1. School Showcase. This is one of the more common ways a young actor secures representation. Each spring, hundreds of BFA and MFA graduates strut their stuff for an industry-filled audience. However, if you’re not in one of these programs, you don’t qualify.
2. Getting your work seen. In this instance, an actor’s work is seen in a play, at a film festival, on YouTube, etc. The downside is it's difficult to “make happen.” Often it’s by fluke that this method comes to pass. However, like Number 1, it’s always the best. Having your work seen and being called in as a result of it trumps everything. They like your work. Now they want to see if they like you!
3. Referral. Actors are often granted a meeting when a mutual party (i.e. casting director, current client of the agency, friend, etc.) ask an agent to see a particular actor. The downside is the meeting has been arranged by a mutual party and not out of pure agent-to-actor interest. Often, an actor will say to me, “I had a meeting with an agent yesterday. It didn’t go well.” And I’ll say, “Oh, was it a referral?” And the actor always says, “Yes! How did you know?” And I say, “Because they didn’t want to see you; they had to see you as a courtesy to whoever referred you.” Still, it sometimes does the trick. A note here: If you attempt to go this route, try to get whoever is referring you to pick up the phone, or at the very least, email the person to whom they are referring you. Simply mentioning the person’s name in your cover letter is far less effective and too easy to dismiss or not see.
4. Mailing of photo/resume. This method is usually effective when the actor is a) young and extremely attractive or b) has amassed – perhaps through the efforts of a previous agent – a reasonably impressive resume. If an actor is not in either of these categories, a mailing is a usually a long shot, especially for legit/theatrical representation.
5. Industry classes/seminars. This refers to venues where actors pay a fee, and as a result their work is seen by agents. Mostly effective for actors who fall in either category “a” or “b” as described in number 3, above. It is a more flexible method for attaining commercial representation, however.
Here's a note for all the methods listed above. Although it sometimes happens that the interest isn’t as strong as the actor hopes, it doesn’t mean the situation is dead in the water if representation is not initially offered. Pro-active career measures and reports of the results can make an agent who has previously passed on an actor the first time around, later re-visit the situation. As a former agent, I’ve seen this happen far more than one might think. Hang in there.
Brian O’Neil is a former agent and best-selling author of "Acting As a Business: Strategies for Success" which was hailed by Entertainment Weekly as a “show-biz industry bible." An acting career coach and an audition coach, he teaches at many of the country’s top acting training programs including The Juilliard School. For more information, please visit www.actingasabusiness.com.