The first thing you have to realize is that most industry types prefer to say no because it's the safer choice. For example, if a network executive passes on a pitch, his job is safe. He hasn't put himself on the line. But if he green-lights that project, the executive has now made a commitment. His future could be determined by the success or failure of the show, and that's a scary place to be.
Unfortunately, the same kind of thinking exists in the agency business. We're all guilty of it. After taking a meeting with an actor who's just starting out, it's easier for me to say no. That way, the actor will move on and become someone else's problem. On the other hand, if I say yes, that person is now my responsibility. I'll have to do a lot of heavy lifting just to get his or her career started, and there's no guarantee of success. So unless I feel the actor has amazing potential, I'll probably say no.
Another consideration is that agents are constantly being judged inside their own company. If I bring in an endless supply of actors who never make money, that's going to look bad. The other agents will begin to get upset. They'll start complaining, "Damn. Secret Agent Man keeps signing long shots. How are we supposed to book with these people?" That's a lot of bad energy. Agents have been fired for less.
I also have to think about my relationship with the casting community. Agents are only as good as the actors they represent. That's why we're selective. Your actions reflect on us. I need to feel confident that a new client will behave in a professional manner. If you show up late and unprepared for an audition, the casting director will be upset with you, but I'm the one who's getting the angry phone call. (I was chewed out once because an actor arrived for an audition reeking of body odor. What am I supposed to do? Watch my clients bathe?)
Sometimes the reason I say no has nothing to do with the actor who's sitting in my office. It's more about the person sitting next to him. I'm talking about the manager. Over the years, I've made a lot of money signing actors I never would've met unless a manager introduced them to me. That's why I'm always open to new managers. As an agent, you never know where your next check's coming from. But make no mistake about it. When I'm taking a meeting with you and your manager, I'm interviewing both of you. If the manager sounds like a future pain in my ass, then I'm passing, because life is too short.
The sad truth of my job is that I pass on talented actors every day. If I were to sign every performer I meet who has potential, my list would number in the thousands and I wouldn't be able to do my job effectively. So I have to pick and choose. Keep that in mind the next time you hear no from an agent.