When is it appropriate to give a gift to an industry contact? When is it not? What should you give (or not give)? Will baking brownies for casting directors earn you brownie points? In Lana’s latest Backstage column, she shares the guidelines that she and her team use with their own clients.
But this was not long after Sept. 11. Casting companies were on edge with anthrax scares on the news and crates of mail arriving daily.
We didn’t suspect anthrax, but since we didn’t really know this actor—and hadn’t done anything to warrant a gift from her—we weren’t sure what to think.
Should we eat brownies made by a stranger who hadn’t even delivered them in person? How long ago had they been baked, and under what conditions? Was the name on the package even real? Did we have some unknown enemy? What did it mean?
We were indisputably paranoid, but in the end, no one was brave enough to dig in, and the batch was tossed. We felt bad that the actor had spent time and money needlessly, and wished we could have told her not to bother. A postcard with a photo and a few words of introduction would have been a better investment.
When does it make sense to give a gift to an industry contact? What types of gifts are appropriate? Here are the guidelines we use with our own clients.
1. Cards and emails usually suffice. Most of the time, a note of thanks is more than sufficient for a good deed, whether handwritten or by email. But be judicious: There’s no need to acknowledge each time your contact lifts a finger. That will earn you stalker cred.
Reserve your missives for circumstances that warrant them, or end the year with a single holiday card thanking your contact for the opportunities they gave you throughout the year. Include your photo, contact details, project updates, and any other information they may find useful (change in representation, new headshot, etc.).
It’s also a kind gesture to acknowledge their accomplishments. Several actors sent postcards this spring congratulating us on our new series, “Significant Mother.” This had the double effect of making us feel good, and reminding us of them for the show.
Beyond thank you’s and congratulations, limit personal updates to a few times a year. One manager sends an email blast every time a certain actor he represents sneezes. I’ve had to flag them as junk, they’re so frequent. Not where you want to end up!
2. Gifts are OK for bigger gestures. Gifts are generally unnecessary, and as described in the story above, can even be a wasted effort. (Nothing tops the odd and disturbing parcels we received while working on “Twilight.” A few required rubber gloves!)
That being said, when a contact goes above and beyond, sometimes you want to show your appreciation. While we discourage actors from spending money on us, we have to admit that we do, on occasion, send gifts to our own clients: after they’ve hired us on a big job, for example, or when their referral helps us secure a major gig.
If you’re adamant about recognizing someone with a gift, here are a few things we’ve learned through our own and others’ missteps.
3. Food and beverage gifts are tricky. Once, I showed up at an executive’s office with a bottle of pinot noir, only to discover that she’d recently quit drinking.
Another time, I brought three bottles of wine for three producers. Only one of them drank, so she scooped them all up, and the other two didn’t get anything.
I was smart enough in one instance to call an agent’s assistant and ask what kind of gift would be appreciated. He informed me that his boss was a big Bombay Sapphire fan, so I had a bottle of gin delivered. Never underestimate assistants! The agent was thrilled.
In our office, we (like many nowadays) have a variety of food restrictions—carbs, gluten, sugar, etc.—not to mention we are usually watching our waistlines. Doughnuts and cupcakes are often given away instead of eaten (although we have, on occasion, succumbed to a certain brand of high-end salted caramels; no one is infallible).
For several years, we sent holiday gift baskets to our biggest clients, including fruit, cheeses, crackers and the likes. There was enough variety that everyone could share the spoils.
4. Gift cards are versatile. These days, we tend to stick to gift cards when we want to recognize someone. Not only are they easier to send (some even by email), but our clients can choose exactly what they want. Coffee cards work great for smaller gestures. For those who brought us bigger jobs, we’ve sent iTunes or Amazon gift cards, movie passes, or certificates to well-reviewed foodie restaurants.
One smart actor researched restaurants in our neighborhood and presented a gift card that allowed us to treat the whole office to lunch. We loved that everyone got to be included!
5. Personalized or shareable gifts are a nice touch. Do your research to come up with an appropriate, personalized gift. Is your contact an animal advocate or environmentalist? A donation to their favorite charity could be a lovely gesture.
Items easily shared with an entire staff are also thoughtful. Frequently, it’s the behind-the-scenes people who are most responsible for your good fortune, but it’s the figurehead who gets all the recognition (and presents).
Keep this in mind, and try to think of things the whole team will enjoy. An office plant, flowers for the front desk, or a small box of tea samplers or scented candles might work (but find out how many are needed, so that no one gets left out).
Calling the office ahead of a visit to take everyone’s coffee order might also make you very popular with staff, but only do this if they know you well enough that they won’t mind the intrusion.
6. Simple and genuine wins the day. Above all, remember that gifts are never necessary or expected, and they can even make the receiver uncomfortable if you spend too much or if they haven’t done anything special to merit them.
They may think you’re angling for favors, rather than expressing gratitude. After a major booking or around the holidays, a small gift might be appropriate, but lavishing gifts in hopes of securing an audition could feel desperate or like a bribe.
In truth, the best reward our office can receive is a report from the production team that you nailed a role we cast you in. Make us look good so we’ll get hired again and recommended to others. That could mean more work for you down the road. Way to scratch each other’s backs!
Casting director Lana Veenker began her career in London and, upon returning to her Northwest roots, founded one of the top location casting companies in the country, Cast Iron Studios.
Her recent projects include “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon, “Grimm” for NBC, “Significant Mother” for the CW, and both “The Librarians” and “Leverage” for TNT. Gus Van Sant, Robert Benton, Jean-Marc Vallée, Catherine Hardwicke, and Tim Robbins are among her past film clients. Commercial accounts include Nike, Apple, and Nintendo, and international campaigns from Shanghai to Santiago.
Veenker is a member of the Casting Society of America and the International Casting Directors Network. She frequently lectures across the U.S. and abroad, most recently at the Finnish Actors’ Union in Helsinki, Amsterdam School of the Arts, the Actors Platform in London, the Acting Studio in Berlin, Studio Bleu in Paris, and Prague Film School.
Veenker has been featured in The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, MSNBC.com, MTV.com, AccessHollywood.com, and Wired, among others.