Earlier this year, a situation came up in my personal life that forced me to hire a lawyer. (Yes, even agents need representation.) Since this problem had nothing to do with the entertainment industry, I wasn’t able to use one of the attorneys I deal with on a regular basis. So after getting some referrals, I set up two meetings. The first was with a huge law firm, the kind of company with five names on their letterhead. The other meeting was with a smaller but well-respected firm.
When I sat down with the big boys, there were three lawyers in the room. They were straight out of Central Casting. As I explained my concerns, I got the impression their minds were elsewhere. Who knows? Maybe they were thinking about their next facial. When I finished, the main guy explained what they would do if I decided to hire them, and that was that.
Two days later, I met with the smaller firm, and it was a totally different scene. There was just one lawyer in the room, a woman who looked like Glenn Close, and she asked as many questions as I did. Her firm didn’t have as much clout as the big one, but I left the meeting feeling she was genuinely interested in my case.
Guess who I hired?
A lot of actors find themselves in similar situations when they’re looking for representation, especially when they’re past the early days of their career and exciting things are starting to happen. So what’s the right play when you’re moving up the food chain? Should you sign with a powerhouse company or a boutique agency? There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, but let me give you some food for thought.
As much as I hate to admit it, larger companies have more clout. Places like CAA and WME represent A-list talent. That means casting will always take their calls. The clients will get seen. I know for a fact that during pilot season some casting directors will actually have a Gersh afternoon, during which they read every single actor Gersh submitted, even if they’re not right for the part.
These powerful agencies also handle show runners, directors, and producers. That gives them the kind of access agents like me can only dream about. Getting your clients an audition is easy when you represent the guy who’s directing the movie.
The truth is, a determined agent at a company like UTA can turn water into wine for you. Just look at the Ari Gold–Vincent Chase relationship in “Entourage.” That sort of thing happens all the time. A high-powered agent focuses all his energy on a brand-new kid, and a star is born.
Now here’s the catch. For this kind of relationship to work, you have to be the client who brings in commissions right off the bat. If you don’t hit fast, I guarantee your agent’s interest will fade faster than Mel Gibson’s career. Why? Because he has to earn enough money to justify his salary, and if you’re not helping, he’s going to shift his attention to a client who can.
Depending on where you are in your career, it might make more sense to be the big fish in a small pond. An agent at a boutique agency who believes in you will accomplish more than an agent at APA who doesn’t.
Trust me. If I feel you’ve got potential, I’ll give you more attention than your mother did on the day you were born. Also, I can afford to hang in there during the slow periods when you’re not booking. Why? Because the overhead at my company is nothing compared with the bigger agencies.
So when the time comes to make a move, don’t worry about finding the right agency. Focus on finding the right agent.