“As an actor, you have competition and not just a couple people, hundreds. So, you better be damn true to who you are and what you can play” – Breakdown Services Gary Marsh
Actors Access, Eco Cast and Showfax are just a few of the businesses under the umbrella of Gary Marsh‘s Breakdown Services. And if you’re an actor, it’s a safe bet you’ve used one, if not all of them at some point in your career.
Gary started out as an actor, so he knows what it’s like to be pounding the pavement and that’s been a lot of the motivation behind some of the services he provides. He’s tries to help make things easier for us. I know I use and check out Actors Access at least once a day, and I’ve auditioned for a number of projects via that site.
I recently talked to Gary about how Breakdown Services came to be and why actors shouldn’t get the breakdowns for themselves. And even better, he gives out some fantastic tips for those of us using Actors Access that I’m sure you’ll start to use right away.
You started out as a child actor, right?
Gary Marsh: Yeah, I emigrated from Canada when I was 10 years old. My parents, did they just dragged me along. But I came here and I immediately started going to lessons and learning to be part of the acting scene way back in the 60s.
And you had some success early on.
Gary Marsh: I would say that my favorite role was as Tom of Warwick in Camelot. I did a lot of other stuff but it was all day work. A few lines here are a few lines there.
How did you transition to being a day player to creating Breakdown Services?
Gary Marsh: After Camelot, I was 13 years old. My mother had always been attracted to the business and she became an agent when I was 14 years old. She worked a couple of years for a couple of small agencies and then she sort of struck out on her own.
At 18 years old, I found myself graduated from Van Nuys high school. I was an immigrant and both parents worked but there really wasn’t money to fund school. As an actor, you’re an actor, you work jobs that allow you to go on interviews. Well I worked at McDonald’s, H&R fish, a box boy. And I always got fired from every job I was in because I would get an interview and I’d say, “Well, I gotta go on this interview.” And they’d say, “But, you’re supposed to work.” The interview was more important to me so my mom said, “Well, why don’t you go around for me and read scripts. I need somebody to go around the studios and read scripts for me to tell me what roles are available. I need somebody to take notes and I’ll give you 20 bucks a week for gas.” Gas at the time was $.32 a gallon. “And maybe as a result in people seeing you, you’ll get more roles, you’ll get more money.” So that’s how I started Breakdown.
You even came up with the name Breakdown.
Gary Marsh: Yeah. Back in the day used to be able to drive on the studio lots. So I came up with a name so that I could get on the lot because I thought it sounded like I was a repair guy. I’d say Breakdown Services and the guards would say, “Oh you’re here to fix the typewriter?” “Yup, that’s me.”
When did you start servicing all of the casting directors?
Gary Marsh: Well, there was an agent that wanted the script that I was reading pretty early on in the process, I’d only been doing it for my mom for about a month. And there was an agent Mitzie McGregor, she wanted the script I was reading at MGM, she kept bugging me and to get her off my back, I told her I would carbon my notes for her. She said, “Where are you going next?” I said, “Well, I’m gonna go to FOX next.” She said, “Great, would you do it for me there?” And I said, “Well, if you give me $20, I’ll do it for the whole week for you. And whatever studios I go to, I’ll carbon up my notes and all it’ll cost you is $20.” Well, she agreed and I now doubled my income. I was making $40 a week which was good. Put $20 in my pocket.
And at the end of the week, I show up to pick up my $20 from her and she said, “Oh, this is a great service you have and I’ve talked to a couple of agents who are friends of mine and they want you to call them.”
All of a sudden I’m in business. And pretty early on, I had about 20 or so of the small agents in town that I was doing this for and each of them had given me $20 at the end of the week for doing this for them.
And about 6 months in, the studios cottoned on to what I was doing and I got barred from every lot in town on the same day. There were agents that went to bat for me and it was a slow process getting back and earning the trust of the studios that I wasn’t gonna just be selling this to actors on the street. And it took 4 or 5 years before it really took off.
