've always had issues with people who have hazy job descriptions. To me, managers fall into that category. We have close to 120 clients at my agency, and I'd say a third of them have managers. A small percentage of those managers actually bring something to the party. The others? They show up empty-handed. I'm serious. I have no idea what they do. There's this one dude who hasn't checked in with me for more than three months. He could be dead, for all I know.
I guess it's like anything: There are good managers and there are bad managers. So if you're thinking about signing with one, that's fine, but you need to ask the right questions first. I'm always surprised by actors who come out of a meeting with very little information about the person they just met. What is that about? Are you worried you might turn someone off if you ask too many questions? Well, that's not the way I roll, but I understand how the mind of an actor works. So, to make life easier, here are three simple questions you absolutely must ask before pen hits paper. They're reasonable, and no manager should be put off by them.
First, you need to find out about the manager's background. What exactly has he done that qualifies him to manage your career? There are a lot of characters out there who call themselves managers, but as far as I can tell, a crazy number of them have no real industry experience. How do they get away with this? It's easy: All a manager needs is a business license, and he's good to go. So be careful about whom you choose to trust with your future. Ask about his qualifications. "I used to be an actor, but that didn't work out, so I thought I'd try being a manager" is not an acceptable response.
Second, ask the manager how many actors are on his list. This is an important question because, in theory, a manager is supposed to provide more-personalized attention than does someone like me, who represents more than 100 actors. A good manager shouldn't handle more than 20. You should also find out which actors he reps and what they've done. Get specific names you can look up online. "Oh, you know, I've got the guy from that show" is not an acceptable response.
Third, and this is a big one, you need to know which agencies work with the manager. You can judge a manager's level by the agents who represent his clients. An effective manager should work with a mix of companies, large and small, theatrical and commercial, good and evil. Keep in mind that these are likely the agents you'll be meeting with when the time is right. So get specific names, and do your homework. Make sure they're all on the up and up. "Most of my clients are represented by Actors-R-Us" is not an acceptable response.
To end on a good note, let me be clear: I have nothing against managers. Some of my best friends are managers. A good one can be very helpful when you're starting out and in desperate need of guidance. Agents won't talk to you, everyone hates your headshots, you can't find the right class—this is the time when an experienced manager can help you get it together. And when the time is right, that manager will also be able to find you good representation.
So be smart, ask the right questions, and wash your hands carefully after each and every manager meeting. (That's the kind of crack that force me to be anonymous.)