Updated: Jun 24, 2021
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Welcome, brilliant career-minded actors!
We're assuming, if you've found your way here, you're likely jonesing to move vertically in your career. If you're brand new to the industry, and need a more comprehensive understanding of the industry ins and outs, check out How to Become an Actor.
Now... let's move on to what brought you here. Ok. So you've been hustling your ass off, getting auditions on your own, and even booking more than a few.
Or. The other side of the pendulum. Maybe the auditions have been coming in fits and starts, and you need more consistency of volume.
In either situation, you've decided that landing an agent can really open the faucet.
First thing's first. Let's clarify the whole actor + agent relationship.
What Agents Are NOT
Not your boss. Not your employee. Not your parent.
Quote from Agent Dustin Flores:
Yeah, so I think when I was performing and auditioning, whether or not it was true or not, agents and managers and all of that side seems so scary and so unattainable. And I would, and even from my agent at that time, you know, you're nervous to say, like, "I don't really want to do this or I'm going to be dropped if I don't get this or whatever." And I felt like there was just a different way to do it.
There was a way to be a little bit more kinder and more of a team player and it not be so scary. Right? We all want the same thing. There were, we're not curing cancer. We're singing and dancing and acting. And so it should be fun and it's a business. And there's a lot of highs and there's many more lows. But I feel like if I could be an equal with somebody on this journey with them, then it would at least take away some of the pressure so that they could do more. They can do what they do in the room and only have to concentrate on the work.
So yeah... they aren't scary monsters living under the bed, either.
Agents are, for all intents and purposes: a BUSINESS PARTNER.
Louder for the folks in the back!
Now that we've driven that point home... consider that in any healthy partnership (romantic, transactional, etc.) it should never be one-sided. While agents can be a powerful bridge toward great audition opportunities, you still need to be putting in the sweat equity of A) submitting on your own.
And that's the easy part...
The Pain In the Ass, Yet Incredibly Rewarding Part
The bulk of YOUR hustle contribution will be making sure:
You're staying sharp: no amount of talent will overcome the crippling rust of inactivity. So make it a point to go to an acting class - regularly. Can't afford it? Get inventive. Whether that means scheduling some weekends to get together with actor friends to put together some self-tapes, or devouring and practicing acting books - you want to be primed and ready to knock those auditions out of the figurative park.
BRANDING, BRANDING, AND MORE BRANDING! : I know I've been guilty of hanging on to the feel good mantras you find in Actors Studio YouTube rabbit-holes. You know, the ones where the guest tells a room full of eager student actors to just, "Do the work, and the rest will come." And that work usually implies - JUST ACT! Well, unfortunately, that advice is as simplistic as it is dated nowadays. And while our acting heroes mean well, you have to keep in mind that they grew up in an entirely different time in the industry. A time where you really did stand a good chance of being discovered in a dingy theatre production. But nowadays? It's not enough to kick ass in an Off-Broadway production (that almost no industry influencers are watching nowadays). There's so much more to building a thriving, sustainable career.
Why has it all gotten so much harder? Oh, you know... that damn thing called the internet. See, the digital age has made it extremely convenient for Casting Directors and Agents to vet for talent without ever needing to leave home. Which means if you're not committed to creating a digital branding foot print, it'll be a slow climb toward your career horizons. While headshots and actor reels are a CRUCIAL baseline for branding, it's an intricate process, involving a multi-channel strategy, execution, and a whole lot of consistency... we'll dive in more thoroughly on all things branding in our Comprehensive Branding Guide, coming soon!
So what IS a talent agent?
In a nutshell? They're a broker or liaison that pitches the sellers ( actors ) to the buyers ( casting directors & producers) with the intent of landing an audition spot.
And in a marketplace full of competition, ever-changing demands, talent agents are savvy business folk who are trying to expand their own enterprises. Like any business owners worth their salt, agents have a radar for opportunity everywhere they go.
