How To Get An Agent

Real tips on how to get an agent for acting.

Ever seen a dog chasing its tail? It seems ridiculous to humans because we understand that the endless spinning around and around to bite yourself in the butt, not only looks silly, but is a total waste of time and energy.

Well, an actor/actress without a great agent or manager is pretty much doing the same thing as the dog; chasing his/her career in a non-stop circle only to keep ending up dazed, confused, frustrated, and never making any progress.

The definition of insanity is to repeat the same cycle of events over and over again, but expecting a different outcome each time you run the cycle. So if you’re an actor who has repeated the same cycle over and over again, with no success, maybe you should try a different route because nobody wants to be called insane. So here are a few tips to help you move in a direction toward success, when attempting to choose the right agent for your acting career


1. KNOW WHAT TALENT AGENTS DO

Agents, in most cases, are the direct link to casting directors (CDs) and producers who hire actors for various on-camera jobs. In return for helping you secure auditions, your agent will receive a 10% commission from your gross earnings if, and when, you book a job. Look out for agents who try to ask for more than 10% on union projects (or 15% for non-union work). In many cases, mostly on union (SAG /AFTRA) projects, the agent’s 10% fee is separate from the actor’s compensation for the job, so the agent should not seek to take an additional 10% from the actor’s earnings.

There are various types of agents who can represent you in your career. The most sought after types of agents are theatrical (film & TV) and commercial. There are also print (usually combined with commercial), voice-over (for TV, film, radio commercials and cartoons), and legitimate (theater) agents. Some agents prefer to represent you in every category, which would mean you are “signed across the board.” But some actors prefer to be represented by different agents for different types of work since certain agencies specialize in certain types of castings. Some actors also prefer to have multiple agents represent them for the same category; just in different regions/markets of the country (you may have a theatrical agent in Los Angeles and a separate agency repping you for theatrical in Atlanta or New York). You just have to decide how you prefer to be represented as an individual.

2. BUILD YOUR RESUME AND GET GREAT HEADSHOTS
In order to grab an agent’s attention you need the right tools. The most important two tools you need are an 8×10 headshot photo and an acting resume. If you have a speed reel, then you’re light years ahead of most of the up-and-coming actors you’re up against. A speed reel is a medley of short video clips of your work, and while it is a great way to showcase your talent and appear more viable, if you’re just starting out don’t worry about this because it’s not mandatory to get an agent.

With your headshot and résumé being the most vital parts of your toolkit, you must make sure you understand the proper way to prepare them. The photo is definitely the actor’s most important marketing tool because it is the first thing agents, managers, and CDs look at; so don’t skimp on quality in this area!

Commercial Headshots & Theatrical Headshots.

These are the two main types of headshots; one shot will be used for casting commercials, and the other for film, theater and TV. It is said that the commercial shot should be happy-go-lucky looking, while the theatrical shot should appear to be more serious. For both types of shots, think about how you will be cast and tailor your photos to those particular directions. It is also a good idea to have more than two shots of each type. In the meantime, get one great photo reproduced for your agency search.

Write your résumé
Attach you photo back-to-back with an 8 x 10 resume with staples neatly in each corner, so that when the agent or CD flips your headshot over, the resume is facing outward as if it is printed on the back of your headshot. NEVER get resumes professionally printed on the back of your photos because as you book new gigs your resume will change which means your headshots will have an outdated resume printed on the back, rendering them useless. I doubt that anyone wants to just throw away hundreds of dollars on headshots.

Your résumé will have your name at the top, then the names of any actors’ unions to which you belong, underneath your name. A voice mail or message service phone number should be available so that the agents will know how to contact you (this will eventually be replaced with an agency logo once you secure representation). Your vitals come next (e.g. height, weight, your body’s physique/build, eye and hair colors). Below that, list your acting credits. Please note that film experience comes first under the heading “Film,” then Television, followed by Theater, Training and Education, and finally Special Skills (e.g., trick rollerblading, world champion bobsledder, certified lifeguard).

Look at sample résumés online via Actors Access, LA Casting, Now Casting, or ask other actors or your acting coach for tips on layout. Once you have an agent, he or she will probably have specific layout preferences. Don’t stress too much about the résumé if you are just getting started. Most mid-size and boutique agencies are much more concerned with your look and your personality than your experience or your talent, in most cases.

3. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Your location can play a major part in finding a reputable, legitimate talent agency. Keep in mind that of the 100,000 actors who are members of SAG, half of them live in LA, one third in NYC, and the rest are in secondary markets like New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, and Atlanta. There is also a living to be made as an actor in those secondary markets, but if you’re in a place like Boise or Chattanooga, there probably isn’t a legitimate talent agency in your city. You can still get an agent in the nearest major city with a SAG branch, IF AND ONLY IF you are completely willing and available to commute to that market for auditions with just one day’s notice. Otherwise it would be in your best interests to consider relocating to a prime market like LA or NYC.

If you are located in, or planning to move to, one of the markets listed above, then keep in mind when seeking an agent you only want one who is franchised by the actors’ unions (SAG/AFTRA, and/or AEA), and preferably a member of ATA (Association of Talent Agents). If they’re a member of ATA, this means that their Agency Agreements are much more restricted. Also, if they are a franchised agency, it means they have an official agreement with the unions to get you legitimate jobs and to pay you your fair wages. It also means that you can complain to the union if they don’t, and the union will help straighten things out. Your agent should be at least franchised with one of the earlier mentioned unions (ATA is not an actor’s union).

To get a list of franchised agents, contact your local SAG/AFTRA, or AEA branch, or visit them on the web for a complimentary list of franchised agents in your area. Agency lists can also be purchased at Samuel French or from Breakdowns in LA and NYC. Bear in mind that, since the start of 2009, many other markets outside of LA and NYC have become major film/TV hubs, especially Atlanta.

The best way to figure out which agent to target, is to network with your actor friends about their representation. Get the scoop on an agency by talking to as many of their clients as possible. Also, visit the IMDb Movie Database online at http://www.imdb.com, and do your research based on who’s representing those actors who are working consistently.

4. TIMING
The best time to look for representation is during the summer hiatus, when television casting is extremely slow because shows are in reruns. The worst time of year to look for an agent is during pilot season, when TV casting is the busiest. Pilot season begins in early January and could last for a period of 5 months before all the dust from settles and theatrical agents are looking for new talent again. Another way to meet agents is to do paid agent or industry showcases/workshops. These usually involve preparing a scene or monologue and paying a company to let you perform it for agents that they bring in. Many companies only charge in the neighborhood of $40 per workshop, for the opportunity to audition and be seen by reputable Casting Directors and agents. While many will argue that it’s unethical a SMALL percentage of actors have found success with launching their careers as a
result of these workshops. With workshops…CHOOSE WISELY!!

5. NETWORK
Finally, the most effective way to get an agency interview is to get a personal referral. This is often through your acting coach. But it may also be through your half-aunt’s brother-in-law’s college roommate’s daughter. You should explore all possible leads and industry contacts. If a connection is tenuous, ask your potential contact to take a brief informational interview with you. Take that person to coffee or lunch, or ask them to take a short phone meeting so that you might pick their mind about the biz. This is a lot more polite than calling someone whom you do not know, or barely know, and asking them to pull strings for you. And this informational interview, if played right, will lead to the sort of help that you need.

As you go about your networking, you must start a file of industry contacts. This is so you can keep track of who you talked to and what you talked to them about, so you don’t make a fool of yourself in case you meet them again. Also subscribe to Dramalogue/Backstage, and buy the actors’ bible, The Working Actors’ Guide. Keeping track of what’s going on in the industry will be key. It also couldn’t hurt to read Variety or Hollywood Reporter every once in a while.

6. KNOCK’EM DEAD IN YOUR INTERVIEW
This part is pretty self-explanatory. When an agency calls you for an interview, it is up to you to be on time, be delightfully charismatic, and to look like a million bucks. Look like your photo, by the way, so they don’t say “who the hell is this joker?” when you walk in the door. You will usually be asked to prepare a monologue. Get help on your monologue from an acting coach to make sure you don’t suck. You will also be asked to do a cold-reading, (which means that you will be asked to read a scene that they give you “cold,” or unprepared). Finally, be prepared with some interesting, funny stories about your background so you can charm their pants off and appear to be extemporaneously witty.

