It’s a sad fact that most actors don’t get very far in their careers without being represented by a respected acting agent. I have known several extremely talented actors who unfairly failed to get off the starting block when leaving drama school because they didn’t get an agent. Of course that’s not necessarily the end of the road; one girl I know left drama school without representation, trudged along for a couple of years doing not very much at all, but eventually got a part in an unpaid fringe production. Luckily, she was seen by one of the best actor’s agents in London who subsequently took her on and secured her a role in a high-quality TV drama; she hasn’t looked back since and is now making big-budget feature films. The point is, she needed an agent to even get an audition for the job that propelled her forward; she wouldn’t have stepped foot in the casting director’s office without one.
The job of an acting agent
In very basic terms, casting directors send out breakdowns of jobs they are casting to agents they trust and have a good working relationship with. Agents then select a client or clients to submit for the job in question. From all of the submitted clients, the casting director works with the director of the project to select who they will invite to an audition. It is their job to build up contacts, keep their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the industry and network with the appropriate people. They also negotiate fees and handle contracts.
Good talent agents are very careful in choosing which actors they represent. They have to feel they can ‘sell’ you effectively.
There are also several types of agency; there are co-operatives, personal managements, and big star-name agents. For more information, check out this article on the different types of actor’s agents and what they are looking for in the clients they choose to take on.
But what they expect from you is only one side of the coin. You must be sure that you build a relationship with an agent who works hard on your behalf, is good at making contacts, and is respected in the industry.
Contacting acting agents
Most agents will want to see your work, so only approach them when you can invite them to a production you are appearing in or sending a new show-reel of your work on screen. Make sure you give them plenty of notice of dates; they are unlikely to come and see your show if you call them the day before.
When you write to them, be professional and concise, but give a hint of your personality. This is a tricky balance to strike, but remember they are inundated. If you write pages and pages, they won’t read your letter, but if you keep it to a couple of sentences, they won’t have any inkling of who you are.
Try and personalise the letter; write to a specific person in the office, rather than addressing the letter to the agency as a whole. Also, try and indicate why you feel they are the right person to represent you; do some research.
The ideal situation is that you have a recommendation from a respected director or casting director; this way you have a powerful introductory sentence at your disposal and any agent is more likely to sit up and take notice.
Include a professionally taken 10x8 photograph and a copy of your CV with your letter. Even in this age of digital photography and email, most agents prefer to receive letters and 10x8 photographs through the post; if in doubt, check their website or call to find out their preferred method of contact.
Once you've got in touch, don't wait around for the phone to ring; go out and live your life and be pleasantly surprised if they get in touch.
Meeting an agent
If you are lucky enough to be invited to an interview with an agent, approach it in more or less the same way you would an audition. Dress smartly and comfortably and be on time. Think about the type of questions they are likely to ask and prepare answers; don’t learn them like a script as this will seem robotic, but have a rough plan. Let the discussion flow naturally and don’t be afraid of going off on tangents; let them see your personality and show them you are going to be a delight to work with.
It’s also critical to be inquisitive and find out as much about them as possible about them; remember, an interview is a two-way street. Have a few questions at the ready for when the inevitable ‘would you like to ask us anything?’ rears its head towards the end of the interview.
A few questions that might be worth asking are:
- How long has the agency been in operation?
- Which fields of work does the agency deal in?
- How many clients does the agency represent?
- What are their rates of commission? (What percentage of your wages will they take?)
- How do they feel about their clients taking unpaid work to gain experience?
When you are offered representation
Take your time in signing up with an agent. Don’t feel rushed or pressurised to accept an offer. Get advice from other actors, directors and the Spotlight (the online and offline marketing tool for actors).
Ask yourself, do you feel you can work well work well with the particular acting agent who has offered you representation? If they are newly established, will they have enough clout to get you seen by the right people? If they are large and prestigious (representing big names) will you get forgotten about?
Be warned, no legitimate talent agent will ask for a registration fee.
So you’ve decided who you’d like to represent you, had the interview and received an offer. From here, things will vary slightly depending on the organisation.
Some agents only require a handshake to seal the deal, whereas others require a written contract. Make sure you read any agreement thoroughly before signing. It may stipulate a period of notice should you wish to move on to another agent. Three months is the standard, but some agents try and tie you in for a year once you’ve decided to leave. The agreement should also outline the commission they expect on each type of job (my agent takes 10% on theatre work, 12.5% on TV and film and 15% on commercials).
Remember, any contract is in place to protect you as well as the agent. If in doubt, check it with Actor’s Equity.
Don’t be disheartened if the offers don’t come flowing in, even after you’ve met with a few agents. If they have seen and liked your work, the chances are that, upon meeting you, they feel there is too much of a clash with another one of their clients (you are in direct competition with someone they already have on their books). It is often worth keeping in touch with agents who have expressed an interest and letting them know when you are appearing in something else.
Getting good representation from a reputable acting agent is somewhat of a lottery. Remember, if you don’t manage it first time, it is not a reflection on how talented you are. To sustain a career as an actor you'll need the ability to cope with highs and lows, so don't give up at the first knock-back.