What I Expect of My Agent Relationship (Oh no you didn’t!?!)

Direct quotes from younger actors:

“I’ve always known that if I was really interested in acting, at some point I would have to actually learn what an agent is, in the same way I knew that some point during my adolescence I would inevitably need to have my wisdom teeth pulled…”

“My attitude towards agents is… I just see them as a hindrance to my goal, rather than a tool to help me achieve my dream.”

“I expect my agent to contact me with projects that I may not be exactly right for.”

“What I want my agent to be like is a Queen Latifah style character – friendly, big, fun and trustworthy. I don’t know what Queen Latifah is like in person but my imagination is that she’s kind and honest… someone who offers coffee or tea.”

Oh. Good. God.

The day was not a happy one when I read the statements above. I had given college students of mine — at one of the many institutions that I teach — an assignment. They were to write a 200 – 400 word essay entitled; ‘What I Expect of My Relationship with An Agent’. Then the students were to read the three chapters on agents in ACTING: Make It Your Business and write another essay about their expectations of their relationship with an agent.

Many of the ‘before’ essays contained the unrealistic expectations expressed above. Most detailed that their only reference of agents was what they had seen on screen as portrayed by actors (oh, the blind leading the blind).

Of the 100 plus essays read I soon discovered that some students, prior to reading the agent chapters, undoubtedly had no clue as to what an agent is and/or does.

“I’ll talk to them on the phone sort of the way that I’ll talk to a receptionist at a dentist’s office, only I’ll know them better.”

(Don’t expect a lollipop after each visit.)

“I kind of figure you go into an agent’s office (once you’ve already acquired said agent) and let them know the specific kind of work you’re interested in. In my case this would be film, preferably non-comedy (super-hero would be great).”

(What’s frightening about the above statement is that the issuer is old enough to drive, drink and shoot a gun.)

“I would also want my agent to be part of an agency who is bicoastal, if not more coastal than that.”

(Does she want an agent in every port? Also, unless you’re Mitt Romney an agency is not a ‘who’ but a ‘that.’)

To be fair I could understand the naïveté of these young talents who barely knew the difference between an open call and a meet-n-greet. Back when I was a 24 year-old actor I knew nothing of agents, casting directors or how to go about the business of our business other than reading trades and showing up to advertised open calls. Today what shocks me is a prevalent theme of  ‘me-itis’ found in neophyte actors’ ‘before’ and ‘after’ visions of representation:

“I expect a lot of individual attention from my agent.”

“An agent gets 10% commission, and is therefore only responsible for 10% of my career.”

(Oh you selfish, selfish slough.)

“I want my agent to give me feedback from all the auditions.”

(Good luck. Do you think casting has the time to respond to agents for every actor per project?! Get a reality check. Fast.)

On one of the papers I circled every occasion the actor-student began a sentence with “I expect” and “I want”: 20 plus occurrences. There was a rapid contagion of “me, me, me” running like a virus through every class I led. Where was the ‘we’ of the relationship? I asked many of the actor-students, “Other than the 10% commission you pay to the agent, what else do you bring to the relationship?” Emphasis on ’relationship’ because that’s what an actor working with an agent is–a union. I.e. marriage.

I was heartened by the small percentage of actor-students – who after reading the chapters on agents in which agents and actors discuss their relationships – that some view points became more universally aware rather than introspective with a spotlight.

“On the first page of Chapter 12 what struck me most was “A talent rep faces more defeats in a single hour than one actor does in a month.” This helped me think about who becomes an agent. Not only are they enduring such drastic rejection but also their pay checks are not guaranteed to be lucrative.”

(She’s dead-on correct with both statements. Particularly the last. I know of agents — at respected agencies with working clients — who have gone weeks and months without pay. These champions of their clients put the solvency of the agency first before their own needs.)

“After reading the quorum of agents, I realized that there are agents who truly care about actors and the art they create. While the agent is absolutely responsible for submitting you for all projects they think you’re right for, you still have to remember your job as a salesperson (of yourself, that is) is never done – always keep marketing yourself! Agents are not all Ari Golds and they work hard just like you do.”

“I had forgotten that they only take 10% commission so unless they have lots of big name clients they’re living about as comfortably as you are.”

“I have a better understanding of specific behaviors to avoid – behaviors that imply a lack of trust and loyalty. For example, a client should make sure to call the agent only for good specific reasons and NOT to tell the agent, “I saw that ‘blank’ project is looking for a blonde with blue eyes.”

But then despite my best intentions to instill upon the up-and-coming thespians the value of the ‘we’ in the agent/actor relationship I must have failed somewhere as shown by the following statement handed in AFTER the student read the chapters on agents:

“After reading the chapters I have some new insights to the agent process. An early one being that an agent doesn’t receive more than 10% of earnings ever. That’s a relief.”

One student though summed up succinctly the healthiest outlook for ‘What I Expect of My Relationship with An Agent’:

“You should trust your agent – that he or she is really trying to get you seen by casting directors/people…. The agent doesn’t do all the work. The actor must also be looking for auditions.”

“An agent isn’t a piñata of job offers that you hit up for candy when things are getting stale.”

“An agent is your cheerleader, not your bitch.”

Well said.

My best,

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.


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