The other night I was burning headshots for fun, and it occurred to me that I spend a lot of time in this column explaining all the reasons agents pass on actors. Common sense dictates we don't pass on everyone because if that were true, agents wouldn't have any clients. And while that sounds peaceful, it's not very practical. So this week, I'd like to switch things up by explaining why agents decide to take on actors, especially ones who don't have much experience.
First and foremost, it's about talent. This is still the number one way to end up on someone's client list. I've always felt too many actors focus on networking skills at the expense of craft. You definitely need both, but an actor without talent is like a Ferrari without an engine. Skill is what drives your career. All that other stuff's important, too, but it should always take a back seat to your actual acting ability. (OK, I'm done with the car metaphors.)
Next, we have type. Agents are basically sellers, and casting directors are buyers. It's our job to address the needs of that marketplace. No real agency focuses on any one specific type. That would be financial suicide. We sign all kinds of actors so we can always have someone to submit for the roles that are open.
Skill is something you work on in class. Type isn't. You are who you are. The key is to understand your type so you can exploit it. Are you the female lead or are you her best friend? Are you the guy who owns the bar, or are you the dude who drinks there? Knowing how you come across is very important.
And don't worry about typecasting. You'll have plenty of chances to stretch when you're established. For now, it's important to understand how people see you and how that image fits into the marketplace.
Another reason agents say yes is that we spot the self-promoter gene in someone we're meeting. I love actors who are on their game, constantly pushing a new play while producing their web series between doing casting workshops. It tells me that if I sign this person, he's not going to sit around and let me do all the work.
On that same note, coming across as a professional is another excellent way to make an impression. You can do this by having all your tools in place. I respect actors who hand me their pictures and résumés without excuses. If your headshot isn't up to par, then you're not ready to meet someone like me. I don't want to hear, "Sorry, it's an old picture, but I'm getting new ones soon." That's just lame. Get your act together before you walk into my office.
You've probably heard a referral is the best way to get a meeting with an agent. That's absolutely true, but the referral only gets you in the room. It's not a guarantee you're going to get signed. But here's the thing. There have been times when I've been on the fence about someone and I ended up going forward anyway because of the person who referred the actor. I'm talking about managers and casting directors who I know will help me get the job done. They're always a welcome addition to the team.
The final reason is a wild card. Every now and then, an actor will get signed because an agent likes him or her. Yes, it's really that simple. Being able to connect with professionals on a personal level is an essential skill. Some actors are a natural at this. Others aren't. Either way, you shouldn't always come across as an actor who wants something from us. Instead, if you can present yourself as a real human being, it might just make all the difference in your career.