From there, when did you get the idea of starting Actors Access?
Gary Marsh: Well, back in the mid-nineties. With our first website, we started posting non-paying jobs on, Actors Access, and they were just PDF files. And it was in response to the fact that the acting community at the time thought that Breakdown was holding out on them by not allowing them to have access to Breakdowns. Not understanding that the studios held my feet to the fire on that issue. So, that was our first attempt at reaching out to the acting community.
Then in 2002, 2003 when we came out with our next version of our website and in October 2003, we allowed for the first time actors to submit electronically for these roles rather than just giving them PDF’s.
And you also have Eco Cast. I’m submitting auditions from my living room.
Gary Marsh: Well, when I first came out with Breakdowns, the community – the agents and the casting community – were very much against it because they felt that an agent should have to read the script. When we came out with electronic submissions, casting directors and agents were very much against it, they did not like it. When we went from delivering Breakdowns in the middle of the night to delivering Breakdowns throughout the day, there was a huge amount of dissatisfaction amongst the agents, they fought it. Now, they get mad when a casting director asks for hard copy submission.
When we came out with Eco Cast initially, when we showed it to actors, actors were very unhappy. They thought we were taking away opportunities for them to get in the room. And we kept trying to explain that so few actors actually get into the room because of time constrains. One actor every 10 minutes, that just means 6 actors an hour.
We saw Eco Cast as a way of opening opportunity for more actors and actors that weren’t necessarily geographically available.
One thing I like about you guys is that on every one of your products within your company, you offer some free aspect.
Gary Marsh: Our philosophy is that an actor should not have to pay to play. And it’s why we have the two pictures, the profile, the resume and now a slate shot. All of it is free for the actor.
If I’m an actor and I’m represented by an agent, many, many, many actors feel no need to go any further than that. If they get sides from their agent, they don’t have to be part of ShowFax.
We are more of an a la cart system. We’re not like a gym membership, in which you’re paying every month for something you’re not using. So, if an actor has good video, they put up video. If they have more than 2 pictures then they put up more pictures then that.
We actually do not recommend that actors put up a lot of pictures. You’re an actor, you’re a storyteller. You tell certain stories better than others. A lot of actors will put on a Doctors coat, a cops uniform, this or that. Glasses on, glasses off. A Harley Davidson jacket, to say I’m this tough guy. Well, if you ever saw a picture of me in a Harley Davidson jacket, I could not sell that. And I think that actors try to sell themselves as more than they’re capable of being and they play to their weakness rather than their strengths.
And I think actors who put up 20 pictures are confusing the casting director about who they are. And they are confusing themselves. I think that actors should understand what their strengths are and play to their strengths. Because there is so much competition.
I mean, on a Breakdown that comes out, within a couple of hours there are 1,000 submissions per role. And casting only brings in for an episodic usually about 20 actors. Maybe on a pilot, 50 actors. But, you know, when there’s 2,000 submissions and they’re bringing in 50 actors, that’s not a good percentage.
As an actor, you have competition and not just a couple people, hundreds. So, you better be damn true to who you are and what you can play because sure as hell somebody else out there is going to be able to play the Doctor, the cop, the priest, the procedural interview, the Walking Dead character better than you can.
Those are great tips. I’m going to use those definitely. Do you have any other tips for us actors using your service?
Gary Marsh: Well, there are a couple of things. The obvious things are your pictures should look like you do when you walk into that casting office. If you’re a woman and you spend a lot of money getting your hair and makeup and then do a session, you better be ready to go in as that when you walk in to audition.
Video. Bad video is worse than no video. Every actor should do a slate shot and post it to the primary picture that they use to submit. What that does is it gives the casting director a better sense of your personality, who you are, what you sound like. And it moves you up in the order of how your submissions are seen. So, if you have a slate shot and video, the order of which submissions are seen, you’re going to be at the top of the list.
