If you want to be a successful actor, or want your children in the business, this is a team member you must know and understand.
There are agents, and then there are AGENTS!
You can’t lump together high powered agents such as Creative Artists Agency (CAA), William Morris Agency (WMA), International Creative Management (ICM), Don Buchwald and Associates, and The Gersh Agency with the struggling one person outfits that are out there.
Most deals at the higher levels are negotiated by agents.
One key difference between agents and almost all other players, except for lawyers, is that they are regulated by state law.
Big Agencies vs. Small Agencies
The big three – CAA, William Morris, and ICM. These companies have at least 50 agents each working for them. There are a few mid-level agencies that are respected (mostly made up of big agency veterans). They are the focal point of power brokering in Hollywood and New York. The same is true for the rest of the world for that matter.
High powered agents represent their clients in all aspects of Motion Picture and Television, including commercials, print, and live appearances. This is what is known as ‘Across the board representation’. Fees for this service are regulated by the Unions. An agent receives no more than 10% of each talent deal.
Smaller agencies will specialize in their areas. In the beginning of their careers, many actors will have different agents for different fields. They will have a Theatrical Agent (Motion Pictures and Television), a Commercial Agent (Commercials only), Voice-Over Agent, Live Appearance Agent (singers, comedians, etc.).
What do Agents do?
An agent does not work for the actor. An agent works for the casting director and the production company.
An agent provides actors to the casting director when the need arises. An agent’s first loyalty is to his customer (the casting director or production company). That’s who keeps him/her in business.
An agent will look an actor in the eye and say, “I’ll work very hard for you!” What he/she really means is that they think you might be successful in auditions and that the agency would like to include you as another product available to their customer.
An agent will try and negotiate the best possible price for you because that price directly influences their commission. They will also look for the small details that an actor doesn’t think about, such as billing and screen credit, trailer, transportation, etc.
Producers and casting directors are also more confident in hiring an actor with agency representation than someone without.
Just like you are more comfortable buying jewelry from a reputable jewelry store and not off of someone on the street. Again, common sense tells you that an actor with representation is more professional.
Having an agent will enhance your credibility as a professional.
The top agents in the top agencies are some of the MAJOR players in the business. Their calls get answered. Their demands get met. They are just as important in the process as ANY person in Hollywood. Their power is based on the desirability of their clients.
In addition to doing deals on an individual basis, agents ‘package’ their clients so that a studio is forced to take a number of their clients for a particular project.
For example, if a studio wants a particular actor for a television series, they will also have to take a producer and team of writers handled by the same agent.
Why are agents such an important part of the business?
Fundamentally, most creative talent are not necessarily business people. The studio is much more comfortable doing business with an agent because they want business done efficiently and with as little ego damage as possible to the creative talent.
No studio executive wants to tell an actor that he/she is only worth X amount of dollars and that there is no way that they will get above the title billing. They leave those tasks to the better equipped agent.
A good, agent knows what the market will bear and can generally get his/her client most of what the studio will give.
Do Agents get their clients work?
Only the most powerful agents can make suggestions to the studios. A good agent will submit a client and have the clout to get them a meeting or audition.
Most agents have to go the typical way of submitting to casting directors and hoping for a call back.
Most people get their own work. This is true especially in the beginning of their careers.
Remember the agent gets 10% of your paycheck. Count on them to only do 10% of the work. You are responsible for the other 90%.
Almost everyone needs an agent to play the game. It still stands that studios will not deal directly with the talent. They want the buffer.
In Los Angeles and New York (and a few more places) agents are exclusive. Meaning you can only have one agent represent you in each field. You may have one agent for theatrical (film and television), one agent for commercials, and one agent for personal appearances. Or, if offered, you may choose to have the same agent represent you across the board.
In Florida, and many other right to work states, you may be listed with as many agents as you want as long as they will have you.
There is a problem with listing with all of the agents in a right to work state. You may get called by all of them for the same audition. You must then decide which one you will list as your representative. This is a no-win situation. It will make some of them mad and they will not submit you the next time.
Just like in Hollywood and New York, you must learn to choose an agent. Getting them to effectively represent you is a fine art that must be learned.
Getting your first Agent.
If you are new to LA, or anywhere for that matter, you might find yourself having what is called a “Golden Period” where everyone will want to get a look at you. You are the new kid in town. You can use this to your advantage.
This is especially true if you are young. Not necessarily your age, but how young you look.
Some of you will have agents and managers competing with each other to sign you. Don’t be fooled. This novelty wears off fast.
Make it your plan to work hard at establishing your career. Think long term.
The best way to find your agent is by word of mouth. This is where your networking skills come into play. Everyone you meet is a resource. Always ask, “Do you know any good agents?” Keep a list.
One of the keys to ANY business is the quantity and quality of contacts that you make.
Effective networking means remembering people’s names. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. People are impressed and flattered when their name is remembered.
Courting an Agent
Don’t try the endless silly schemes some actors invent to get an agents attention. Handing out toilet seat covers with your picture embossed on it, scratch and sniff headshots, jigsaw puzzles that make up your resume, are only good for encouraging agents to treat you like you are treating yourself, like a joke.
What you must do to attract an agent is what people in all businesses do, send out calling cards. In this case, your calling card is your headshot and resume.
Set up appointments.
Get friends to make referrals.
Become involved in clubs and organizations relating to your field.
Continue to develop your skills to become more and more qualified.
Always keep in mind that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. Be prepared or opportunity will pass you by.
If any agent tries to charge you a fee of any kind to sign with them, RUN, don’t walk away. Many scam artists are out there. This is a sure fire way of spotting a crook. A legitimate agent will only charge you their deserved commission when and after they have gotten you work.
Getting Agents to work for you
Here is where the real work begins. Many actors think that once they sign with an agent, they can sit back and wait for the phone to ring.
Since agents make their, money from commissions, they will concentrate on clients who are already working.
Makes sense doesn’t it? Go with what works and you can count on your income. An agent who has clients who consistently land jobs from auditions is going to concentrate on those clients. New people are going to have to prove themselves to get the agents attention.
Sure they may have signed you because they believe you will get work, but you are going to have to prove yourself to them.
Things an Agent will want to know
Are you continuing to develop your craft?
Are you doing plays or student films?
Are you enrolled in acting classes?
Are you keeping up on what’s being produced?
Are you reading the Trade Papers?
Are you preparing fully for auditions?
Are you systematically expanding your network?
The truth of the matter is that most of the work you get will be due to your own efforts. This impresses an agent!
Make sure you communicate your efforts to your agent. Birthday cards and Christmas cards are warm and fuzzy, but you will fire up the agent’s enthusiasm when he/she receives the flyer about the play you are in, or a note about the casting director you met.
If you take charge of your career, communicate your efforts to your agent, and enlist your agent in a team effort, you stand a good chance of getting him/her to take an active roll on your, behalf.