From my interviews, I’ve discovered that a lot of actors, especially new players in The Biz, are quite scared or overly suspicious of their agents. Agents are a much maligned and highly misunderstood breed, so I’ll let the great Jack Menashe (owner of US-based Independent Artists Agency) speak about his gig…
There’s really no one description of the job of an agent. On my consumer affairs certificate it says, ’employment agency’. I am part employment agency, part therapist, part accountant, part friend, part parent and part assistant to the actor.Jack Menashe
An agent’s job is neither easy nor glamorous. They are constantly balancing how much they work for the agency, themselves and their actors. It is certainly not money that keeps most agents haggling over the phone regarding some contract clause. As Paul Russell says in his delightful book ‘Acting As A Business‘:
Agents do their jobs either out of their love for the art of storytelling, their love for the artists who bring the stories to life, or both.Paul Russell
Sound familiar? That’s because actors have pretty much the same loves.
Agents survive by generating opportunities for their actors and the process of creating these is a tough task indeed. Your agent is your personal cheerleader who wants to spruik your stuff as much as they can. They’re proud of you and all they want is the very best for your career, always thinking: How are we going to translate this actor’s goals into reality? A lot of times I think actors forget that their agents are just as desperate as they are to make the most of an actor’s career. Agents are human beings as well and, accordingly, have emotional investment in the actors they represent.
As you can see, you’re in for a unique relationship when you sign with an agency. It will be inevitable that there will be a few teething issues at first, especially if you haven’t had an agent before. The good news is that agents expect this and know that the grad’s first year out is all about creating a dialogue and expanding trust. A good agent will facilitate your transition from graduate to industry professional by providing any necessary feedback where appropriate and giving you the nudges you may need to recalibrate your creative muscles.
Below are some absolutely top-notch tips straight from some of the most respected agents in Australia.
LONG HAUL LIFE SAVERS:
- How often should I call/email/ drop in for a chat?
This is incredibly subjective and is going to be different for everybody. Some agencies will happily respond to anyone about anything at any time. Most will limit their communication simply because they have to triage the sheer amount of information that they have to wade through on a daily basis. This should be something you chat about politely and honestly when you sign up with an agency. It’s all about creating a dialogue and agreeing on expectations within the actor-agent relationship. Of course there are going to be certain things that agents will deem important and other things they’ll tell you not to worry about. Discern what falls into what category and just take it from there.
- An agent expects you to find a professional life structure.
You will garner respect from you agent if you show them that you are taking your career seriously. They expect you to be match-ready and prepared to kick a goal when you walk in front of a casting director. Keep them in the loop about how you are up-skilling. Mention self-devised projects that you’re working on. Agents want to know what their actors are doing outside day-to-day auditioning. Also, don’t forget that agents tend to have excellent contacts in regards to acting teachers, workshops, head shots and accent coaches. Exploit this!
- You don’t see what goes on behind the scenes.
An agent can face more defeats in an hour than an actor does in a month. So much battling, promoting and emailing goes on behind the scenes that the actor remains blissfully unaware of.
- An agent facilitates employment. They don’t create it.
Many actors tend to forget this and are all too happy to blame the agent for what can often be their own lack of proactivity. If you work for yourself, your agent has something to work on for you. If you stay idle, they can only do so much to help out.
- Picking your battles with specific projects or submissions.
If you actually think you could have a red hot crack at a part there is no reason why you shouldn’t contact your agent saying: “I really REALLY want to be seen for this because I reckon I could give it a real good go.” If you take this step, you’d better be damn sure that you have read the script back to front, front to back, know the work of the director and their style or know exactly what space/theatre you are playing in. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re ‘perfect for the role’. Be as objective as possible about the casting process and see where you think you may land in it.
- Don’t be playing around with your look without consulting your agent first.
Speak to your agent about any big aesthetic changes like shaving off a beard or getting dreadlocks. Your agent will have specific ideas of where you fit in terms of casting and the roles or projects they’re submitting you for.
- Agents are always trying to move casting directors perceptions.
They love it! So don’t fall into the trap of thinking an agent has you ‘pegged’. (see the section on Casting Directors).
- “I think my agent is a dud. I want out.”
This is a very serious accusation to make.
Firstly, make sure that you just haven’t had a bad day/week and you’re looking
for someone to blame. Don’t be getting up in arms just because your agent
responded to an email 3 days after your sent it. Secondly, give yourself a set amount
of time (several months at least) to do your utter best to be a professional
from your end. If you know you’ve been slack or haven’t been proactive enough,
this is the time to get back on the horse. If all of these options have been
exhausted, have a chat to a trusted industry mentor to see how they view the
situation. Use this quote from Imogen Stubbs as your final litmus test:
You know it’s time to leave an agent when you realise they take no joy in your triumphs, and have no pity in your failures.Imogen Stubbs
Once you have exhausted all avenues and have tangible evidencethatyour agent is no longer your greatest champion, proceed as follows. Don’t call them out. Organise a face-to-face meeting with them and politely tell them you’re moving on. Don’t abuse them, don’t threaten them and don’t email them with your intentions. Do the professional thing and tell them face-to-face, no matter how uncomfortable it may make you.