Learn to ignore First Refusals!

One day I hope to be at a point in my carreer where a “First Refusal” for a job has zero impact on my day. It’s very exciting to get any kind of positive feedback for an audition – especially if it’s for a big job – but it’s imperative for your sanity to keep your feet on the ground.

What is a First Refusal?

A first refusal is kind of like being put on the bench in sports (for those people who know me, you may take a moment to titter at my using a sports reference..).  It is not a booking. You have not got the job, but you are a potential backup for the role if the person they offer it to cannot do it. The likelihood of this happening is very slim, by the way.

Why is it called a first refusal?

It is basically a way for the producers of a given job to ensure they have talent for the shoot. If you were to book another job that was scheduled on the same day as your first refusal, you would have to check in with the producer/director (via your agent) and request permission to be released. At this point the producer/director of the first refusal job has the right to your time and talent. It is up to them to either book you or release you – aka “refuse” you. You can only accept the second job if you have been released from the first refusal job.

One of the frustrating things about first refusals is that it can create a lot of excitement for you and your agency, but realistically it is a glorified offer. In fact, as far as I can tell from my experiences, you don’t even have to be officially released from a first refusal whereas you do if you have been placed “On Hold.” So your agent can call you and say that you may have a job tomorrow, but then never call back to tell you that you don’t.

Commercially, in general, when you get a call-back for a job you are immediately put on first refusal. But you can be put on first refusal at any point during the audition process – even, in some cases, if you haven’t even auditioned, as happened to me this week. It’s these moments where one can forget the basic irrelevance of a first refusal and get a little over-excited about the prospect of a job. Of course you still have to abide by the laws of the industry but unless you actually do get another booking that conflicts with the schedule of the first refusal job, I’d encourage you to take the whole encounter with a grain of salt and pretend it didn’t happen.

Another thing I’ve noticed in relation to how important an offer is comes down to how your agency handles it. If you work with a larger agency, one like CESD or Paradigm, you will hear directly from the agent if the job is a sure thing or they are excited about it. You will hear from their assistants if it is less than.

What to do if you get a first refusal?

First things first, make sure you are technically free and available for the job. Call your agent to confirm – they will contact the producer/director (by the way, I’ve never been offered a first refusal without an agent. Perhaps, it is purely a term used by agencies? It could also be a union term. I’m not really sure). Then FORGET ABOUT IT! Carry on with your life as if nothing has happened. If you freelance, you could inform the other agencies you work with of this news as it never hurts for them to know you are in demand, but as far as canceling all your regular plans for that day, don’t do it unless you have to.

For more reading about the audition process:




About The NYC Actor

Angela Dee is a professional actress working in Film, Theatre, TV, Commercials and Voiceovers. She currently lives in New York. www.angeladee.com

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