If there’s one thing actors obsess over – even more than their headshots – it's getting an agent. From the moment they get the acting itch to the day they hop off the bus in La-La-Land, visions of agents are buzzing around their heads like Sugar Plum fairies at Christmas time. They don’t know why they need one or how to get one, but they are pretty sure they are going to be on easy street once that box is filled in. Agents can come in pretty handy. They can certainly eliminate a whole lot of paperwork and even open a few doors, if you know the secret handshake.
Agents aren’t for everyone, however. The vast majority of newer actors and even some more experienced ones don’t really need to be in the market for an agent. Here are five reasons having an agent might not be for you…yet.
1. You can't act. Ouch! I know, that sounds harsh. How can I tell an actor they aren't good enough to have an agent. That's so mean! Sad thing is probably 90 percent of actors reading this right now not only aren't good enough to be in front of professional casting directors but even worse, they don't know they are not good enough. Why aren't they good enough? Primarily it's because they aren't willing or used to putting themselves on the line, or they don't know how to connect with the material and memorize the lines very quickly. Why don't they know they're not good enough? First, in class, they get a lot of feedback but it's either not tough enough or it's not clear enough. You can get all the notes in the world week after week on a particular scene but that doesn't really help your overall game. Second, most actors have never seen a professional audition so they have no idea how high the bar is set. They go to audition classes but since everyone else in the class is not that good either, they are not learning from their peers and their teacher may not have seen a professional audition either, at least in the last 10 years. You can't hit in the big leagues until you've faced a 90-mile-an-hour fastball.
2. You have no credits. Before you drop that bundle of headshots into the mailbox, do you ever wonder why exactly an agent would be interested in you? Most of us just do it and pray that something will spark their interest, but why don't we even know what might ignite that spark? How can we possibly be sold, when we don't know what we have to offer? If you don't know what you have to offer, you have nothing to offer. Regardless of headshots, reel, and genetic predisposition, you have to have credits. The main criteria for any job is experience, and in the case of acting, credits. If you have not done any professional work, you are not a professional actor so why would you be trying to get represented by a professional agent. Get a couple of credits and agents will be far more receptive to you, as in waaaay more.
3. You have no relationships. OK, so you can't act and you don't have any experience. Hmm...well, your agent doesn't know you can't act and maybe he can fudge the credits thing. What other way can get you into a room or two? What's that? Your uncle is a producer and promised you an audition for his next film? You have interned at half the casting offices in town, and they all love you? Hmm, in that case, maybe there's help for you after all. The only thing that can overcome all else, at least until the moment they find out you can't act, is relationships. No relationships and no credits means there's very little an agent can do for you. Case in point: I did a very small role for a pilot when I was starting out, and a year later the same director was directing a blockbuster movie (in another city, mind you). Try as he might, my agent couldn't get me in, but after a phone call to the production office from yours truly, suddenly I was on the schedule. If you don't know any casting directors or producers, your agent basically has their hands tied behind their back. They are submitting blind and hoping for a miracle.
4. 10 percent. That's what agents get paid. That means that an agent is not going to put their reputation on the line pitching the heck out of you until they are sure you are the second coming of George Clooney or Jennifer Lawrence. Even if you have great credits and relationships coming out of your pockets, agents have a roster of many actors and since their income is derived incrementally from each actor, no single actor is worth sticking their neck out over. Their overall reputation is far more important than any single actor, and if actors want more attention, they need to prove they will increase their agent's income proportionally.
5. An agent can't change who you are. If you can't talk/charm/impress your way into a casting room, then how do you think an agent is going to? They can't and certainly won't try to change the facts. They can't fabricate credits, relationships, skills they don't already know about and they are certainly not going to lie for some fresh-face-du-jour who might be off their roster by month's end. It's up to an actor to create some kind of story for an agent to tell. It's fine to have deficiencies in one area, but you have to make up for them in another. Despite what you might hear "on the street," no one wants to develop you. That's like gambling blind with really long odds and very little to gain. Agents and managers are happy to sell you, but they have to know what they are selling and it needs to be more than a headshot.
So, while it's great to have someone in the business trying to get you work, you don't need them anymore than they need you until you reach a few key milestones. Don't be disappointed. Be happy knowing that if you get a few of the above criteria going for you, getting an agent is easy and more importantly, it will be easy for them to get you appointments.
David Patrick Green is a professional actor and the founder of Hackhollywood.com, a membership-based website dedicated to empowering and educating actors around the globe on how to become a professional actor. His simple, five-step approach inspires actors to be ruthlessly creative in their approach to the art and business of acting and life in general. Mr. Green has an MBA from the University of Southern California and was an international management consultant before realizing Platinum frequent-flyer status had few rewards other than boredom, bedbugs, and beer. His earlier reincarnations include working as an advertising account executive in Warsaw, Poland and he is still kicking himself for leaving the French Alps where, among other things, he taught skiing to European royalty and often simultaneously) tasted fine French wines. He has lived and worked as an actor in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Toronto and coaches/consults to actors and businesses who want to get on the short path to success while maintaining a sense of humor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.