In this case, the opportunity is you - the talent. If they see that you have a place in the market, agents will leverage their connects to champion your brand to the industry.
That's not to say that agents (or even casting directors) are fail-proof in recognizing potential.
Hello, Mark Ruffalo's 600 Auditions in obscurity.
Hello, Frances McDormand Being Ignored for "Not Being Enough of Something."
What's an agent's incentive for signing you?
Well, agents only get paid when YOU get paid. So if they see you as a million-dollar product, you're going to get a million-dollar effort on their end.
No matter where you are in your career. Dustin Flores:
But I feel as agents, we have to work on ourselves outside of the office. Outside of that, so that we can fully give ourselves to our clients. And especially in the sort of midsize office that I'm in, where we are taking people, a lot of people that are brand new to the business and getting them their first Broadway show or their first TV gig or whatever. And then getting them to a place where there's other agencies that are maybe after them because they're bigger and they could offer maybe more or whatever.
And if we don't do, if we don't do the things in between the lines. If we don't become friends with them. If they don't become part of our family, then it's so much easier for them to leave. It's so much easier for them. It's really hard to break up with someone that you love.
So like I, and I fully understand that if I'm able to facilitate someone getting to a place where [Gurche] or CAA or somewhere like that comes after them, then I've done my job.
With that said...
You want an agent - but are you ready for that commitment?
You might be thinking, "No, shit 'I'm ready'. That's why I want one."
To that I say... A third of lottery winners go broke - that's a real statistic.
Why does that happen?
Because for most people... When they win big, they waste big. And that's largely a byproduct of mindset. You have to prepare yourself for abundance.
It's not enough to WANT better, you have to be ready to both receive and wield it responsibility. With each vertical bump in the career tier comes a laundry list of expectations and responsibilities.
The same goes for getting an agent. Once you've signed on the dotted line, you are agreeing to a commitment of time and energy. If you'd rather be at the beach most days, or if the thought of auditioning isn't the most exciting thing you could be doing with your time ... maybe it's time to reconsider both life and career on a macro level.
Because this shit is NOT easy. And you have to learn to love the grind!
So how do you know if you're ready for an agent?
A little self-assessment is in order. Some brutal self-honesty about your talent, skill, and work ethic. Ask yourself : if an agent looked me up right now, would they see anything worth their time and effort?
Yeah, talent is nice. But it isn't enough most of the time. Whenever you see someone on TV and think to yourself, "Jesus Christ. How did THEY get cast?"
Hard work... they just did the right things, consistently, over time. That or nepotism. But the latter we have no control over, so let's focus on a reliable path for the blue collar thespian.
Moving back to the self-assessment...
Are these agents seeing an actor who is serious about their career?
Are you training?
Do you have reel footage?
Are your headshots up-to-date or on-brand?
Is your resume formatted properly?
Do you have any credits on your resume, are you actively meeting with Casting Directors?
How's your audition technique? Cold-reading? Scene-analysis skills? Etc.?
Remember, your whole package needs to scream: I'm A FUCKING G! Let's BOOK SHIT!
Not literally... but you get the gist of that sentiment.
If the answer isn't a resounding YES for all of those considerations, the next thing you need to do is put on your analytical hat and really break down why you're lacking in some of those areas.
Example: I can't afford a headshot or actor reel.
Analysis: Why am I broke? How can I come up with new/better/stable sources of income?
What skillsets (outside of acting) can I monetize to finance my career investments?
No skills? What would you be interested in learning about that can satiate both the artist AND your landlord?
No matter what reasons for your situation - figure out the why and then TAKE ACTION.
Time is money, so don't waste it endlessly self-lamenting career woes!
More on Actor Reels: Carving a Sustainable Financial Path
Now that we've established some of these career essentials... let's get to finding a talent agent.
HOW DO I FIND ONE?
While Google is a hugely useful research tool, it falls short when it comes to seeking representation. It's just not efficient, or thorough enough.
