When it comes to advice for actors, we often talk about “getting an agent” and write articles on how to get one. Recently, there were quite a few emails asking who agents for actors are, what they do and why do actors need one. This is something we didn’t considered, so let’s talk about it now.
Hopefully, you have enough emotional maturity to grasp that the “agents” being referred to are not the ones running around in The Avengers or Men In Black (although, admittedly, talented acting agents do sometimes sneak beyond the frontier of enemy lines to get you a desired role).
This article is aimed at clearing up the mystical air that agents for actors have surrounding them like wispy smoke, by explaining what they do, and why you should/shouldn’t get an agent. For more on this topic, I recommend you also read the following articles:
- 7 Tips on How to NOT Get an Acting Agent
- What Are Agents Looking for in Actors & How to Get Signed?
- How to Approach Agents and Make a Good Impression?
- How to Write a Cover Letter to Your Agent
To find the best talent agencies in London for actors, look here: Top 10 Best Acting Agencies in London
Who Are Agents for Actors?
So, who talent agents are?
Talent agents, acting agents, or “agents for actors” are the people who make sure that instead of staring at directors and actors through a misted studio glass door, one eye on them and one ear pressed to the cold glass, you’re actually in the studio giving it your all in an audition.
Talent agents juggle several different tasks for you, including legal representation (e.g. when signing a contract), plus introducing you to other people in the business. This latter part is of particular importance, as in the acting industry, knowledge is king, and experience is something most established agents have in abundance.
Why do you need an agent?
Commission is a percentage fee deducted from your earnings.
In a career where the costs easily can get out of hand – acting classes, union fees, you name it – this means more than you might initially think. Usually, the fee goes at about 10%, give or take, which in the bigger picture can be seen as a lesser sacrifice.
- They get you places
Can you count all the directors and screenwriters you know (Internet stalking doesn’t count)? Yes? Do you know more of them than you have fingers on your hands? Probably not. But a good agent does. They’ve got their hands in the cookie jar, so to speak.
One slight problem with these wonderful Cookie Monster-like creatures, is that they tend to swarm around similar cookie hotspots, like London and Los Angeles. If you live outside the US or the UK, finding an agent may be more or less difficult, but in the UK and the US at least, this can mean you needing to consider moving.
You need to ask yourself critically and honestly if you’re prepared to make this kind of sacrifice, as this is the point where searching for an agent can end up costing you.
Why shouldn’t you have an agent?
- An agent will not manage you
Make no mistake, the word “agent” does not come defined in any dictionary as a form of certified babysitter. Agents often (and should, if they’re good at their job) have multiple clients, and thus they do not serve as your secretary.
If you’re looking for someone to attend more closely to your needs as an actor, then you’re actually on the hunt for a manager, and that’s a completely different story.
- They need to need you to want you
Because agents charge their clients commission instead of upfront fees, every time they sign with an actor, they’re taking a risk. This fact doesn’t go unnoticed in their process for selecting clientele. Make sure that you’re well researched on what a certain agent or agency is looking for, and take a look at the paragraphs below for basic tips for getting an agent.
- They do not get you places
There are no guarantees when hiring an agent, but then again, this probably isn’t news to you, as you’ve signed up for the least guaranteed career choice of all. Fret not; this doesn’t mean that when you select an agent, you’re in for a gamble which will bankrupt you.
Instead, view it as an investment, in the sense that it can promote your career, but still needs careful consideration. Also, you need to recall that when hiring an agent, you’re still required to work equally as hard as before at trying to get contacts and auditions. Perhaps more or equally significant, is the fact that an agent cannot improve your actual acting. That part’s all yours, I’m afraid.
What qualities should I be on lookout for in acting agents?
Agents come in almost as many shapes and sizes that actors do. This means that they can have worked as actors themselves previously, or maybe they studied subjects at university which makes them qualified to work with both the marketing and legal aspects of an agent’s job.
Either way, it can be difficult to determine the professionality of an agent, but there are some key things to look out for, including the following:
- Price: The agent should not demand an upfront fee. This is an absolute no no. Plus, the agent should not stray that far from the 10% commission fee.
- Sign with a franchised agent: Unfortunately, there’s no such thing in the UK, but if you’re in the US – SAG-AFTRA’s franchised agents are agents who have signed to follow specific rules, which serve as a form of protection. Check out SAG-AFTRA’s website at http://www.sagaftra.org/ for more info on how signing with franchised agents can provide a guarantee.
- Professionality: Since being an agent is essentially a marketing job, the professionality of an agency’s website or social media page serves as a quality stamp. If the website isn’t organized, attractive, and helpful, then what are the chances that the agent will be?
Here’s a great resource: How to Get an Agent – The Ultimate Guide for Actors (this is by far the best article out there on talent agents, what they do, and how to get one).
How do I get an agent?
Think of getting an agent like applying to a job. You’re going to need to be armed with a résumé, professional headshot, website or blog about your acting, and recommendations which you can hoist as your shield when you go to meet a potential agent.
There are several ways of going about getting an agent. The old technique of “knowing-someone-who-knows-someone-who-shook-hands-with-someone-important” is one of the necessary ingredients to a successful agent hookup, but there are other methods.
For example, you can search for them on the Internet (but keep in mind that you will need to meet the agent in real life at some point). Go to the above link on “How to Get an Agent) to find agents in nations like India and the USA.
Once you’ve found an acting agency, then it’s time for the difficult part: initiating contact. Remember to address the agent you’re writing to by their name, as referring to them by their agency makes the letter sound depersonalized and also makes it sound like you haven’t done your research.
Probably someone’s already told you this, but the acting business is a place unlike any other where first impressions can either build you or burn you. Even if you haven’t gotten a reply after approximately a month, it can be good to send a follow up letter, as this makes you appear more invested.