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Presenting Cynthia Brian

AGENTS-DO YOU NEED THEM?

by Cynthia Brian
Excerpted from her book, The Business of Show Business
Buy the best selling book at http://www.star-style.com/store/index.htm

“There are no limits except those you create for yourself.”                               

YES, YES, and YES! In order to be considered professional and legitimate it is imperative to have an agent.  In fact, without an agent, you will probably only be considered for extra work.  Producers and casting people do not have time to know all the talent in the area so they rely on reputable talent agents to assist them in submitting the appropriate actors for a shoot. With the hundreds of jobs being cast in the area, without an agent, it would be difficult, if not impossible to know about or be considered to audition for such projects.

What are agents? Agents represent a variety of talent for work in commercials, print, film, fashion, voice-overs, and industrials.  First of all, remember this is a BUSINESS, not a hobby.  Because agents are paid on a commission basis (20% of your gross for non-union and print work, 10% of your gross if you are union, although the unions are renegotiating this amount with agents currently, so expect an increase), they expect you to be professional and business-like.  You hire the agent, not the other way around, so don't be intimidated by agents.  Good agents work hard for their talent by developing working relationships with producers, casting directors, creative and broadcast directors, so that their talent may be considered and cast for specific jobs.  Agents negotiate fees and contracts and sometimes assist their represented talent with choosing the correct head shots.  Agents expect their talent to get good training but may not tell them with whom to study or take workshops.  Talent must practice their craft and learn to market themselves and work as a team with their agent. Talent must get professional 8 1/2 x 11 black and white head shots for commercial/print work and color zeds for fashion/print. (Be aware that the original print that comes from the photographer is an 8 x 10, but when it is duplicated into multiple head shots, these photos need to be made in 8 1/2 x 11 format…think paper size!)

Most agents require that a talent be exclusive to that agent which means that talent may have only one agent.  The positive thing about having more than one agent is that you may be seen differently by the agents and thus submitted for more job opportunities.  The negative is that both agents may submit you for the same casting, making it necessary for the casting director to choose between one agent or another which they do not like to do.

Agents are necessary and a vital, valid mainstay of our industry.  Work with them, trust them, share ideas, but don't bug them.  They have work to do getting us all acting jobs!

FACTS ABOUT TALENT AGENCIES:

I am often asked: “How do I find a legitimate agency and how do I know they won’t rip me off?”

Good question and there are some helpful answers.  A legitimate agency does not charge a fee payable in advance for registering for representation.  Legitimate agencies make their money from commissions which are a percentage of your gross, which is paid to them after you have earnings.  Nothing is paid in advance.  Talent agencies are required to be licensed in the State of California as Talent Agents.  Most of the best agents are franchised by Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.  Agents who have a formal relationship to the unions agree to a code of conduct negotiated between the union and the talent agency. For example, there is a limit on the amount of commission an agent can take, there are rules for contracts between agents and talent, and there are a series of protections for both agents and performers.  Agency agreements with the unions are currently under review and revamping as it has been over four decades since the last negotiation.  Much has changed in those years so we can expect some revisions in the near future that will affect all performers. The unions always put the needs of the members first so we can be assured that when any new rules or regulations are implemented, agents franchised by SAG and AFTRA will be more protective of the performer.

Talent agencies franchised through the unions are forbidden from advertising in newspapers or magazines and may not solicit you through the mail.  Scam agencies, on the other hand, almost always advertise and solicit through newspapers, magazines, radio ads, fairs, pageants, talent shows, and schools.  Beware and be a wary consumer.  Remember what I said earlier, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Legitimate talent agents also may not charge you for classes, photographs, public relations services, screen tests, acting workshops or other services.  They may recommend a variety of photographers, hair stylists, make-up artists, etc., but they may not demand that you frequent a particular person for any service.  If an agent that you are considering is pushing you to sign on the dotted line or go to a certain salon....run and keep your checkbook with you.

Although I have known a few good agents who were not franchised by the unions, over time these agencies went out of business or did become franchised if they were a serious agency. Before signing any contract with an agency, it is safer to make sure that agent is franchised by the unions.  However, the unions have NO jurisdiction over print work, modeling or fashion, so you are on your own in this occasion.  It is best to contact a trustworthy consultant or ask model friends for a referral.  Looking through the yellow pages just doesn’t cut it in the agency department!  Any improper conduct by an agent should be reported to SAG immediately.  Complaints can also be handled by the Consumer Protection division of the Federal Trade Commission.  Business and personal managers are not regulated by the unions or by the state.  Again, established legitimate firms don’t advertise for business nor do they usually handle newcomers.  Beware!  Become fully informed about your rights as a consumer and the various aspects of the entertainment industry before you make any financial commitments to any enterprise.  To obtain information as to the legitimacy of certain businesses, you may call the consumer action unit of the District Attorney’s Office for the county in which the business is located, the Better Business Bureau for that region, or the California Commissioner’s office in San Francisco. From the Department of Industrial Relations you can request a copy of the bulletin on minors in the entertainment industry or to learn whether an agency is operating with a valid State license by calling 415-975-2065.