What you need is a database for consolidated production information... Something like.
The MacDaddy of Cine-Info.
If you don't have IMDB PRO, we highly-recommend you jump on that train ASAP. You won't find a better research tool.
You'll come across a healthy flow of in-depth information on shows, casting directors, and talent agents. Oh, and stay tuned for our Comprehensive Research Guide.
Moving on -
If you're a relatively new actor, don't gun for the top agencies. Not yet, anyway. Big agencies have BIG rosters, making it easy for green-horn thespians to be shuffled into the low-priority list.
Boutique agencies provide the kind of intimate, hands-on approach your budding career needs.
Consider if the talent agency already has actors of your type. If they DO, "On to the Next One!" - Jay Z - Michael Scott
What to look out for ?
1) The agency is small enough that you don't have to essentially wait until you become a priority.
2) They don't already have someone of your type on their roster, so you'll be THE ONE who gets sent out for those type-specific roles.
3) Their reputation for bringing in results.
RESEARCH HACK for NUMERO 3: It requires a little bit of legwork, but you could also do some homework on the agency's roster. See if anyone there has a fairly well established career : social branding, credits on IMDB, Roles (Guest Stars, Regular, etc.) If they have someone who meets that criteria, that's strong indicator that the Agency has experience developing someone into a WORKING actor.
After all, getting consistent work is the goal. No? So if the agency made it happen for someone once, they can do it again. Genius leaves clues. And if you're going to sign yourself away for a year (or longer) you should definitely be confident that you're partnering up with someone who can actually get things done.
Don't let desperation or urgency for representation rush you into a major decision. And if it seems clinical to take time to do this kind of research, remember: It's Business. They did the same to you before making their offer.
Do you have a reel?
Before you submit for representation, you'll definitely need an actor reel to include in your package -- especially if you're looking to dive into film & tv roles
A demo reel package is basically a video calling card for your actor brand. It's a (usually 2-minute) showcase of you - at your best - performing on camera. Yes, I said actor brand. As in, a particular thing about you, as an actor. Don't worry, I know how unappealing (and limiting) that might sound.
After all, you just spent all this time training to BE a freaking chameleon. Right? But, see, branding... is a necessary career beast - crucial in almost ANY industry. Look at it as your entry point into the industry pulse. Think about it...
Ok... Yes, yes - you're a nice guy. Ok WE GET IT. But maybe... you do an AMAZING job at playing Johnny McDouchy roles. If you create a reel that plays within the UMBRELLA of Johnny McDouchy (by umbrella I mean, variations or shades of that core), then the next time a Casting Director is looking to cast a Johnny McDouche role...
You'll be a freaking shoe-in. Congratulations, McDouche!
See, the more specifically you can brand yourself, the easier you make things for Talent Agents & Casting Directors to place you.
But don't worry... once you've broken in with your specialty, you can pivot (ala Bryan Cranston post Malcolm in the Middle) into a broader range of work. Those good, juicy character roles.
Which leads us to...
What should a reel do for an actor?
As illustrated above-- a reel done well should jump out of the screen and tell the buyers (agents, CDs, producers) EXACTLY where to place you. Confusion breeds inaction. So make it crystal clear what is the thing that you do amazing that only YOU can do.
And if the thing that you do well ALSO falls very closely in line with who you are -- then this should be pretty straightforward for you!
What About a Montage Reel?
Hell no, is what! Just kidding- but seriously, don't send those as your reel footage to agents.
A montage wouldn't be bad for your general social media branding. But for agents, you'll want to send something that showcases you SPEAKING and ENGAGED in some kind of scene.
Remember, don't lean away from what makes you special and authentic. If you think you're AMAZINGNESS (new word, folks) shines brightest in comedic roles - look to include a variety of reel clips which capture that.
So now you have a proper actor reel, the hunger, the training, and a list of possible talent agent matches.
A lot of Networking. A lot of Outreach...