After that, submissions with clips, demo reels let’s call them for the time being and I’ll get into that in a second, are next in order. Third in order are submissions with just a slate shot. And after that, submissions with just a picture and resume.
The concept of an actor’s reel being submitted is outmoded today because of the way the internet handles submissions. Casting directors, because of the volume of submissions they get… an actor needs to think of themselves not as an actor when making submissions, but as the casting director’s assistant. Your job as the actor is to save the casting director time. So, you want to present your information as concisely and as efficiently as possible to the casting director. Which means, don’t put up a demo reel with 2 dramatic pieces and then the sitcom piece as the third in line when you’re submitting yourself for a comedy. The casting director will see maybe 20 seconds of the dramatic piece and then move on.
Actors need to submit clips today rather than a reel. And then if they post clips to the site instead of a reel, then you select which video or videos the casting director is going to see. So, if you’ve got a comedy piece, you submit that when you’re submitting yourself for a comedy. If you’re submitting for a procedural interview, you submit your NCIS clip. Because that’s relevant. You’re telling the casting director, “I know how to tell this story. I’ve told this story on Law & Order and stood toe-to-toe with the lead and delivered the lines in a procedural interview and I can do it.”
And for the casting director, you’re helping them because every week, let’s say on a cop show, they’ve got to hire so many actors who are interviewed by the leads to move the story along to where they can arrest somebody and conclude the story. And so, every week, my job as the casting director is to find those people.
So, if you submit to me and say, “I know this story, I’ve told it on Law and Order. I know how to be an attorney in a court room.” Great, you’re making my job easier. Done. You’ve become one of the 20 that get in and get to read for me because I know that you already know how to do this.
What do you think about actors getting the Breakdowns for themselves? To rat myself out, I’ve gotten a couple copies before and I can’t deal with it. Because I look at the roles and think, “I’d be great for that. I’d be great for that.” I couldn’t deal with looking at it.
Gary Marsh: Well, there’s two reasons. One is, a breakdown goes out and within a few hours there’s a thousand or two thousand submissions from agents. Casting directors then are scheduling actors the same day. You as the actor, what are you gonna do with it? Are you going to call your agent and say, “Hey, I just saw this?” It’s so lame and so desperate. If you have to do that with your agent, then you need to get another agent.
Two, you’re putting money in somebody’s pocket and their trying to sell you that they are Robin Hood and the only thing that they’re doing is robbing you. It doesn’t help you. It doesn’t help you at all. As you well communicated to me, all it did was frustrate you.
True. And you’re thinking, “Why didn’t my agent submit me for this?” When they probably actually did.
Gary Marsh: Exactly. People think of it as a shortcut to getting in the door. And it’s not. There are no shortcuts to getting in the door. Actors are quick too, in many cases, sell themselves as a submission. But doing the work that needs to be done to market themselves effectively and to create relationships with casting directors… if you can be on a casting directors shortlist, if a casting director says, “Oh, you know what? Add them to breakdown for this project because I know them. I know they can do this role. I’d like to bring them in.” That’s where you want to be as an actor. And for you as an actor, that means you have to have done that work to prove to that casting director that they can trust your talent and they can rely on you.
If you as an actor look at the casting directors that casts the shows that have roles that you usually play. You target them and you send them postcards and you acquaint them with your career and you’ve followed their career, ultimately that will get you further in the door than spending cash to see breakdowns that by the time you see them, the part is over. It’s already done.
But it’s like those schools that tell you, “We know the way to success. Get cast in Hollywood. We’re selling the secret.” It’s like those real estate ads that you see, “Flip homes. You’ll be a millionaire overnight. You don’t have to work hard.” Well, there’s no such things. Overnight successes are, if you scratch the surface, are people who have worked for years toiling and laying the groundwork and doing the training. It’s just a fool’s game to get the breakdowns.