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Secret Agent Man

Luck vs. Skill in the Path to Your Success

Luck vs. Skill in the Path to Your Success
Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

(I just want to inform you up front that this column will end with three words I hate to say.)

Despite what you’ve heard, agents aren’t masters of the universe. We’re just doing the best we can in an uncertain world. And the rules we have to play by aren’t always fixed.

Yes, we’re smart at business-type stuff, like contracts and negotiations and buying nice ties, but it’s not like we graduated from Yale with a degree in agenting. For the most part, men and women like me waddle along, doing our best to help clients and earn some coin, knowing full well our best-laid plans will go straight to hell when we least expect it.

Here’s the industry truth: Success as an agent is 75 percent skill and 25 percent dumb luck. That’s just the way it is, and any agent who tells you different is a bigger liar than most agents.

About 10 years ago, I represented a young lady who made me enough money to finance a substantial down payment on a townhouse in West L.A. You know how I met her? I happened to be grocery shopping at a market I’ve never been to before and I ran into a manager I hadn’t seen in ages. We got to talking, and the guy mentioned how excited he was about this girl he had just signed out of USC. Long story short, I met his client, signed her, and six months later, I put the girl on a network pilot that went to series and ran for six years.

READ: Everything You Need to Know About Booking a Pilot

Truth be told, the only reason any of that happened is that I went grocery shopping at a different market. So who knows? Maybe I should change all my buying habits.

I ran this story past a friend who is a professional poker player. “Look,” he said to me, “chance is a factor in every hand. When the dealer gives me two aces right off the bat, that’s pure luck. Nothing I did made that happen. But what I choose to do next is based on my ability to play better and smarter than anyone else at the table. Now where’s that hundred you owe me?”

My friend makes a good point. The trick is to have the right skills in place so you can take advantage of luck when it shows up at your door. In my case, I was already a terrific salesman when I decided to sign that girl, so finding her was chance, but making her a success was skill.

In your case, skill is working hard at your craft and honing your network so you’re able to take advantage of every lucky opportunity that crosses your path. You have to keep doing that, even when there’s nothing going on. Just because you haven’t had an audition in weeks doesn’t mean you’re not going to get one tomorrow. You see, that’s the funny thing about luck. You just never know when it’s going to swing your way.

As for myself, I often ask myself the tough questions. Is it skill or chance that makes me successful? Should I play the odds or should I bet on more long shots? Am I a great agent or am I just lucky?

The answer is: I don’t know.

Inspired? Check out Backstage’s Los Angeles audition listings!

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