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The Business of Acting: Talent Agent

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Of course you do…

The first thing every actor who wants to audition and make money as an actor is told…

…you need an agent. 

Yes, in its most simplistic form, that statement is accurate. But there are so many factors surrounding that muddle it a bit, especially for parents.  

The bigger issue at hand is that we can ALL be misguided, misinformed or miseducated about what an agent does and what they can do for us. Needless to say, this can lead to a lot of wasted time and sometimes years of unnecessary heartache and frustration…

…so, let’s NOT do that!! 

We’ve all had an agent at some point in our lives. Very likely, you’ve already had an agent in real estate or travel or insurance. What did these “other” agents do? They are/were there to play middleman — broker things. They helped research information, provide options and handle various details surrounding a specific activity.

Now, in a sense, you know what a TALENT agent is and does as well. And you and I both know it’s sometimes not quite that simple, but that’s the basic idea.

Here are FIVE things to consider with Talent Agents:

Many pages can be written about what a talent agent is, can be or should be. While this aspect of show business for the actor is not at all completely random, there can be — and often is — a varying degree of difference within the (global) agenting profession, depending on agency size, client (actor) clout and type of agent. But when you boil down what a talent agent is SUPPOSED to do, it is quite simple: 

  • They are to submit you and hopefully procure job interviews which we commonly call “auditions.” 
  • Then, once you are wanted by an employer — aka “production” — and they want to cast (hire) you, then the agent serves as the legal fiduciary to negotiate your work contract.

Yes, there are dozens of additional conversations that can be had. There are a myriad of questions we can ask agents about how their days unfold and what is involved but at their core they submit and negotiate. If you ever to decide to consult with me, I can literally go on for hours just on this one subject. For now, let me continue to be very clear on the most important foundations of being an agent.

Plain and simple. I have had over forty different representatives in my time in Los Angeles. Here comes one of those moments when I remind you that I’m not for everyone. Through coaching actors, I have concluded that we are acutely sensitive to a lot of casting processes that involve auditioning, getting hired (or not) and consistently working at something we love. We do not like confrontation or certain realities of ‘doing business’ in a non-emotional way because we want people to like us. I understand this all too well. 

So, while we want to be liked and we don’t like confrontation the two major points to know about having an agent is that you want them to LIKE representing you and  you want them to WANT to represent you.  At no point does either statement say we have to be friends. It’s okay to be friendly with your agent, but expecting FRIENDSHIP from your agent as some type of marker for success is simply inaccurate. Let them do their job, you do yours and everybody wins.

This may be the easiest point to make when it comes to talking and learning about agents. What kind of agent do you want? What sector of the industry do you want to work in? 

Sooner than later, you’ll want to be specific with what TYPE of agent you’re seeking or meeting with or have chosen to be represented by. Why? Well, because here are the possibilities: Theatrical (Film/TV), Commercial, Theatre (Stage), Literary, Print (Model), V/O (Voice-Over), Broadcasting, Hosting, Stunts, Singer/Dancer and a few others. And remember, directors, producers and casting directors have agents. We mostly care about the first two but all this is important to know

What is ATB? Now some global marketplaces for actors such as London, Paris or Sydney may not use this acronym as much as we do here, but regardless whether it is used globally the concept is always possible. 


Now you may ask…does this matter? Let me elaborate.

So, let’s look at a sport like football or you can use whatever your game or interest may be. To accomplish a level of expertise or proficiency we have different types of instructions and curators of specific knowledge (ie: a quarterback coach v. a receivers coach). This is normal and it also applies to Agents in show business. Some agents and entire agencies ONLY focus on Commercials, or Theatrical, or even just Equity union stage performers. Some agencies have ALL OF THEM.

Once again, if you were listening to Kevin discuss this, he could go on and on about why and when you choose to be ONLY with a Theatrical agent, or have a separate Commercial agent that is not within the same company and then also why, at certain times, it may be a good idea to be ATB (Across the board for Theatrical/Commercial) within the same agency. So, please know, this isn’t about right or wrong it is just a basic understanding of knowing what you may face in a decision.

Finally, we have the real nitty gritty – those pesky contracts we have to sign that should make us all realize that this is indeed, a BUSINESS. The great part is that almost every state in the U.S. has at least one union (SAG-AFTRA) franchised agency in it. What is even better is that when an agency is SAG-AFTRA franchised, ALL of their contracts an actor signs with their union agency are the SAME, as it is a standardized contract.

But, there is another form of being ‘Franchised’ now and that is if an agency is an ATA agent. I talked about this in a previous blog. The ATA is the Association of Talent Agencies (https://www.agentassociation.com) and those agencies within the United States often choose to use what is called a standard GSA for their actor contracts. G.S.A. stands for ‘General Services Agreement’ and while they’re fairly standardized most agencies alter/edit/change some text and even some times the commission percentage they expect to be paid by you the actor when you work. All other agencies that are not either SAG-AFTRA or ATA-franchised are simply known as NON-Union agencies — and this is a topic for later. Still globally, many agencies function very similarly.

In truth, we all want to have a terrific agent that we like and respect and, occasionally hang out with at special occasions. That said, the real business truth to pursuing acting as a business leads to this question: Do you want to have a buddy or do you want to have a lot of consistent auditions? From my experience, I’ve had both over the years! And I will tell you that both have been successful and both have failed in terms of the concept of a professional association or business relationship.

Simply put, be clear in your understanding of your desired agent/client expectations. Ask the tough questions. You are beginning a professional association that could be highly rewarding for both sides. Meet the agent AND their assistants. Suss out if this is the right an agency to do your actor-activity bidding for you. 

I want to put you way ahead of the game so you can proceed with intelligent caution and have less fear about making a poor decision or wasting precious time!