B y Dott Burns

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Dott Burns was the owner of the Dott Burns Talent Agency (before passing away in early 2000). Her agency is still located in Tampa, Florida, which has successfully catapulted many of her former clients into the national limelight. For over 28 years, she led her agency to success providing fame and fortune to such actors as the new Gidget?s Kimberli Bronson, top Ford model Jaci Adams, and Ace Ventura & The Truman Show?s Judy Clayton. She also helped launch the careers of world-famous model Marla Maple Trump, Designing Women?s Delta Burke, Wings of Gold?s Rodney Johnson, and Broadway star of ?Sunset? and ?Grease? as well as Star Search?s Vincent Tumeo. Ms. Burns also worked with many celebrities, including 21 Jumpstreet?s Steven Williams, Chico & the Man?s Ira Angustain, Dallas?s Pat Colbert, and Hill Street Blue?s Tim Colbertson and Sylk Cozart, on many fund raisers in addition to judging hundreds of pageants and talent shows over the years. Her words remain as true today regarding what one should and shouldn't do when breaking into show business.

Unfortunately, when I was very young there were very few pageants or other ways to measure talent. And there wasn?t the competition that we have today. Since starting this business in 1970, my monthly mail alone has increased to over 500 per week. I select maybe three or four of these potential clients per week. Unfortunately, a good majority of these 500 people were falsely encouraged to get involved in this business by con artists, greedy photographers, and ?modeling schools,? some that will take anyone who gives them money. Modeling and acting are both competitive businesses which must be sought after with as much good looks and intelligence as possible. I know, because before starting my own agency I used to model and had my own TV show. And now, after being in this business for over 35 years, here is some pithy advice to increase your chance of succeeding:

Use good manners, listen, and be loyal
One of my pet peeves is people calling my agency with bad phone manners. First impressions do count! How do these ill-mannered people expect to succeed in this highly-popular business when their first portrayal of themselves is negative? Never forget your manners when calling an agent?s office! Agents are very busy people trying to get work for their clients, so when you call, immediately and politely give your name and why you are calling. Then listen to what procedure they give you. Many people don?t listen which irritates many agents, directors and photographers. Keep in mind that a lack of manners and listening skills ?blows it? for many people who call. So, be polite and attentive. Then, find a good agent with contacts who believes in you, and you?re all set! It?s teamwork. So, in addition to being polite and attentive, be loyal.

Never have all of your photos taken by one photographer
And, when you get an agent, let your agent help select your photos, not the photographer, because the agent looks for what sells you! The photographer is only selling pictures. Also, before you involve yourself in schools, scouts, or expensive photos, an established agency should be able to provide you with two or three photographers to choose for under $100. Your photos should always be unretouched, natural, and look your age. Especially important is that your photos look like you!

Models must be physically qualified
If you want to be a fashion model, know that this field requires a photogenic, beautiful, thin, leggy girl who is at least 5?9? with great hair and teeth with the ability to move well. I?d say only one in 1,000 females have all of these qualities. Of course, there is still lifestyle and commercial (non-fashion) modeling.

Actors must be mentally qualified with experience
If acting is your goal, you must start with an excellent theater resum?, because acting skills are your foundation. Enroll in qualified legitimate acting workshops, and study at the library! A lot of big-name casting directors conduct seminars. Attend these, because you?ve got to learn to audition and to read scripts. I think one of the greatest learning experiences is working as an extra. It?s hands on, and you can really see what goes on in this business. I?m sure it?s not what you thought, and you?re getting paid to learn.

Before going to L.A., do your homework
Most actors who have built their resum? with theater, film, TV, print, etc, think they?re ready for Hollywood. Think twice. If you don't have a dynamite resum?, if you?re not a member of SAG (the Screen Actors Guild), and if you haven?t done at least three lead or co-star roles in feature films, do not even think of L.A. It?s a solid union town, you can?t work without getting an agent, and they won?t see you without a video reel of your actual jobs. New York City is almost as strict, but at least it has legendary workshops for actors... the best. An actor is constantly learning and brushing up on their trade. It?s true, you?ve got to pay your dues!

Use your common sense
As in any business, there are greedy people and con artists who just want your money. Don?t ever pay ?up front? for an agent or a job. Never! And be cautious about people using the word ?international.? Be also leery of talent searches, false promises, anything that sounds too good to be true. It probably is not true! It used to be that if an agent had a license and was franchised by the SAG, you?d be in good hands. That?s not true anymore. In some states an agent?s license is given to anyone who sends them a check. This automatic title has caused grave consequences over the years and is getting worse despite petitions to fight it.

Singers should never sing a song made famous by another singer
The world has a Whitney Houston; it doesn?t want two. Certainly you don?t think you you?ll sound as good or better than Whitney Houston. Find an old song (an original version) and one that is suitable for you. I prefer less props and more talent. And don?t sing over another voice. There are plenty of resources to buy instrumental background tapes. A cappella is brave, but get a tape. To avoid controversy, I?d stay away from religious songs, unless, of course, that is your ultimate goal of chosen field. I feel the same about patriotic songs. When contemplating entering a pageant, ensure the judges are established and qualified! Without excellent judges, the pageant means very little. For children, I take off points for too much makeup and for singing a love song suitable for a 25-40 year old. Choose talent material (and attire) suitable for your age. If it were up to me, I would never allow long gowns for anyone under the age of 15.

Be a responsible parent
There?s an old expression, ?monkey does as monkey sees,? and it is so true. Granted, the majority of parents make pageants a family affair, and I think this is very healthy. But there will always be the ?showbiz mom,? the mother who continuously pushes her children into doing things they don?t want to do, who conducts herself in a disgraceful manner of gossip, comments, and actions, and who does not care how she acts as long as she gets her way. Over the years I?ve noticed that her children grow up to be just like her. It?s so appalling that anyone could set such a ghastly example to their own flesh and blood. Besides the bad example, these moms are actually hindering their own child?s chance of success, because they are often ?black listed? from the industry through word of mouth after disrupting so many agents, directors, photographers, etc. What I am proud of is the hundreds of children who have gone to college because of commercials or films I?ve gotten for them. We really concentrate on making money and fun, not necessarily fame.

Be nice to everyone as you climb the ladder of success
You may pass some of the same people (agents, directors, photographers, co-actors, etc.) on your way down that ladder whose help you may later need. Don?t dig your own grave! I was quoted in one of Mary Duffy?s books (Big Beauties ) as saying, ?Keep your clothes on and a smile on your face.? I still mean it. This business can and should be fun! You?ll meet some really great people!

Over the last 35 years, I?ve watched many of my clients succeed. It?s a tough business, but just remember to use good manners, listen, be loyal, never have all of your photos taken by only one photographer, be physically qualified for modeling, become mentally qualified for acting, do your homework before moving to Hollywood, use your common sense, don?t try to outperform established celebrities (be unique), if you?re a parent be responsible, and lastly, always be sociable to others. After all, what fun is making it to the top if you have no one who cares?

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