How to get an agent seems to be a perennial issue for actors. Whether it’s how to get a new agent or how to get a better agent, someone always seems to be talking about it while waiting for an audition.
I’m often asked by those new in town, or those just starting out, “How do I get an agent?” So the notes below are some guidelines for the newbie. Of course, I don’t claim to know everything, and I’m always searching for new ideas as well. So if you have a unique story about how you got an agent, or if you’d like to suggest changes to the comments below, feel free. At the very least, I hope this article will provide some basic information and clear up some misconceptions.
Also, know that everything mentioned below is believed to be accurate, but I make no guarantee of the accuracy. Before acting based on any information in this article, I suggest that you, as the reader, confirm (or disprove) the information below. You are, of course, responsible for any actions you take in your search for an agent.
Before going into the question of how do get an agent, a few basics about how things work in Los Angeles:
- SAG Franchised Agents. Agents should be SAG franchised, or at least abide by SAG guidelines. If they aren’t, you have to ask why they would want to work outside of SAG rules. SAG covers theatrical (film & tv) and commercial but does not cover print.
- Number of Clients. Theatrical agents generally have 100-250 clients. Commercial agents can have a few hundred (small) up to a thousand or more clients (large). I don’t know the number on print agents, but they usually have a large client base as well.
- Commissions. Agents take 10%, except for print agents, who take 20%.
- Categories. And yes, the general groups are theatrical (film & tv), commercial and print.
- Exclusivity by Territory. In Los Angeles, agents are exclusive by territory. Compare that to New York, where you can have more than one agent at the same time. So in Los Angeles itself, you can have only one agent in each category (theatrical, commercial and print.
- Option to Leave. Most agency contracts have a clause that says if you don’t find work within a certain period (often 90 days), you can leave the agency. This is a SAG guideline, and most agencies abide by it. In practice, if you sign this week and want to leave the week after, the agent might try to convince you to stay but will probably let you go. They figure that if you’re not excited about them, there’s no reason for them to be excited about you.
- Additional Information. For more information on agencies, the SAG site is helpful: http://www.sag.org/content/your-agent-and-you-faq
The Unwritten Facts
The most important unwritten thing you should know about agents is that there is an informal classification of agents into “A”, “B” and “C” categories. The actual designation (“A” or “B” or “C”) doesn’t really matter because it’s all subjective. And by the way, casting directors won’t tell you who they think falls in which category.
The better way to think about it is this. Everybody in the business ranks the agencies. In their heads, they know who to go to for stars, for guest stars and for co-star / featured actors. Every casting director also has a list of agencies that they go to most, and there are probably about 30-50 agencies on that list.
As a rough guideline, which agency you end up with often is dependent on your resume. Obviously, in order to be with a big star agency, you need to have had a major role in a featured film or be a series regular. To be with a guest star agency, you need to have a decent reel and at least a few guest star credits. If you’re newer, you are likely to be with an agency known for having co-star and featured actors.
There are exceptions to this guideline, of course. First, some big agencies will often “hip-pocket” someone. That means that they don’t formally represent you, but will submit you at their discretion if something comes up. Often, people get hip-pocketed either because they know someone at the agency and / or because the agent might feel that the actor is a good type. Be advised, sometimes this arrangement works out well, but there are many cases where the actor doesn’t get out much at all and might have been better off at a smaller agency.
Second, if you are young and have a good look, agents will often make allowances and consider you even if you don’t have many credits. The reasons are obvious. Young actors often don’t have many credits, so it’s not as if this is unusual. Also, with younger actors, the look becomes a much bigger factor. For actors in older categories, it’s much easier to find actors with long resumes. Experience is more common, so it does become a bit harder for the newbie as you get into older categories.
Know also that agencies can have very specific reputations. For example, at one point, when I was choosing between two agencies, I called a casting director and asked for advice. She told me that Agency A had good-looking people, but that the acting was “hit and miss.” On the other hand, Agency B didn’t have as many “attractive” people, but the acting ability was “consistently good”. As it turned out, Agency B had more actors with strong theatrical backgrounds, something that was not lost on the casting director.
Getting an Agent
In terms of getting an agent, there really are no rules. It’s basically, do everything, try everything, and if you can find a non-traditional way to do it, go for it. Otherwise, here’s the basic approaches:
Ask Everyone You Know
An intro always helps, and truth is, you never know who knows who. So go ahead, ask everyone one you know. It can’t hurt.
Only thing is, know that people often over-rate the “who you know” factor. Yes, Hollywood is a town of who you know. But knowing someone often isn’t enough to overcome a weak resume.
Here’s an example. A student from my alma mater called and asked for advice. He asked me about agents and was actually offended when I didn’t offer to recommend him to my agent. Truth was, he thought that Hollywood was all about “who you know” and just wanted an to intro to my agent.
Fact is, my agents don’t pick clients that way. The first thing my agents ask for is a reel. And if you don’t have some A list credits (meaning, at least a few guest stars on prime time TV shows), then they’re not interested. Unless you’re a really “hot” type. And even then, they want to be sure you can act.
The other problem was, I’d never seen this guy act. So I wasn’t about to recommend anyone based on a 10-minute phone conversation. And if this guy were a terrible actor, I’d look pretty stupid recommending him, and my agents would only wonder what I was doing when I auditioned.
So relying on the “who you know” method is, to my mind, not something to rely on by itself.
Do Mailings, A Few Times, If Necessary
It’s quite amazing, but I’ve recommended this dozens and dozens of times, and I believe hardly any of the actors I’ve talked to have ever done it.
Simply put, the idea is, get a list of agents, write out a form letter (address and name personalized) telling them you’re interested in representation, include a headshot and resume and mail it to 50-75 agents. It doesn’t cost much, and with computers, it’s not hard to do. You might only get a few or a handful of responses, but that’s something.
I also recommend doing these mailings a few times a year. Keep in mind that sometimes, it’s just a matter of timing. For one, there are busier times, and there are times with more downtime. When it’s busy, agents let submissions pile up in the corner. When it’s not as busy, they actually go through the pile. Also, sometimes it’s just about who they already represent, and sometimes, a space opens up. I found my commercial agent years ago through a submission. They told me when I interviewed that one of their clients (who was the same type) had moved to a different division within the company (the “star” division) and so they were looking for someone in the same category. Luckily, I had submitted a month or so before.
Know that this is a very imperfect way to get an agent, but it can work. Also know that only some agents go to see theater. Finally, also know that it’s sometimes very dependent on the cast.
Usually, agents only go to theater in two cases. First, when the play is at a very reputable theater, and /or when the play has been very well reviewed. There are literally thousands of plays in Los Angeles every year, and the list of plays that falls into the well-reviewed AND at a reputable location category is very few. So this can be hard.
Second, agents may go if one of their clients is in the play. So it can very much depend on the level of the cast in the play. And remember, even if the agent goes to the play, they may only be interested in you if you are a type they are looking for.
All in all, it’s not the easiest way to go, because we all know that plays take a long time and there are lots of variables involved.