All aspiring actors strive to get signed by an agent as quickly as possible. Many get those meetings, but they come out of them empty handed – the agent didn’t sign them. So what was the problem? What are agents looking for in actors, and how do you get signed with some of the best talent agencies?
In reality, there might be many reasons why an agent said “No” to an actor looking for representation, just as there are many reasons why they could have said “Yes“.
These people do have their own secret standards, methods and techniques for spotting a talent unknown to inexperienced actors, but a business veteran knows well what agents are looking for in those they want to represent.
Last week we have discussed the topic of how to have a successful agency meeting which, based on response, turned out to be helpful to aspiring artists. In addition to that, today we’re going to talk about what agents are looking for in their actors, what ticks all their boxes and makes them say “I’d like to sign you,” instead of “We’ll be in touch.”
Make sure to skimp through the freshly updated acting for beginners guide for additional advice on training, acting costs, craft, business and acting terms. Knowing all about this industry will never hurt your acting career.
What Agents Are Looking for in Actors
There are so many horror stories floating around the acting industry about how talent agents never sign anybody and that it’s almost impossible to get representation unless you’re on your way to stardom. The reality is that there are quite a few agents out there, and in order for them to make money, they have to sign somebody. Right?
Right — talent is being signed. Maybe not as often as artists wish it would happen, but agents do find people they would like to represent, on a regular basis, because if they didn’t — this whole damn industry would stop in an instant. So let’s see what agents are looking for in the people they are going to make some cash off.
All the talent in the world
Marketing skills are talked a lot about on this website, and while they do matter — just like your networking skills — your talent is the one that not only gets you an agent, but allows you to stay on this journey and climb the ladder.
There are many cases where pretty faces (intentional rhyme) are being signed but then dropped a few years later because they don’t have any acting chops to get the decent jobs (again!) It’s not even as much about training as it is about pure acting talent and ability to act truthfully, so put that on your list.
The most marketable type
Yes, the rumors are true: there is such a thing as more and less marketable actor types. Obviously, what agents are looking for is the type they can easily sell to casting directors and producers to make the most in their 10%.
The sad part is that there really isn’t anything you can do to make yourself be of the required type. You can slightly adjust yourself for the requirements of the industry based on what you have to offer: if you’re a bit short of leading lady look, adjust yourself for the girl next door type or the funny-quirky geek type.
Give your best shot at trying to sell the person who you are. First of all, know for sure what your type actually this. Then, embrace this type, whatever it is. This is what gets you work.
A hardworking personality
If you’re a performer who seems to never have any time because they work on their own theatre company, write a screenplay for a short film, produce their own Internet web series and on top of all that try to audition for everything that is out there — you are definitely something what agents are looking for. And you don’t even have to brag about it; if you are this type of hardworking actor, it shows — the agent will know.
Furthermore, actors who are skillful self-promoters get additional points from agents. This means using your connections to push forward everything you have been in through Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth, meetings, etc. Once an agent spots that kind of actor, they immediately know that as soon as that actor is part of a good production, they will promote the hell out of it. There will be less work for the agent.
Professional over amateur
It’s been said time and time again, in all those topics about acting agents, that professionalism is valued greatly in this business.
Someone who doesn’t know how to act in the meeting, how to slate (dictionary), approach a casting director or just simply behave at the audition, will rarely get the chance to be represented until they learn the required skills and have their start-up kit sorted.
Mistakes of coming into an audition with short hair when your headshot shows long hair are not uncommon. Such actions will cross you off the CD’s lists for a long time, if not forever — they absolutely hate these types of actors, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
After, all the heat falls down upon an agent’s head, who will quickly drop the actor so as to prevent this from happening again and save the relationship with the casting director.
Learn from others’ mistakes and make an honest effort to become a professional actor in the business sooner rather than later.
Connections and referrals
Even though this isn’t actually what agents are looking for, it still is one of the popular ways how actors, if not getting signed, then at least get the meeting with the talent agent.
These referrals can come in from anywhere and when you least expect it. Maybe this young director with whom you’re working on a short film has a great relationship with a powerful agent, so if the director loved working with you, they might recommend you to that agent. This happens rarely, but when it does — it’s a blessing.
One thing actors must remember about these referrals though: they are never a guaranteed contract, especially since the agent hasn’t even seen you. You only get into the room and the rest is up to you. Use all those steps listed above to make sure you are what agents are looking for; raise your chances of getting signed.
Luck is a factor
It’s no secret that show business is tricky. Many currently famous and successful actors have broken through into the A list not because of the skill, networking or experience. Just like with everything else in the world, there are other reasons that affect you and your environment, and those reasons are completely out of your control.
So here’s the truth: sometimes – even if not too often – actors just get lucky when an agent takes a chance on them. Even when these actors aren’t the biggest talent (but they’re decent), when they don’t have a marketable look (but they’re okay), they haven’t done much on their own (but they seem eager to) and they come without any referrals — agents might just come right out and sign these people.
Why? It’s just the chance these talent agents take because they feel something in their gut, just like you felt that you need to pursue this acting career. Sometimes that feeling is right, and other times it isn’t. But if you’re one of those very lucky actors signed by a powerful talent agent, you better not waste this opportunity and get all those missing score points sorted out as soon as you can.