Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the agent agenda. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!
Most of the jobs in the Bay Area that I have been able to find are non paying and I'm wondering if working with an agent may open doors for more paying roles (I'm assuming this is the case since they get a percentage of your pay)? What is the best way to find an agent and what generally is the process? Also, can you tell me what the pro's and con's are of working with an agent? Thank you so much and thanks again for your great advice!
Ah, the agent question. Thanks for providing me with the one and only topic of this week's column. You are correct-- having an agent definitely aids in earning you money as an actor. It is virtually, not totally, but virtually impossible to make a living from your acting if you don't have an agent.
I like to think of agents as business partners. Agents seek out work opportunities for actors, who in return pay a standard 10 percent of the work they book to the agent for their service. As a representative of an actor's talent to casting directors, directors and producers, an agent can submit actors for high level, private auditions for stage, television, and film, that only agents and managers know about, through a publication called "Breakdowns." This makes having an agent desirable.
Getting an agent has traditionally been referred to as a big struggle in the business. As businessmen, agents want to hire people they think will make them money, so they are naturally quite selective about who they represent. Even if an agent is interested in your work, his agency may already represent several people similar to your age and type, and despite your talent, he may not sign you. Agents have earned themselves a reputation for being dishonest, lazy, untrustworthy, insensitive, manipulative, greedy, difficult to deal with, etc.. While the reputation may stem from truths, it is important to keep in mind that there are some great agents out there.
Despite the reality of the business, where jobs are few and far between, actors should avoid the tendency to forget they are control of their careers. Otherwise they fall prey to the "acting syndrome," and give their power completely over to their agent or director. When things aren't hunky-dory, they blame the harsh nature of the business on them.
To avoid the syndrome, actors must develop a responsible and professional business mentality about their work. Performers may be must cultivate true self-esteem and the discipline to take charge of their careers, and learn how to effectively negotiate or ask for what they deserve. Do not sign a contract with an agent without taking note of how you feel in their presence or thoroughly examining their character.
There are different kinds of contracts signed with agencies, some agents you can freelance with, others restrict you to audition only for jobs your agent books. You will have to see which arrangements suits your career best. So. . .how to get one?
Many good books have been written on the subject, so it may be worth a trip to the bookstore to get input from different sources about this often tricky acquisition. I don't believe getting an agent is necessarily a step by-step process. It could happen tomorrow, or it could take years. Before you venture out on your journey to get an agent, I think it's important first to do some personal legwork. Establish a relationship with yourself as CEO of your own company. You must begin to view your craft as a marketable product that you wish to sell. In my experience, the best salespeople really believe in the product they are selling. So first you have to become clear about how you honestly feel about yourself as a performer. Do you have faith you can make it? Do you believe your performances are worth people paying for? You can be far away from your potential as an actor and still feel like you're a walking gold mine of talent. If you are filled with mostly fear and doubt when answering, you may want to wait a while and build more confidence before going agent hunting.
It is important to develop a vision for yourself of your career, and the more specific you can get, the better. Assess what you feel your weak and strong points are currently as a performer (a trustworthy teacher or director's opinion may with this ) . Then create a marketing strategy based on what you find. What "type" of actor are you? Think of your favorite performers and pick one or a few whose career really inspires you.
List your goals and aspirations, being as specific as you can, including dates by when you intend to achieve certain things. For example: by September 1997, I will be cast in a show at the Stage Door Theatre; January 1998 I'll play "Romeo," October-get an agent,lead in an independent feature that will get me my SAG card, etc. Just because you are making the goals doesn't mean it will happen this way. You should not feel imprisoned by the plan. You can always change it, and should be prepared to do so. But by setting specific goals you really put your energy in motion.
Dip into your actor self and create the character of your own business person/salesman. Is your salesman showy or more subtle? Enthusiastic, energetic or laid back? It's still you, it's just the role you bring out when you sit in the agents office. You can always modify the character if you find something is not working.
Be specific on what you want in return for the goods, so you don't sell yourself short. Make a list of the qualities you want in an agent; I.e., reputable, intelligent, trustworthy, amiable, fiery, daring, supportive, etc.. Employ the partner who will help you create your vision and fulfill your goals.
Spend the time and if necessary, the money to get your materials in good shape. Make sure you have attractive, professional headshots that look like you. Your resumes should be neatly attached on the back, make sure they are honest, legible, and done professionally as well. If you do not know how to do this, there are many books available on how to create proper and efficient materials. Good agencies also generally request a videotape of your work, so if you don't already have one, start building a collection of your work to splice together on video.
Do you know any agents or have any contacts?. Have any relatives that are close with one? Do any of your friends have agents? Go through your address book. Getting a meeting with an agent or getting one to come see you in a show is much easier when you go through someone who knows you.
The standard way to seek agents without contacts is to do a mailing . You can mail only headshots and resumes with a cover letter, but nowadays people include a videos and tapes if they sing as well.
Keep working. The more you work, the better. The more exposure you have, the more you open yourself up to agents (and directors and producers and casting agents) coming to see you--for example, a cast member you work with may have her agent or perspective agent come to the show. The greatest advantage of working, is you can use your mailing to invite agents to come see your work. Send a flyer with a fun, personable letter letting the agent or agency know who you are, and offer them complementary tickets to see your show.
I have been informed by someone at the Theatre Bay Association that there are no "theatrical" agents as such in San Francisco. However, to obtain a list of Commercial, Film and TV agents, call the Screen Actors' Guild in San Francisco at (415) 391-7510, and ask for the voice mail explaining the procedures for obtaining the list of agents.
To find out about New York and Los Angeles agents, The "Ross Reports" tells everything about agents and agencies, what they accept or don't accept from actors, mailing addresses, phone numbers, etc. It also lists casting agents and what productions they are currently casting. "Ross Reports" is, are available in drama bookstores throughout the country. The Drama Book Shop mail order "Ross Reports" from 723 Seventh Ave., New York, NY, 10019, 1-800-322-0595. Playbill has no business affiliation with "Ross Reports."
Good luck on the journey, Thomas! If you follow any of my suggestions, make sure to have fun while you're doing them and let me know when you get one.