How to get in the door and stay there
Getting signed with a talent agency can be one of the most daunting and frustrating aspects of a beginning acting career. You’ve studied, and gotten some work on your own, but you can’t the attention of a talent agent. The good news is that agents are always on the lookout for fresh new faces, actors who have talent and who are well-prepared. If you are one of these and you still can’t get an agent it may be because you haven’t presented yourself in the right way or it might be as simple as luck and timing in hitting the right agent at the right time. Of course there may be another, harsher reality which is that you just aren’t good enough at it. Be honest with yourself and listen to your trusted friends and industry professionals. There’s an old adage that goes like this: “If everyone is telling you you’re drunk, you should sit down.” However, if you have gotten positive feedback from people other than your mother -- if acting teachers, other professional actors, and perhaps a director and a casting director or two have encouraged you, and you still haven’t landed an agent, it is probably a matter of time and some honing of your self-promotional skills.
Things you should know about getting a talent agent:
1) They need you as much as you need them. OK, maybe not quite as much, but they need you. They want actors who will go into an audition and get the job. They want actors who will make them look good and who will make them some money.
2) If an agent asks for money from a potential client, that person is a scam artist and should be avoided. However, a legitimate agent will expect you to provide him/her with many copies of your headshot and resume, and several copies of your reel if you have one. This is a considerable but necessary business expense (an accountant can help you sort out the tax issues when you start making money).
3) Different talent agents focus on different areas of the business. Some are commercial agents, others (and these would be mostly New York agents) focus mostly on theater. What part of the business do you want to work in? Know your strengths and abilities and try to match those with the right agent.
4) Agents are not inclined to sign too many actors of the same “type.” It’s considered unfair to their existing clients. While this may be one of the most common excuses for not signing you (“Gee, you’re terrific but I have so-and-so who is just like you.”) there also may be some truth to it. Find out what you can about an agency’s client roster and what those clients have been up to. Know what kinds of roles you can realistically play. Actors tend to be allergic to the concept of “type” for fear of being pigeon-holed or “type-cast,” and rightly so. On the other hand, there are certain qualities an actor walks in the room with and you should know what yours are.
5) Once you’ve signed with an agent, there is usually a trial period during which you can both back out of the contract if one or both of you feels the relationship is not working. Once you get a job through an agent, however, you are bound by the terms of the contract. You cannot sign with more than one agent unless one is commercial and the other is theatrical (theatrical refers not only to theater, but also to film and television).
Get a (Better) ReelIf you have been working in plays and showcases and can't get an agent to come see you, it's time to get a reel together. Focus on getting in a low budget or student film. With a few good scenes that showcase your range, you will be able to hire a professional editor to put together an reel that will catch they eye of an agent. If you have a reel and have been sending it out to agents with no success, take another look at it. It may be that it's not impressive enough as is. You may need to add to it or have it re-edited. Have a few trusted fellow actors or industry people look at it and tell you what they think. Keep in mind that home videos are not suitable for your reel. Only professional work should be included. If you have something truly different and interesting on video you can consider uploading it to YouTube and sending the link to agents. But don't put it on your professional reel.
Re-write Your ResumeMake sure your resume is complete. List all your special skills, no matter how ordinary or how oddball they might seem to you. I got my first agent because I listed Conversational Spanish as a special skill and she was looking for Spanish speakers for commercials. I signed with her and went out on a few Spanish language commercial auditions without getting hired. However, through her, I got a few jobs in series television and began to develop relationships with casting directors. You never know what will catch the eye of an agent. If you are a champion shot-putter or speak Mandarin, make sure to put it down on your resume.
Develop Other RelationshipsWork on getting to know some casting directors. Send them your resume and your reel. Invite them to showcases. Call the office and ask for a general audition. These are meetings in which an actor will come in with a prepared monologue rather than to audition for a specific part. If you've impressed a casting director, ask them to refer you to an agent. Same goes for any director you work with. Ask acting teachers and fellow actors to recommend you to an agent. If an actor has a good relationship with their agent and thinks you're good, he or she shouldn't have a problem making a recommendation (unless they feel you are in direct competition). Well-known acting teachers with good reputations are more likely to catch the eye of an agent when listed on your resume than an unknown one. Get into a class with a well-regarded teacher.
At the MeetingFinally, you've been asked into meet with an agent. This may be the result of your reel, a showcase, a recommendation or on the basis of your resume and headshot alone. How do you make the most of this crucial fifteen minutes? First of all, look your best; not too dressy, not too sexy, but smart casual, professional and obviously as attractive as possible. Be ready with a monologue in case they ask for it (they will usually warn you in advance but might surprise you), and be ready to talk about your strengths. This is often the hardest part of an actor's job; you can be Lady Macbeth for four hours straight, but talking about yourself for ten minutes is sheer agony. Agents have seen trainloads of hopefuls just like you. What sets you apart? They might actually come right out and ask you that very question. Be prepared to answer it. Know what kind of work you are looking for. Is your dream director Judd Apatow or Julian Schnabel?
Hold On To Your AgentYou've signed a contract and you're in the initial trial period. What do you need to do to keep your agent interested in you? Get a job! If an agent sends you out on audition after audition with no success, he/she might not want to keep the relationship going. If you don't get the job but you get a couple of callbacks, this will reflect well on you. It is part of your agent's job to get feedback from casting directors on your audition performance, so make sure to make a good impression every time and take criticism with grace. You can also ask for feedback. When you're really stumped as to why you didn't get a callback when you thought you blew them away in the audition, by all means find out what happened. Dress appropriately. I once got negative feedback through my agent from a casting director because I hadn't fully understood the character description and dressed inappropriately for that particular part.
Keep honing those audition skills. Backstage.com has a list of audition classes in your area. Practice with your fellow actors.
- Keep up to date about the comings and goings of agents. Agents tend to move frequently from office to office and to combine forces to open up their own agencies. Stay current.
- Don't drop by an agent's office unannounced unless it's to deliver a packet, and then make sure you're dressed well. You never know who you'll run into.
- Confidence is essential. Agents can smell low self-esteem and desperation. If you are feeling beaten down (and you will at times), take some time to rejuvenate and get re-inspired.
- Don't expect your agent to do everything for you. It's still up to you to generate most of your own work. I know it sounds unfair, but it's the reality.
- Your agent works for you. It doesn't feel this way most of the time because the balance of power favors the agent over the actor, but it's true. If an agent doesn't get you any auditions over a long stretch of time, or they don't remember who you are when you call, it's time to look for a new one.