. Because it’s really scary and intimidating to be out here. It can be very alluring when you find programs that claim they’re going to take care of all of it for you.”
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People like Cron is what inspired the rise of marketing experts who treat entry into the business like it were an episode of Shark Tank: actors need to present a complete product of themselves to get casting directors to buy. At least, that’s how Jen Rudolph likes to describe it; she’s one of the industry’s more talked-about entrepreneurs who promise a “customized strategy” to help actors break through the clutter and book those elusive jobs.
“In my opinion, my service and what I do is where all the schools leave off,” Rudolph told Deadline. “It’s important to know how to execute and audition, but you got to have the marketing and the media in place. We help with resume optimization, how to format bios, website, media, IMDB, Actors Access. We weigh in on all of this. We have a very robust comprehensive program. I feel like most people don’t know what the heck I’m actually doing.”
That’s primarily because her fees stop many in their tracks. Rudolph’s 2% Collective Program that she launched in 2020 can start at $5,500 and go up to $10,000, depending on the level of service you buy. That’s a hefty price to pay when actors are already shelling out money on casting services, headshots and self-taping but Rudolph has statistics (after Deadline asked for them) to show that her program works.
Since launching three years ago, Rudolph says she has served 340 clients who have worked for the Collective for at least 90 days. Out of 149 clients who Rudolph said needed representation, 127 signed with an agent or manager within six months. And out of 156 actors she was able to track, 126 booked a minimum co-star role “or more.”
“Most of these people had never booked a job before and had been trying to for five+ years with no success,” wrote Rudolph in an email to Deadline.
One of the success stories she touts is Miguel Matos, a relative newcomer who languished for five years without a gig until he signed up for Rudolph’s six-month program because “I didn’t understand why I wasn’t booking any jobs.” After revamping his headshots, resume and reel, Matos found a manager, got auditions and even booked some modeling gigs. He starts a role on The Equalizer this week.
“At the time I thought it was excessive,” Matos said about Rudolph’s fees. “But I didn’t understand the industry is a business as a whole. I always thought when it pertained to business, it was like executive producers, studios and stuff like that. I didn’t see the actor as a business. But when I learned that the actor is a business as well, I just thought, I don’t mind investing in myself to get a return of my investment.”
So what’s wrong with charging for what appears to be common sense advice? The industry is chock full of coaches who regularly offer feedback for a fee, while other enterprises like Wendy Alane Wright’s Hollywood Winner Circle, aka the “business academy for actors,” appear to offer strategy sessions (though at a much lower cost) similar to the 2% Collective.
“I think it costs money to make money,” argues Dan Shaner, the Director of Professional Development at USC’s School of Dramatic Arts. As an assistant professor of theatre practice in acting, he also routinely tells his students to expect they’ll have to continue investing cash in their career.
“It’s a business they are creating, I tell the students,” added Shaner, who worked as a casting director on shows like Cold Case and Roswell before joining USC. “I tell them that they’re the CEO of their corporation and sometimes, it’s not free. There are things that are going to cost them money, not just acting classes. There are other resources and services that they’re going to need that they’re going to have to pay for. So, I think it’s realistic to talk about that. It shouldn’t be exorbitant. It shouldn’t be to the extent of paying your rent or your food or your living expenses. But I encourage them to figure out not only what they need to live, but then what they need to make their career go forward.”
“I’m just very leery about people spending that much money,” countered Shaan Sharma, who was a member of SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee member and is the L.A. Local Self Tape Work Group Chair. “I mean the market can charge whatever the market will bear. There’s nothing wrong or illegal about it. It just doesn’t feel right. It just doesn’t feel like it’s appropriately priced.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with offering a service that helps you market yourself. I think the problem is newer actors are not as industry savvy as they should be,” continued Samantha Stiglitz, an acting coach for hire who maintains an Instagram account devoted to educating actors and helping them to avoid scams.
“There aren’t enough classes out there that teach actors the ins and outs of the entertainment industry,” she said. “So there are people out there who will prey on that lack of knowledge and will lean into aspects that aren’t as important as working on your acting and learning about industry. They tend to focus on easier fixes like marketability. If you can give someone an answer, they are more inclined to pay you a significant fee. That’s where we get into price gouging. The truth is, there are no answers as to why someone succeeds in this industry. There are no tricks, secrets or fast-tracks and that’s what these classes tend to offer. It’s heartbreaking.”
SAG-AFTRA, which offers low-cost classes and training for actors via its Conservatory, doesn’t weigh in or provide guidance on the myriad coaches who work on the perimeters of the industry. One source close to the union, however, acknowledges that it has received ongoing complaints over the years about coaches who charge big fees.
“Some members take the position that people are preying on the hopes and dreams of typically young performers who want to break into Hollywood,” said the source. “And they’ll shell out all sorts of money, even thousands of dollars for coaching if they think this could help them break into the industry. Members say this is predatory, people are taking advantage of these young people and it’s terrible. But I’ve also heard members say the opposite, that no, depending on who the teacher is or depending on the coach, these are valuable services.”
The Casting Society has also weighed in on the practice. “Casting professionals support, uplift, and advocate for actors,” the organization told Deadline. “We suggest that performers looking for bonafide acting classes, do their own research and seek out online reviews from trusted sources. Aspiring performers can also seek counsel from more established performers and industry professionals such as agents and managers before choosing a class, school, or teacher. Casting Society cautions performers to be wary of those who promise auditions or opportunities in exchange for money.”
Rudolph is well aware that her fees have been a source of contention in the industry and is particularly guarded about her reputation. The day after Deadline interviewed her about her business, she went live on Instagram to discuss “What I talked to Deadline about yesterday.”
“My reason behind doing that was to be forward facing and transparent and tell my audience (those who like me and those who don’t) that I addressed everything publicly,” she wrote Deadline later that day. “I am all about transparency and authenticity, which is why I made that decision.”
As for the reaction to her fees, Rudolph said, “I think people get very triggered by the fact that there are a lot of people who would consider that I charge money, I charge a lot of money for my services. What I see on the internet is how ‘this is highway robbery. It’s a red flag that these are the prices.’ And I’m like, do you even know what’s going on inside the program? It’s people who don’t actually know what I do. Working with me and my team is not cheap. I do respect the fact that it is an investment.”
For those who want to avoid cracking open their bank accounts, there are a myriad of resources that remain free of charge to actors. Several coaches routinely post tips on TikTok and Instagram, such as Stiglitz’ @auditionprola, @castingbythem, @theactofstylecoaching, @ericasbreamcast, @onebrokeactress and @awcasting. (Rudolph also maintains Instagram and Facebook accounts). Actors who paid thousands upon thousands to earn those acting degrees (such as USC) should also consider going back to their instructors for feedback — especially when it comes to investing in coaching.
“I think it’s pretty basic. If it smells fishy, then it is fishy,” said Shaner. “If it makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your instinct. Whether it’s ultimately right or wrong, I think they know a lot more than they think they do sometimes. I really encourage them to trust their instincts. If it feels uncomfortable, then remove yourself from it.”
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