Begin by asking yourself, what type of talent agent do you need? Who may be the best fit for you and your goals in terms of a business relationship? One-size-fits-all talent representation doesn’t exist. Different agencies accomplish different things. Signing with a large, bi-coastal talent agent like William Morris Endeavor might put you on the road to superstardom. However, a smaller boutique agency might work harder for you in the long run.
The Talent Agent Relationship
In order to figure out where you fit, you first have to know your market. Actor and career strategist Scott Glasgow helps actors define their niche. He encourages students to figure out their “type” and define what roles they are best suited for before approaching agents. “First define your prospective clients,” he said. “Know who would buy your product. You may be right for extra work but not a principal role.”
How Do You See Yourself?
The next step is to find agencies that represent your type. Listings guides like the Show Business Directory are a great place to start. Brian O’Neil, the author of Acting as a Business and Actors Take Action, advises actors to pay particular attention to an agency’s client list because it can clue you in to what the agency wants at the moment. “Look at the level of clients they represent and that will give you a sense of the accessibility of the agency,” he said. “Where are those actors working? Film, theater, television? It will give you a sense of where their clients are working and where you would be working with those agents.”
If you are a member of the Screen Actors Guild, you can also check out the agency’s client list at the union offices. Another way to learn about an agency is through word-of-mouth. Fellow thespians may be able to tell you about what they’ve heard or their experiences with a particular agency. Moreover, you’ll often find comments on various Web boards and blogs simply by Googling an agent’s name.
Know Everything About The Agents You Meet
Equip yourself with some basic knowledge of a particular agency before you decide to approach it. You should be able to answer three questions about the agency: What type of actors do they represent? What is their client level (celebrities versus working actors)? And what type of work do they handle? Knowing these things could save the time, money and frustration associated with broad mass mailings. What actor hasn’t picked up a contact resource and dutifully sent a headshot and resume to nearly all of the New York-based agencies listed? If you hear back from two of those, you are lucky.
The responses that you gather from mailings say a lot about your marketability. An actor’s submissions success is heavily dependent on their look and resume. If you are a character actor with a few college credits, you are less likely to get a call from an agent to audition than a model-type who works on Mad Men. This is not to say that a character actor shouldn’t attempt a large mailing. A talent agent’s response to headshots is usually a form of instant gratification: either you have the goods or you don’t. However, this should not be a reason to abandon mailings altogether. Mailings are a good way to establish initial contact with an agent and stay on his or her radar, but you shouldn’t rely on the Post Office as your sole means of finding representation.
Just Work and Agents Will Find You!
“The best thing to do is to get yourself in a show so people can see your work. Invite talent agents from your target list to see you perform in a play, showcase or staged reading. If the agent is unable to attend, follow up after the performance by sending a photo postcard,” says actor Paul Rolfes, who recently signed with a top bi-coastal agency after performing in a graduate showcase at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
“You are going to have to be ready for it to take some time. You hear stories of overnight successes, but they are extremely rare in comparison to the number of people trying to make it in this industry. It gives you something to write to an agent about, and it gives them something to see,” he says. Some actors choose to jumpstart the process by attending questionable pay to play seminars in which talent agents are paid to speak and mingle with actors. Of course, these events do not guarantee a deal, but they could offer you a chance to meet with a talent agent one-on-one.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Why the emphasis on following up? Part of it is a numbers game. There is no shortage of 5’6,” 23-year-old brunette ingénues or 5’10” character males who speak perfect Brooklynese. Whatever type you are, there are already 200-plus more of you out there looking for work in New York alone. You must distinguish yourself from the pack. “Most actors drop the ball after the initial contact,” Glasgow stated. “It is going to take a talent agent six or more times to think of you before he asks you in for an audition.”
Postcards Work Better Than ever
Photo postcards are an indispensable, yet often misused, component in the actor’s arsenal. Both Glasgow and O’Neil advise actors to use the postcard as a means of informing a talent agent of your progress. Don’t send a talent agent a postcard just to remind him or her what you look like. Let the talent agent know what you’re working on. A new play that’s in rehearsal? How about a callback for a paid performance? Or did a director or producer ask you to audition for a specific role?
These questions fall within O’Neil’s “three levels of credibility” for boosting an actor’s chances for getting an agent audition. “The most important thing is to announce that you have been cast. The second is the callback,” he said. “The third best, but still highly valuable PR, is that you were requested by so-and-so to audition for the project.”
O’Neil believes the best way for an actor to get in good with a talent agent is for the agent to see the actor’s work. Even if you don’t book the job, report your callbacks — they show progress. Callbacks for high-profile projects, O’Neil notes, tend to make a strong impression on agents. “If someone received a callback for Phantom of the Opera or 42nd Street, then you know that they have talent. It makes a statement about your ability.”
Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You
Agents may not sound like an actor-friendly lot — actors spend seemingly endless amounts of time courting the right agency via mailings, showcase invitations, postcard follow-ups, and still no audition. “Most people don’t get an agent right away,” O’Neil said. It may take some actors two years before they get their first agent while others take ten years before they sign their first contract.
O’Neil points out that talent agents invest their time with their current clients. They are hesitant to take on unproven talent because it is costly. “A lot of actors do not realize how much time a talent agent puts into finding them work. Everything from scrutinizing the breakdowns for every role to thinking about what actor is appropriate for what role,” he said. “Talent agents really put a lot of time into talent that is purely speculative. Even if the actor that an agent is working with does quite well, it can take a long time for that to happen. You don’t get discovered overnight”
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