Getting an Agent
AGENT SEARCH: WHAT DOES AN AGENT WANT? THE SAME AS YOU!
If you were interviewing prospective business partners what would you be looking for?
Well, you probably want someone who has good experience, comes well recommended, someone that seems a good person to deal with on a day to day basis, is smart, someone who inspires confidence and seems to be going places. You’d want someone who comes off as dependable, able and ready to bring in money for you both. Not needy, not unprofessional, unprepared, or flakey. You’d want a partner who obviously has their act together and who anyone would say you’d be crazy not to sign. That’s what an agent wants in an actor. And that’s what you want in an agent.
When you begin your search for an agent, you may feel at a disadvantage– even powerless. Don’t sell yourself short! The real power is ultimately the talent–YOU– and you should not sign with the first agent who says “yes” unless you feel good about their business, temperament, connections, and enthusiasm for you. They ultimately work for you, so choose wisely. If they don’t impress you or give you a good feeling, don’t be afraid to say “no thanks” and look elsewhere.
Remember an agency’s voice-over, commercial and theatrical departments may well be completely separate entities. Signing with one department doesn’t necessarily imply signing with all departments within an agency. You are targeting a specific department with your interview, but may be asked to interview with their other departments (or not).
Your new agency may elect to “hip pocket you,” which means they don’t sign you to a contract, but send you out on a trial basis. You are not obligated to be exclusive to them under this arrangement. If you start booking, they will want to sign you. When you “sign” with an agent it means they work trying to get you auditions and you only audition through them within the area defined in the contract for the duration of the contract. It’s possible to have separate agents for the same kind of work both in New York and in Los Angeles, since they generally don’t compete. But you can’t sign with two agents in the Los Angeles area for voice overs.
You can sign with an agency for a year or a few years. Often, the first contract is for a year’s exclusivity and if things go well, the next contract will be for a few years. I would advise shorter period for an agency you are new with, say, a year.
All residuals that come your way from gigs you worked while you were signed with a particular agency will come through that agency in perpetuity, whether you are still signed with them or not. They helped you get the work so they get their 10% cut. Forever. So, if you sing with one agent and eventually move on to another, but still get the residuals from the first agent, you must keep your accounting straight and honest and get the old agency their fair share (not matter the terms you left them). Failure to do this can lead to legal action. This dynamic can get even trickier and riskier with a manager you may have left but who feel the right to a claim on work you may have done since leaving that may have in some way been facilitated by the old manager.
ATTRACT AN AGENT’S INTEREST BY PUTTING YOUR WORK OUT THERE.
I’m not a fan of relying solely on “cold calling” or endless “cold send outs” of your promotional materials trying to get an agent or manager or casting director interested in you. These impersonal generic mass-mailed send outs mostly go in the trash, though it can get some action. (How many flyers from new restaurants do you throw away in a week? How about those flyers you find stuck in your windshield wipers at the mall? Do you ever find those effective?) I find it’s more effective to put your work out there and use that as the bait to attract the fish, so to speak.
Get in a play or showcase, a student film, an improv troupe, make your own web series or movie, etc. Put your incredible creative abilities out there and you will get a response– eventually. You become what you do and what you make. Also, you might ask a fellow performer you are studying with in a voice class to recommend you to their agent, if it feels right. If you knock them out with your ability, their recommendation could get you an interview with their agent.
HERE’S WHAT YOU SHOULD IDEALLY HAVE READY BEFORE YOU INTERVIEW PROSPECTIVE AGENTS:
1. Evidence that you are working at your career and are serious about pursuing this: A professional looking resumé, some recognizable learning experience (classes, workshops, teachers), performing experience, maybe some local performances an agent could go check out. They need to see evidence that you are the real deal and worth their time and investment of attention.
2. Well-placed referrals. The right recommendation is probably more crucial than having a good resumé, demo or website. Favorable word from casting directors or acting teachers (whose classes you’ve taken) carry especial weight. Anyone who could hire you might also be of help: a show runner, a casting director or producer. Any of these who know you and like your work and is willing to recommend you with a call or an email is gold.
It would also be great to have a recommendation from any clients (fellow actors) signed at the prospective agency you are interviewing at (if they know your work). I don’t mean just asking an acquaintance or friend to “walk your stuff in” and get them to pressure their agent to meet with you as a favor. Nobody’s doing anyone any favors here! Your referrer(s) needs to be someone who can vouch for your talent and is willing to put their credibility on the line because they believe you are that good. Remember: a recommendation puts your credibility on the line. A smart person never spends this thoughtlessly nor asks this of another.
3. A life. An actor should have things you love and are passionate about in addition to acting. This feeds your acting and your confidence. Relationships, hobbies, skills, travel, areas of expertise that are unique to you that you work at because you love it.
4. Work a prospective agent could go see you in locally. This could be an improv show, a play, one-woman-show, a class showcase, a student film showing, etc. You need to be an active, working artist putting your work out there, connecting up with those who are successfully going for it.
5. A competitive demo. See my Demo page for specifics. An openness to rework, refine or redo, if needed. Almost as important as good recommendations.
6. A professional promotional website. See my “Your Website” page.
7. An idea of what you want to be doing in five or ten years. Where do you want this career of yours to go? The clearer your picture you have of your future, the quicker the trip! Your agent will want to see you have vision for where this leads. Why are you doing this? What’s your story that brought you here? What is your plan? Who are your heroes? Share this and find out how the agent can help you get where you want to go.
But also let them know what you bring to the table for them. It’s a two way street and they should feel as lucky to have you as you feel to have them. Flip it and find this out about them as well!
8. Insightful questions to ask them: For example: How do you see me fitting in with your stable of talent? How many of “me” do you already have? How many voice over clients do you represent? (and how many would be my competition here?) What casting directors do you have a relationship with? What is this agency’s history? How often can I expect to read or be sent out? What are your expectations of a new client? Who records auditions? How do auditions work at their agency? Do they have an ISDN setup? How many of their clients email in audition Mp3’s instead of coming in to read?
Finally, show them you’ve done your homework. Research the agency as much as possible and ask about their history, agents and general operation.