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Secret Agent Man

Red Light, Green Light

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Red Light, Green Light
How do I get an agent?" is the No. 1 question I hear from actors. Well, there's a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and that goes double when you're looking for representation. So, in the interest of symmetry, here are the five worst ways to attract an agent and the five best.

1. Don't just show up.

Actors are always told they need to be aggressive, but that doesn't mean you should just show up at an agent's door. No one is going to take you seriously if you walk in without an appointment. You're just going to annoy everyone. At best, an assistant will allow you to leave your headshot—which will definitely end up in the trash.

2. Don't screw up chance encounters.

New York and L.A. are both crawling with actors and agents. The odds are that sooner or later the twain shall meet. So you have to handle these moments correctly or you're going to blow what could be a golden opportunity. For example, I recently attended a play because a close friend was one of the producers. It was opening night, and when the show was over, I joined everyone for a little party backstage. When my friend introduced me to one of the cast members, it took the guy exactly 42 seconds to hit me up for representation. I responded by mumbling something about sending me his picture, and then I bolted toward the cheap wine. If that actor had a brain, he would've taken the time to make a personal connection that he could've referenced at a later date.

3. Don't pick the wrong time.

If you want to succeed in this business, you have to know when to make your move. I've been approached for representation in locker rooms, restaurants, airports, parking lots, bars, cockfights, and even on hiking trails. If I'm doing something social, the odds are I'm not going to be in the mood for an actor seeking an agent.

4. Don't lie.

This one is so basic, but everyone gets it wrong. True, a large part of this industry is fueled by exaggeration, but an out-and-out lie will rarely get you anywhere. So please don't list extra work as an acting credit on your résumé.  And don't tell me a casting director personally referred you when all she did was throw out my name as she was trying to get away from you—because you picked the wrong time to approach her. (See how that came back to No. 3?)

5. Don't suck.

This is the big one, folks. I constantly meet actors who have trained themselves to be super business people, always marketing and promoting themselves, expertly navigating the dark tunnels of the industry. But what's the point of all that work if you're not a great actor? Every opportunity you create will be wasted because you won't have the talent to take advantage of it.

And now, here are the five best ways to attract an agent's attention:

1. Do get fantastic headshots.

In this world of electronic submissions, your headshot is more important than ever. That picture needs to pop on a monitor's screen. It has to really stand out from all the others. And it absolutely, positively must be current and look exactly like you.

2. Do become the best actor you can possibly be.

The business has changed for the worse in the last few years. Reality TV has taken away a lot of programming slots that used to go to shows that hired actors. Jay Leno alone has grabbed five hours a week of prime-time real estate. As opportunities decrease, competition increases. That means you can't settle for good. If you want to survive these changes, you have to work extra hard at becoming a great actor who can deliver the goods without getting nervous or making excuses.

3. Do put your talent on display.

What's the point of being a talented actor if nobody knows it? So get out there and do some stage work. What's that you say? You're trying but no one will let you? Give me a break. Try joining a theater company. That will give you an opportunity to perform. And if that doesn't work, get a group of like-minded actors together and create your own theater company. The bottom line is that the more you perform, the more likely you are to attract an agent's attention. (Looking at my client list, I see that our most recent sign is a guy we saw doing a show at a 99-seat house in North Hollywood.)

4. Do your homework.

Don't just submit to every agent in town, hoping someone will respond. You have to do some research. We live in a world where information is just a click away. So pick and choose your targets. First, study the company and find out what kind of actors it represents. Are you experienced enough for this agency? If you are, then you need to narrow your search down to one particular agent at the company. Try to dig up some professional or personal facts about that person. There are plenty of ways to do this. For example, maybe one of your actor friends attended a showcase where that agent was the industry guest. Maybe the agent said something revealing, like how much he loves sushi. That's something you can reference in a cover letter. Tell the agent about your favorite sushi bar. I know that doesn't sound like much, but trust me, every little bit helps when you're trying to stand out from the pack.

5. Do have someone introduce you.

Referrals are golden in this business, and they are and will always be your No. 1 way to attract a good agent. So build up a group of people who admire and respect your work. I'm talking about teachers, actors, casting assistants—anyone who can introduce you to an agent. Always remember that a large part of this industry is based on who will speak up for you. That's why you want a good agent, right?   

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