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The Working Actor

When Should I Give Up on My Agent?

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When Should I Give Up on My Agent?
Photo Source: Thomas Pitilli

Dear Michael:

I signed with a new agent a while ago. It’s a start-up agency, but I liked her passion and decided to give her a chance. It’s been about five months, and so far she has sent me out on one audition, whereas I go out sometimes multiple times per week by myself, and have given the agency a percentage from a project I submitted myself on and booked. How much longer should I stay before looking for a new agent?

—THESPIAN28

Dear Thespian28:
You described this as a start-up agency. That means they probably have limited clout with casting people; it takes time to build those relationships. If you’re early in your career, a start-up agency can be a great place to be, because you can grow with them. But it’s important to be realistic in your expectations (they can’t be ICM). It’s also important to think like a team and not resent generating your own opportunities as well. It’s all good for the partnership. You bring in your contacts; they bring in theirs. Everybody benefits.

And you should feel good about paying those commissions on work you’ve generated. Each booking enhances your value as a client, connects your agent with new contacts to whom she can pitch you in the future, and helps her keep the doors open so she can continue seeking out opportunities for you. Remember, most of the work agents do to promote you goes uncompensated.

Still, one agent-generated audition in five months is lousy. You could talk with your agent about the shortage of auditions, but I can almost predict what she’ll say: You need new headshots. They love saying that, because no agent wants to admit he isn’t getting responses because casting people don’t know him yet.

So, how long do you stay? It depends. The managing of a professional acting career requires constantly monitoring one’s own place in the scheme of things. In the early phases, when credits and experience are light, it’s unrealistic to expect any agency to find you frequent auditions, or for a high-status agency to sign you—that happens, but it’s rare. But you also need to know when it’s time to move up. And that can be hard. We actors are sometimes freakishly loyal to our representatives, to the point of ignoring signs we’ve outgrown them.

If you’re feeling you could do better elsewhere, there’s a very simple way to test that theory. Try shopping. If you find a more established agent who wants to sign you, and you feel the rapport is good, you should make the move without hesitation. If not, you should stay where you are, grateful for your agent’s belief in you. Start-ups expect to lose some clients to better agencies. But, until a move becomes clear, I suggest a simultaneous, two-pronged plan: invest fully in working with your current agent while assertively shopping for a more established one who can get you more auditions.

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