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What to look for in an agent


These are two of the most commonly asked questions by performers at all stages of their careers. There are no hard and fast rules, but we suggest the following guidelines when looking for an agent.

First, some general advice.

Make it a personal decision. Don’t choose an agent because someone else likes them. It is important that you and your agent see eye to eye on your career aspirations and your range and abilities.

You don’t have to be best friends (in fact that is something that’s not recommended!) but you do need to have respect for each other.

Make it a partnership. Many people enter into a relationship with their agent feeling as though the agent “works for them”, as if the agent were a personal employee. Most agent/actor relationships work better when there is a partnership in place. Both parties have a role to play in a performer’s success.

What should I look for in an agent?

  • You want an agent whose clients get seen by casting directors. Ask what their relationship is like with the casting directors in town. Some agents’ taste in talent is more respected than others. Having said that, signing up with a newer agent may be beneficial. They may quickly develop the reputation of having new and interesting talent. However, feel free to ask how long they have been in the business.
  • Your agent should not be asking you for money up front for anything. Normally, you will be responsible for providing your agent with an appropriate number of photos, and a resumé, which they will update regularly and print up on their letterhead. If you need to pay them certain fees up front, or take certain courses before they will take you on, you might want to keep looking. Your agent should make money off you only when you work, not for photos, classes, Internet portfolios or any number of other things.
  • You want an agent who doesn’t represent 10,000 other people. Most serious agents represent a limited number of people whose talents they believe in. This may make it hard for you to get one of them to take you on at first, but you will appreciate it in the end.
  • Ask what they charge for commissions. The going rate is 15% but some agents may only charge 10% for theatre or voice work. Be sure to ask in advance and check to see if you will have to pay GST and TVQ on top of that. (This makes a difference to you – instead of paying $15 on every $100 of earnings, you will more likely be paying $17.25 – not much of a difference on $100, but it starts to add up on $10,000!)
  • Ask what happens with your existing regular engagers. For example, if you have already established a relationship with a commercial production house who calls you regularly and directly to work, you may wish to discuss this with your agent and decide how you intend to manage that client in the future.
  • Ask if you are expected to sign something. It is not unusual for agents to sign a contract with their clients. These contracts normally set out certain kinds of things – how long you agree to work together, how you can renew or cancel your relationship, the services the agent will provide, how payments are to be handled and what happens to those payments if you sever your relationship. They may also ask you to sign a type of “power of attorney”. This would mean that your agent would receive your cheques from the producers, cash them and give you your money, minus their commission. If this is the case, then the agent should also agree to provide you with a proper accounting at the end of each year. In all cases, do not feel pressured to sign any document right there on the spot if you are not sure about something. Take it away with you and ask questions if you need to.

Please be aware that anyone can open up shop and call himself or herself an “agent”. There are no diplomas or courses that you pass in order to be certified as a real live talent agent. So, ask around, do your homework and be careful before you sign anything.

What is an Agent Looking For in Me?

This is the million dollar question – just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so to some degree, is talent. The agent must believe that your look is sufficiently commercial and your talent is sufficiently developed for there to be a good possibility that you will get work.

It’s a hard fact to accept, but how you look has an enormous impact on the work you will get in the film industry (the theatre world is much more forgiving in that respect). If you are young and clearly a character performer, it may be harder for an agent to see how they will be able to market you to casting directors. If they already have a couple of people in your age range and of your type, they may not wish to take you on at this time.

Agents also look for some experience – not that you need to have a resume a mile long, but they want to know that you’ve already done some acting somewhere. This tells them at least two things – one, someone thought you were good enough to ask you to play the role and two, you have some practical experience and aren’t going to look around in panic when the director yells “Action!”

Training is important, and if you don’t have much professional experience, an agent will often look to see what your background and training are.

An agent is also looking for certain intangible things – how dedicated are you to the craft of acting? Is this really how you intend to make your living or are you doing two other things full time in order to “have something to fall back on if the acting thing doesn’t work out”? We’re not talking about having a job to pay the rent when things are slow; we’re talking about not being fully committed to acting as an art and a profession.

If you have clips of work that you have done, an agent may ask to see them before deciding to take you on. (It is always a good idea to begin to collect up those clips to use on a demo tape one day) And don’t be surprised if they ask you to do a monologue or to record an audition on videotape for them. Most actors who work in the theatre have at least one contemporary and one classical monologue memorized since they never know when it might be needed. Many workshops have performers working on monologues or you can purchase specific texts of monologues.

An agent needs some way of assessing your ability to act. A serious agent won’t accept you just because you tell them you are a great actor. So whether it is a resume of past acting experience or the performance of a monologue, you will need to show them your skills, so be ready!

Let’s talk about kids specifically for a moment, and what an agent looks for in a child performer. Firstly, it must be the child who wants it, not the parent. It’s pretty easy to tell who is really interested in acting at the first meeting. Secondly, a child who does well in school will probably do better in this field. Acting means being able to bring a variety of skills together all at once, including good reading skills, a large vocabulary, patience, good study habits (to learn lines) and a good basic education (to understand the material, the plot, directions, etc.) Kids who are struggling in school may find this industry difficult.

There is just a starting point for those of you looking for an agent (or looking to change agents). Picking up additional material which will give you some more information on how to choose an agents would probably be a good idea – like a copy of the Entertainment Industry Coalition Code of Ethics for Agents, for example. Remember, outside of the Province of BC, there are no laws or regulations governing talent agents, and ACTRA has no jurisdiction over them.

Our best advice to you is to do your homework, and ask around for references.

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