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Secret Agent Man

Do You Really Need an Agent?

Do You Really Need an Agent?
Photo Source: Robert Wilson

I’m dating a high school teacher. She’s a good person. This will end badly.

But in the meantime, I’m trying my best to make it work. That’s why I said yes when she asked me to be a guest speaker at her school. The audience was a group of 40 students from the drama department. They were all cute and bright and very clean. You could eat off them.

About halfway in, one of the kids surprised me with a question no one has ever asked before: “Do I really need an agent?” At first I laughed, but she was dead serious. The girl wanted an answer. And that made me wonder, do actors really, really need someone like me?

If you’re a huge star like Brad Pitt or Amy Adams, the answer is probably no. The work will come to you and an attorney can negotiate the deal. But Brad and Amy are part of the privileged few.

I would also argue that when you’re just starting out, you don’t really need an agent. A personal manager can step in and guide you to the point where you’re ready to start working. That means getting you in the right classes, making sure your pictures are great, and teaching you the ins and outs of the business.  

But the vast majority of actors fall somewhere in the middle—right between a star who earns $20 million per film against 20 percent of the gross and a hick who just got off the bus from Boise, Idaho. So what about those people? Do they need representation?

The answer is YES!

Agents serve many purposes. Just the act of having one validates you to the rest of the industry. It means someone known to the casting community has agreed to endorse your talent by signing you as a client. People will take you much more seriously when you have representation.

An agent will also be your advocate. People who have to sell themselves don’t usually do well. When I was an assistant eager to move up in the world, I didn’t send my résumé to every company in town—that would’ve been a complete waste of time. Instead, I had industry friends make calls for me, which led to my very first job as an agent.

As an actor you need someone like me to speak on your behalf. Sure, you can submit your own material to a casting director, but having an agent do it is a totally different beast, especially when that agent has known the casting director for years.

Agents also provide you with access. We know all about the projects that are currently casting, even the ones not released on Breakdowns. That information allows us to create opportunities for our clients.

And when all that work starts to pay off in a major way, we can introduce you to business managers, lawyers, publicists, and a wide range of other professionals who will help take your career to the next level.

So turning back to my girlfriend’s school, this week’s column pretty much sums up my response to the student who wanted to know if actors really need agents.

As I was leaving, I heard some of the other kids talking among themselves. One of them was really impressed by my positive attitude. He said I was much cooler than the jerk who writes the Secret Agent Man column for Backstage.

I smiled all the way home.

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