Bad Apple Agents

Far too many actors (especially students of mine) have been coming to me near to tears (or the flow of emotion overruns them) while recalling personal horror stories of agents who give the profession of representation a spoiled and bruised appearance. It’s time to splice some of the bad apple agents and name names.


Far too many actors (especially students of mine) have been coming to me near to tears (or the flow of emotion overruns them) while recalling personal horror stories of agents who give the profession of representation a spoiled and bruised appearance. It’s time to splice some of the bad apple agents and expose their core decay.

— Heartbreak in the City of Brotherly Love

Actors represented by an agent in Philadelphia (and I won’t be Mary Contrary on clarity of whom this woman is) have come to me often in the past two years voicing allegations of impropriety by the Center City agent. Among the alleged abuses:

Clients are instructed by the agent to submit themselves directly to casting breakdowns. Not too odd except the agent – when they believe a client to be right for a project —  passes along to the actor the breakdown, plus the casting person’s contact then instructs the actor to submit him/herself. If the  authority responsible for casting is receiving hard-copy submissions (land mail) this Delaware Valley agent allegedly provides their client(s) with agency letterhead and cover letter format. Basically the agent is making the actor do all the labor.

Some readers unfamiliar with how representation is supposed to support their clients may ask, “Why is this improper and unprofessional behavior?”. Performers’ unions (SAG, AFTRA & AEA) franchise agents to represent actors. Meaning the union gives the agent authority to represent actors on projects that fall under a particular union’s jurisdiction. Part of this franchise agreement includes that the agent submit clients for available work. That’s not happening with the cheesy agent of cheese steak city.

This Philadelphia agent is also running risk of violating copy write law and her agreement with Breakdown Services. Agents must pay a monthly subscription to receive breakdowns from Breakdown Services. And these breakdowns are not to be disseminated beyond the subscriber.

But there’s more alleged abuse being twisted like a pretzel in Philly. To appear on the agency’s web site clients are reportedly required to pay the agent a fee.

Franchised agents are not – repeat – ARE NOT, permitted to request monies  related to representation from their clients other than ten percent commission on projects which the unions and/or client agree to be commissionable. That’s it. If you’re with an agency that is charging you monies for; office expenses, headshots, Internet exposure, or anything beyond commission then you’re not with a franchised agent. You’re either with a manger claiming to be an agent; an agent ignoring the dictates and restrictions of their franchise; or worse— trusting your career to a shopping center-like scam artist that only knows of agenting from the fiction that is ENTOURAGE.

If you’re represented by a franchised agent and you’re being asked for “fees” unrelated to commission(s) then immediately report the representative to your union.

If you’re with a manager who claims to be an agent or you discover his/her clients predominantly include pre-pubescent pageant princesses my best advice to you is; RUN!

— A Bad Apple in The Big Apple:

Trudge on up the New Jersey Turnpike (breathe intermittently while passing the refineries) and we discover an ancient agent of which if archery were a country he’d be a decrepit king. His alleged antics are just as unpromising as the Philly promoter.

Freelance clients (those not signed with the agency) are instructed that they are in an exclusive representation agreement with the agency and that the actor is forbidden to freelance with other agencies. If I were an actor courted by this king of lunacy my response to him would be, “Bullshit. Have a nice day. Ciao.”

Actors are permitted to freelance with as many agencies that will be happy to freelance with the actor. No agency can dictate that an actor may only freelance with their office and no others. Also without a written agreement there really is no binding ‘agreement’ even if this ‘exclusive freelance’ weren’t a fallacy. And the possible reason there is no written agreement in this case is because the agent appears smart enough not to have a record of this franchise violation.

Just from the allegation prior it would seem as if this man was manic in keeping control over his clients. Besides getting actors to fall for the fiction of exclusive freelancing he also has been known to repeatedly berate slender actors and actresses about eating habits; warning the thin thespians not to gain weight or if they did put on the pounds he’d drop them (the actors, not the pounds).

Yet there’s more…

This arch advisor wishing to rein over his clients requires actors have their headshots taken by his assistant. And no, my loves, this doesn’t come free as a courtesy to the actor. The client is required to present recompense (i.e. money).

No franchised agent; repeat… NO FRANCHISED AGENT is permitted by the unions to demand clients have headshots taken by a specific photographer. Now this does not mean agents can’t be human and recommend photographers they prefer. Like you – agents can have an opinion (and some are valid). But an agent’s opinion on which photographer you choose to utilize does not mean it’s ordained.

Again, if you are aware of abuse like the prior detailed and the agent is franchised by one or more unions, immediately make the relevant union(s) aware of franchise breaches.

Now, some actors may think their agent to be a bad apple because:

  • The agent is grumpy.
  • The agent never returns calls
  • The agent has halitosis

No. They’re not bad agents. They’re human. Behavior, like yours, can not be regulated. Bad apple agents are the agents who disregard professional standards which permit them to be agents. The agents with bad breath and poor manners… well… they’re just mushy apples.

For extensive one-on-one interviews with agents about agents from actors (and yes, agents themselves) look to ACTING: Make It Your Business (Random House/Back Stage Books).


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

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