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Business of Acting

How to Make the Agent-Client Relationship Work

How to Make the Agent-Client Relationship Work
Photo Source: Nick Bertozzi

“Help me help you!” That’s been my mantra for several decades now. When I’m casting a project, there are so many elements that need to be lined up to get my entire team to agree on casting an actor. It’s my job to manage all those moving pieces, along with managing everyone’s expectations. It’s a delicate balance of finesse and politics with a good sprinkling of psychology thrown in.

Case in point: I wanted an actor friend to come in for an audition. It’s a nice scene with our lead actor. Nothing earth-shattering or life-changing, but since we’re shooting in L.A., which is rare these days, I wanted actors I know and love.

Her agent says she’s out of town, won’t self-tape, and will accept an offer only. I explain that I have to get my whole team to agree (producers, director, casting executive, studio executives), even for a one-day part. I tell him I doubt a straight offer will be made.

In lieu of her coming in to audition, I suggest the agent send over her demo reel. What I get is a four-minute dramatic demo reel with a couple of small comedy scenes interspersed. I tell him that no one will wade through this to find the comedy scenes and suggest he send her comedy reel. No go. She doesn’t have a comedy reel. I then suggest the agent cut one together. Again, no go. Between the agent and the manager, neither one took it upon themselves to cut together the requested comedy demo reel. This isn’t a case of going the extra mile—it’s their job to supply the tools we need to sell their client. Isn’t that what commissions are for?

READ: 13 Tips for Creating Your Demo Reel

We go ahead with auditions and choose one of the actors who came in to read. The agent keeps circling and checking in to see if his client got the role. I tactfully explain that because he didn’t provide me with the proper demo reel, his client wasn’t even considered. Even though our director knows the actor and likes her work, he still needed to see her comedy reel because he wasn’t quite sure she was right for the role.

For the same role, I reached out to another actor friend to see if she’d come in. We’ve cast her in a couple of movies with the same director. I know her agents are very protective, so I wanted to give her a heads-up that we were asking her to come in. (I knew the studio wouldn’t make a straight offer.) She was excited and said she’d be happy to “mop the floors for us!” Then her agent said she wouldn’t be coming in and she’s “offer only.” I reached out to my friend again to relay the message, and she was furious with her agents and let them have it. Of course she’d love to come in. Lo and behold, she booked it!

(Oh, and if you think I’m only bringing in friends for auditions, note that we saw 40 actors for this role!)

The moral of the story is that you’ve got to work with your agents to make sure they know your relationships with the filmmakers. Communication is key. In addition, it’s your job to make sure that they have all the requisite tools to help sell you to the marketplace.

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Known for her work in film and television, producer and casting director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story,” “Poltergeist,”  “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial,”  “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,”  and “Blade Runner.” After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose,” “St. Elmo's Fire,” “Pretty in Pink,” “The Iron Giant,”  “The Spitfire Grill," “Untamed Heart," “Freaky Friday,” “Mean Girls,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” “Vampire Academy,” and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well.

Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned an online course available at Udemy entitled "How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp."

Visit Liroff online at marciliroff.com, follow her on Twitter @marciliroff and Facebook, and watch her advice videos on YouTube. You can also read her blog.

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