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Actor-Agent Communication: The Good, the Bad, and the Unnecessary

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At a recent panel, five agents agreed that good communication is the most important ingredient for maintaining a healthy actor-agent relationship. They felt strongly about two things in particular:

1.) Actors must return calls promptly.

2.) Actors should contact their agents at the onset of a problem rather than at full-blown crisis time.

One of the most frustrating situations occurs when an agent discovers—after having pushed a particular client for a certain role—that so and so is out of town on a little vacation that she "forgot" to tell the agency about. We feel very foolish when the casting director finally gives us that audition appointment and then we have to cancel because the client isn't available. Even if you're going away for a long weekend, call your agency and inform them. You never know when Steven Spielberg might call—which actually happened to a client of mine late one Friday afternoon. A call came in for him to put himself on tape and get it to Steven Spielberg in the Hamptons the very next day. Luckily, I knew how to reach my client (who was traveling) quickly, and he accomplished the task without complications.

Recently, I polled some agent friends and discovered that the telephone is still the preferred tool of communication. However, one agent insists that his clients give him only one number to reach them. He refuses to make what he considers the time-wasting choice between service, cell, beeper, and home number each time he needs to reach a client. Personally, I like to call an actor's service (preferably voicemail rather than human being, because the latter wastes time between the endless holds and repetition of information). I leave a very thorough message with all pertinent details—which I expect to leave one time only (please learn not to accidentally delete our messages)—and I ask the actor to call to confirm, which I expect him to do on a timely basis. Sounds like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at how many actors are delinquent in returning calls—from their agent, no less. It's curious, somewhat maddening, and, in many cases, casting directors will take an audition away from an actor if they don't get a confirmation the same day. If I need to reach an actor in a hurry, I use her cell phone.

Relationship problems, submission requests, and evaluation and feedback issues are more complex and can be addressed through a variety of means. One agent prefers email for dialoguing. When asked how often he checks his email, he replied, "Frequently." Another agent cautioned against email—especially if sending an agent a grievance. He urged actors to be careful what they put in print, because it might come back to haunt them.

When clients call to ask about submissions ("I was looking at this year's list of LORT theatres' seasons and I saw some shows I'd like to be seen for"), I suggest faxing the list to the office. This saves time that I don't have to take dictation over the phone, and provides the office with solid material for research. The same goes for tax receipts for the IRS and letters of recommendation for mortgage brokers. I ask clients to write the letter, which I will transfer to office stationery and return to them.

I don't check email because it takes away the time needed for more pertinent activities of doing business, like making submissions, putting out audition appointments, negotiating offers, and returning phone calls. One client, who knows this, communicates through fax. He is selective as to when and how often he does this, and is very thorough and articulate when he does. The fax touches on a number of subjects, such as submission requests and negotiation points, if applicable; after I've separated the modicum of venting from the pertinent facts, I can appreciate this tool's effective economy of communication.

Still, I'd check with my agent first before using email or fax to communicate with her. It's too easy for an agent to ignore and/or delete email. Faxes can get buried among so many papers. Granted, these days you might just as easily get trapped in a phone system's voicemail, but as one agent said recently, "If your agent won't take your call, then find another agent."

There are good times and bad times to call your agent. How can you know which is which? Ask him. Preface your conversation with, "Got a minute?" The agent will either say yes or no. If he says no, then ask when would be a better time to call. Most likely, he'll ask you what you need or why you're calling. There's no need for mystery. If something's bugging you, say so—your agent wants to know. Don't keep us in suspense by asking for a meeting and then not telling us what you want to talk about.

Agents are somewhat paranoid and usually know what "coming in to talk" means. Please understand that taking time out of our busy workday, which is devoted to getting auditions for you and all our other clients, puts an enormous strain on the efficacy of the office. One agent refuses to make meetings with her clients because she just doesn't have the time. She is perfectly happy to discuss issues over the phone because, as she says, "That's what I do. It's my comfort zone." Spending time with a harried agent in the middle of an extremely hectic day is not going to do your case any good. Instead of being heard, you'll just be causing more problems, and you won't get answers to your questions. Can you see now why drop-ins are just not cool?

Signing contracts and agency papers, showing hairstyle and weight changes—all require personal visits to the office. But these should be scheduled in advance at a time mutually convenient to client and agent.

I urge actors to be aware of an agent's workday. We are not insensitive to your grievances, but need to approach and deal with them at a time and in a way that suits the workflow of our day. Each actor is one of many we represent, and we try to give equal attention to all our clients. If it's five o'clock in the afternoon and we've just received audition appointments for a "Law & Order" casting session the next day, we must attend to that before we can discuss your career. This does not mean we won't discuss your career. We should, and will—at another time. But please don't allow your temporary frustration and hurt feelings to fester into a negative isolation. The last thing we want to face—first thing in the morning three months later—is your goodbye message on our answering machine.

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