Being an agent isn’t an exact science. It’s not like we study at a special university in New England where men with beards teach us a series of facts that we can use to make our professional decisions. That kind of academic, set-in-stone background works for doctors and lawyers but not for people like me. In my line of work, major career choices often come down to nothing more than a judgment call.
Granted, those judgment calls are based on years of experience, but any agent who claims his or her success is based solely on skill is a liar. I would argue that in most cases, success comes down to 60 percent skill and 40 percent luck.
When I was starting out as an assistant, my boss explained the biggest decision an agent can make is choosing who to sign. We usually pick actors based on their experience, look, and how they fit into our client lists. But what about signing new talent?
A few months ago, every agent in town attended showcases for the graduating students from all the big acting schools across the country. We watched hundreds of actors perform. At a certain point, they all started to blur. So when looks and experience are equal, how does an agent decide who to sign?
It’s a judgment call.
We make the decision based on our gut. I’ve been representing actors for over 10 years and I’ve learned to trust the voice in my head, the one that whispers there’s something special about a certain actor, something I can sell.
I find that every workday involves at least one judgment call. Just last week, I was faced with a big one. There was a series regular role on a pilot that was perfect for one of my clients. I pitched my ass off to get her in the room, but the casting director didn’t respond. My gut said it was just a matter of time, but there was also a good chance I’d never get the audition.
So here’s the choice I had to make. Do I give my client the material in advance so she can start preparing for an audition that might never happen or do I risk letting her go in unprepared if casting surprises me with a same-day appointment?
I made the choice by flipping a coin. And no, I’m not being glib. I literally flipped a coin. As a result, I held the material back and naturally, a last-minute appointment came in and my client had to audition unprepared.
And that’s why you pay agents 10 percent. So we can gamble with your future.
Now look, I’m not saying our experience doesn’t serve you. My relationships with the casting community help create opportunities. I’ve studied contract language and I’m more than qualified to negotiate on your behalf. And when you hit the big time, I can introduce you to the best publicists and business managers in town. But you have to know that every now and then, agents wing it and hope for the best.
Growing up, one of my favorite movies was “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” There’s a great scene where the Nazis have just escaped into the desert with the Ark. The relic is inside a truck surrounded by armed men. Refusing to give up, Indiana Jones jumps on a horse and announces that he’s going to stop them. When his friend asks how, Indy responds, “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.”
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