Don’t forget that the interview is your chance to interview the agent, as well. Ask them how many clients they have, and what jobs those clients are doing. How many actors of your type do they represent? What do they see as your type, and how will they be submitting you? What do they expect you to do at your end of the relationship? When and how should you contact them with questions and concerns? What do they think of your current photo? (By the way, they won’t like it — every agent makes you get new photos, but beware the agent who only wants you to use a specific photographer as this is a red flag of the shady, unethical kickback situation. Union franchised agents should give you a choice of recommended photographers.) Does the agency have any other recommendations for you in terms of image and career development?

They will usually, but not always, offer you representation on the spot at the end of the interview if they are interested. Do not panic if they don’t; if you are not a member of the actors’ union, and sometimes even if you are, an agency will hip-pocket you. This means that they are representing you on a trial basis, and by oral agreement rather than signing you to the written SAG contract. If they do offer torepresent you, you can either accept or (more wisely) express your enthusiasm but tell them that you still have a few more appointments and that you will be in touch soon. Even if this is not true, it will put you in a good position and will give you time to think about the offer outside the pressure of the interview.

7. KNOW WHO’S REPUTABLE
Don’t dive head first into being repped by someone just because they have one or two people who recently booked a co-star on a new pilot. Do your research and ask around. If you can’t find any information on an agency online, don’t sign with them. Also, some agencies have a great track record, but only with certain types of castings. For example: you don’t want to sign with a firm theatrical when all they’ve booked in the past 6 months is commercials. Maybe just consider them as your commercial agency, and not theatrical (and vice-versa).

8. CHOOSE YOUR AGENT
For those who have already tried to get an agent, you realize that this heading is a joke. It’s hardly ever a situation where an agent is dying to rep you, unless you’re Johnny Depp or some other A-lister. Usually an agent chooses YOU, not the other way around. New actors will ask, “but aren’t they supposed to be working for me?” Yes, in theory, but no in reality. They actually work for the agency, and represent you. In the rare instance that more than one agent is interested in repping you, there are a few things to look for when deciding between them.

Agent’s pull
One important quality in an agent is the amount of power he or she has. A powerful agent has influence, lots of good industry relationships, and other clients who are in demand. Ideally, you will be represented by an agent whose agency logo and own name carry a certain amount of weight. But this takes time, often years, so hang in there and keep building your reel and resume!

Agent’s vibe
Based on your interview, you should have a general vibe from the agent and his or her office. Is he or she excited about you? Do you feel that he or she will fight for you? If this is your first agent, you must also remember that he or she may not be the most powerful agent in town, but you should still get a good feeling when you interview. The office may be small, but is it well-organized? Your agent may not be friendly, but do you trust the agent? You may not get a ton of auditions, but does your agent submit you? (You’ll know how often you are submitted by how often he or she needs more photos and résumés from you.) Your agent can be, but is usually not, your friend. After all, this is your business life, and not your personal one, so be mindful to not mix the two. Furthermore, you don’t want an agent you can’t stand, or one who gets an attitude just because you called their office one time in two weeks.

Meshing of minds
Last, but not least, when choosing an agent make sure the agent sees you the same way that you see yourself. If you think you’re a wholesome “girl-next-door” type, and your agent is sending you on auditions for middle-aged, trailer trash, alcoholic hookers, something is wrong. You won’t get the job and the CDs will be pissed that everyone’s time was wasted. (By the way, before you blame your agent,
make sure that you are a girl-next-door type and not trailer trash, and make sure that your headshots, and other photos, are accurate representations of the type you want to be seen as).

Most people never land an agent on their first crack at it, so do get all upset if you don’t get one right away. There are plenty of

Join a few of the online casting services like LA Casting, Now Casting, and Actor’s Access that keep your headshots and résumé online so casting directors can review your marketing tools.

Remember that your dream to become a star, or at least a working actor, involves years of financial and personal sacrifices. So hang in there and keep pressing toward your goal.

When you finally land an agent, realize that you may be auditioning soon, so be prepared. Take a few acting classes and understand that even after you land your agent, it still may be a while before you actually book a role in a major film or TV project. Just because you have an agent, doesn’t mean you can just sit around and wait, make sure you continue to market yourself because your agent probably has 250 other clients he/she represents.

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