There is no way to know for sure if you will be ripped off, but by being a knowledgeable consumer of show business, the odds are in your favor that you’ll find a good agent.

HOW TO GET AN AGENT

Since agents can not solicit for talent, how will you get an agent?  There are three normal and acceptable ways:

1. Be introduced through a friend who already is represented by this agent or be referred by a casting person or producer.

2. Invite the agent to a play or production in which you have a lead role and hope that the agent is pleasantly impressed with your work and wants to represent you.

3. Find out which agents are franchised by SAG and AFTRA. Send these agents a short cover letter requesting representation along with a resume with your current 8 1/2 x 11 black and white head shot and a self addressed stamped envelope for a return answer.  Don’t send out photographs that you want returned, as agents are busy and don’t have time to sort through the mail to determine what needs to be returned. Make sure you have included a phone number where you are reachable. Expect to wait two to eight weeks for an answer.

Most actors get their agents by using scenario # 3.  It is risky and time consuming for the agents to develop new talent.  Agents are careful about only representing talent that they feel are bookable at this time.  This doesn’t mean if you are rejected by one agent, that another agent won’t want you.  Keep submitting until you find an agent who is willing to give you a personal interview.  When you do get an interview, remember that appearance and good grooming are very important.  You only have one opportunity to make a first impression.  Hair, face, clothes and shoes must be clean and appropriate.  Beauty is not that essential.  What is important is your personality and high energy looks that come from being healthy and happy.  Look like the photograph you sent in the mail.  You were called in because of your look on the picture, make sure that photo represents the you NOW, not the you you used to be.  Also, do not expect agents to incurr any expenses for you.  All the materials you will need to present yourself as a professional are your responsibility, including your photographs, resumes, and demo reels.

Be on time.  Bring with you any pertinent information that you want the agent to see.  For example, contact sheets, a portfolio of work, a video of clips of movies or commercials you have done.  Do not bring in family snapshots, a video of a recital or production.  Any questions you want to ask the agent should be written down so that you don’t waste valuable time.  This is a business.  Treat it as one.  Be courteous, professional,  friendly...but to the point.  State your purpose, then leave.  Be prepared to answer the most asked question in the business:  “Tell me about yourself.”  Be passionate and succinct.

Wear clothing that makes you feel comfortable.  Do not be too dressy.  Do not wear jeans and a T-shirt. Do not try to look sexy. Look professional, casual, and commercial-like.  You want the agent to be thinking about projects to cast you in, not where you purchased your clothes.

Once the agent has agreed to represent you, don’t sit back and wait for the phone to ring.  You have to take responsibility for your own career.  Be informed.  Get into workshops,  sharpen your skills.  Be prepared.  Also, write the agent a short thank you note.  All too often we forget to show our appreciation.  Always maintain an attitude of gratitude.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM ANY AGENT

In order to be successful, you will need to have a good working relationship with your agent.  You work as a team.  Many actors are under the impression that once an agent is secured, that the actors’ work is finished and that the agent will do it all.  NOT TRUE!  It is essential for the actor to market voraciously and to keep in contact with the agent. Promote yourself and let your agent know what you are doing to further your career.  Get into plays, take classes,  improve your vocal skills.  If you should be contacted directly from a casting person or producer for a job, call your agent and have your agent negotiate the deal.  Your agent wants you to work and it does not matter who found the job.  Having your agent negotiate for you usually gets you bigger fees.  I once was booked on a print job for three hours that I had anticipated charging my usual $200 per hour.  When I asked my agent what she had negotiated, she said $2500 for the three hours!  Obviously I was delighted and surprised.  This was a definite indication of the power of the negotiating skills of my agent. 

The first few months of your relationship with your agent are crucial.  It is during this time that the agent is deciding if you are serious about this craft as a business or as a hobby.  Agents are carefully watching your audition skills.  They are interested in finding out where your niche is and how they can help you succeed.  Timing is important...submitting the right actor, for the right role at the right time.

For an updated list of Screen Actors Guild Agents, please go to www.sag.org

For coaching consultations on an hourly basis in person or by phone, call 925-377-STAR or email Cynthia@NOSPAMstar-style.com  (Remove the words NOSPAM before sending email)


Don't forget to check out the StarStyle Store for your copy of The Business of Show Business!

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Last Updated
September 17, 2005