If you can commit to systematically vetting the right agents, crafting great e-mail copy, and regularly reaching out - preferably right before or after pilot season.
What If I Don't Have an Actor Reel?
The odds won't be much in your favor without a reel. If they can't see you acting, how will they know that you can?
While it's not an impossible situation (especially if you're graduating from a school with a good program that regularly brings in agents), it will definitely make this career climb more challenging.
I Shot a Student Film A While Back - Should I Wait On That?
Ah, yes. The infamous "student film project / work for copy" catch-22. I'm going to save you about 5 years of agony and frustration and tell you right now:
Don't Let Your Career Depend On Student Film Footage!!!
It either never arrives, takes forever to arrive... or the footage is awful and unusable... or your performance has been cut to shit, etc. The list truly goes on.
And while you're waiting and hoping and waiting even longer, more opportunities zip by.
Hence why the good people here at REEL U FILM help actors with that annoying part of the "building your reel" process.
Where to Meet Talent Agents?
It's a whole new world. Back in the day (like pre-2020), the best bet would've been going to film festivals, and agent panel nights, etc.. And while those can be effective venues for meeting industry professionals, I challenge you to expand your horizons and check out...
Clubhouse - an ioS voice app that has rooms where people can get together and pretty much talk about anything. You'll often find Film & TV Rooms, moderated by casting directors and agents. These moderators regularly pass the mic to the audience, so they can introduce themselves and link back to their social media.
This can be a great way to make several initial connections in a short amount of time - and you didn't even need to put pants on.
QUICK TIP: Since you're linking back to your social media anyway, make sure you have your reel readily uploaded and visible - you never know who might be looking, and I've seen more than a few people suddenly get a job offer on Clubhouse.
Now. I can't say for sure if things will remain so open and available post-Covid (probably not), but actors... I'd highly-recommend getting into the habit of popping on Clubhouse and meeting a few industry people, bring your authentic self to the mix, and keep nurturing those relationships over time.
While it might sound counterintuitive, don't jump into these rooms and immediately start hounding people to "sign you". This is is a very social industry - so leading with kindness and a sincere interest in connecting goes a long way. If you're putting in the work and you're connecting with industry movers and shakers, the fruit will come.
In surfer bro voice, "Be a giver, brother!"
An Agent Wants to Meet Me
First of all... BOOOOOYAAAAH! Good shit (high five).
You got someone hooked with that beautiful branding package and your (Hail Mary Central or Covert) efforts.
So what next? Depends on the agent. Some of them might ask you to bring material prepared to perform, others decided they've seen enough from your reel and would rather get to know you.
Actually, no matter what they ask "for you to bring" it will always ultimately end up in a discussion. This is when coming homework ready is pivotal.
Agents can be incredibly straightforward, and generally also have a sensitive bullshit alarm. So do yourself a favor, don't go in there and bullshit.
Go in there, knowing:
1) Your Actor Brand
2) What shows you want to be on
3) What casting directors you want to meet
4) What your 5 year career window looks like
Note on Number 3: Ideally, you'll have already meet with a few Casting Directors via workshops. Doing so makes the agents job of pitching you way less difficult. Plus, there's a good chance the agent will ask what work you've been putting into meeting with CDs.
Coming in as prepared as you can for this meeting eliminates all the reasons they could say NO. Or you're not ready yet, etc.
After the Meeting
Ok... You snagged that coveted agent meeting, you came in with your A+ game, and presented your best, most professional self.
The next thing you want to do is STOP WAITING BY YOUR PHONE AND LIVE YOUR LIFE!
Half-kidding, half-completely serious.
Listen... This still boils down to a numbers game. Do everything that you did to get yourself in that room the first time -- over and over again. You want to have several irons in the fire.
Because, after all, all you need is one yes. And once that day comes, treat yourself to a late-night shots of tequila.
You've freaking earned it. Soon enough, you'll be entering the arena of networking T.V. auditions ... and maybe even a Marvel movie or two.