What I Expect of My Talent Agent (Actors Say The Darndest Things)

The young, modern actor is possibly as vain as is Donald J. Trump is a Titanic egomaniac.

Talent Agency

Paul Russell_HeadshotPaul Russell

How to find a talent agent

The young, modern actor is possibly as vain as is Donald J. Trump is a Titanic egomaniac.

Student actors at NYU-Tisch wrote a 200 – 400 word essay entitled, ‘What I Expect of My Relationship with An Agent.’ What follows are direct quotes from Millennial actors voicing their expectations of a talent agent:

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

“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’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…”

“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.”

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

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

Most of the neophyte actors in this exercise detailed that their only reference to agents was based on narcissistic caricatures of talent agents as portrayed by actors.

To be fair I understand the naïveté of these young talents who barely know the difference between an open call and an EPA. When a 24 year-old actor, I knew nothing of agents, casting directors or how to go about the business of show business other than scouring trades for jobs, and then lining up to advertised open castings. Ignorance during discovery is not a fault if the seeker is open to learning. What’s dangerous to career longevity is arrogance: a close relative to ignorance.

The Millennial actors participating in the essay exercise have a career threatening virus of  ‘me-itis.’

On one participating Millennial actor’s paper I circled each occasion the actor began a sentence with, “I expect” or “I want.” There were 20 plus occurrences. Where is the ‘we’ from the actor in expectation of the actor to talent agent 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?” Silence.

The Millennial actors were then assigned to read vital chapters from ACTING: Make It Your Business on how to get an agent, followed by reading chapters on how to maintain a healthy and productive relationship with representation. Better informed, the actors then keyed on their laptops a second essay about their expectations of an actor-to-agent relationship.

I was heartened by the small percentage of actor-students – who after reading ACTING: Make It Your Businesss chapters on agents in which LA and New York talent agents and actors discuss their relationships – that some viewpoints 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.”

(Spot-on correct with both statements. Particularly the last. I know agents — at respected agencies with visibly working clients — who have gone weeks or 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 some minds remain vulnerable to the me-itis bug. After reading the chapters on agents an actor wrote of agents:

“…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 Millennial actor 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. Thank you.

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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, Elon and Wright State University. He 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.

Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors

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DIANE RILEY, Senior Legit Talent Agent
Harden-Curtis & Associates


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KAREN ZIEMBA, TONY & Drama Desk Award Winning Actress


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KEN MELAMED, Talent Agency Partner
Bret Adams, Ltd.


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Chapman University


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Author: Paul Russell

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