When people come into my library or look through my autograph scrapbooks I frequently get asked “How did you meet THEM?”. To be fair, more than half of my autographs are acquired in person at Sci-Fi or Horror conventions like Cinema Wasteland and Monster Bash. However, there’s also a great many that I have gotten through the mail. I tend to target people that I don’t think I’m going to get a chance to ever meet in real life, especially older folks who don’t like to travel any more like Angus Scrimm and John Zacherly.
A couple of years ago I helped a friend send out his first autograph request and it occurs to me that it might be nice to show you a little about how I do it.
1. I write formal letters. No first names to the recipient, ever. It’s always Mr. or Ms. It may be old fashioned, but it shows respect.
2. A little flattery. You don’t have to mean it. They can’t see your eyes to tell if your lying.
3.Talk about specifics. Don’t just repeat the list of movies they’ve been in off of IMDB. Don’t even list all the movies they’ve done. Just talk about the ones you liked. What moved you about them and why you like them in the film. If you can’t think of anything, then perhaps you shouldn’t be asking for their autograph.
4.Include an item to be autographed. Don’t assume they have headshots laying around. Print out a picture. It’ll cost you about $4 at Target to use the automated machine. Some folks are nice and will return your autograph and include a picture or a headshot of their own along with it. Jerry Lewis actually swapped the picture I sent with a better, glossy copy of the same image. That was especially cool since that’s not the one he normally sends out.
While we’re on the subject, don’t be greedy. Send one picture. Maybe two. I never send more than that. I don’t resell the stuff, and the main reason I might send more than one pic is because I’m planning on getting a second autograph on that same picture and I want an extra in case it gets lost in the mail or never returned (That’s the reason I still have one Dick Van Dyke auto, even though Julie Andrews never returned the Mary Poppins pic signed by Dick that I sent her).
5. Send return postage or a SASE. Bottom line is to make this as easy as possible for the recipient. We just want them to open the envelope, sign the picture, slip it in another envelope and put it in the mailbox. Five minuets or less. If they have to put postage on it, or find an envelope, or dig out a headshot or get a headshot from thier agent, these things take time and money. Let’s not make this any more difficult than it has to be.
6.If you get a reply, send a thank-you note. I buy postcards (usually with a Cleveland theme – it helps them remember who they signed what for) and hand write thank-yous to a lot of the people I get autographs from. I don’t bother when it’s an agent’s address or a set because it may never arrive, but when it’s a home or PO box it’s good form to say thanks and it takes less time than you spent sending the original request.
7. Finally, don’t presume too much. Even though you’ve seen these people again and again on TV or at the movies, remember, you’re writing a letter to a stranger. Don’t act like you know them, or assume that them sending you an autograph makes you buddies. They are doing you a favor, not starting a relationship. You won’ t be exchanging Christmas cards in December or attending their summer barbecue. Sending repeated letters is bad form and makes the rest of us look like creepy stalkers.
And again, yes, they are doing you a favor. They don’t owe you an autograph, though it shows that they do appreciate their fans. They are people too and everyone is different. I wasn’t upset that Tom Savini was distant when I met him a few years ago. I’m not an especially friendly person myself and we were both strangers to each other. He was still polite and signed a poster and took a photo with me. I’m totally cool with that. Sometimes you will meet someone who is especially friendly, like when I wrote my friends favorite author and asked her to send him an autograph (I enclosed a picture and a stamped envelope addressed to him). She not only sent him the autograph but also a long letter (written mostly on the back of the picture) and then also sent ME a letter. Those are great experiences and really they are the reason we do this kind of thing. But not every one will be like that. To quote Clint Eastwood “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it”.
These are by no means a definitive set of rules, but they’ve worked well for me over the years. It’s a rush when you send that envelope out and an even bigger thrill to get one back. For some reason, having an actor or director’s autograph just makes their films more fun to watch. For a moment, instead of the movie being simply a one way communication, it opens up into interactivity. You get to talk back to the people involved in it and for that moment they know you exist too.
Good luck. I’m going to go out and check my mail before I get back to Violent Blue.