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Secret Agent Man

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
Signing with an agent is a leap of faith. You hope for the best, but there's no way of knowing if the relationship is going to work until you're actually in it. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, "There are a lot of known unknowns."

Actors work hard to find representation. It's so exciting when it finally happens. You begin working with a new agent and you think the world is your oyster. But after six months, you start getting a bad feeling in your stomach. There's no communication, auditions are few, and when you run into your agent at Starbucks, he doesn't recognize you. These are warning signs that shouldn't be ignored. They all mean the same thing: It's time to jump ship.

The worst thing you can do is stay in a bad relationship too long. They rarely get better. So how long is too long? In my experience, you should be able to assess the situation in four to six months, less if you're young and attractive.

Once you've made the decision to break up, you need to plan your next move carefully. The worst thing you can do is leave without having a new agent in place. Who knows what's going on behind the scenes? An audition might come in when you least expect it. So don't be impulsive. Wait until someone new actually offers to sign you before you tell your agent it's over.

You also need to be smart about what you say when you start taking meetings behind you know who's back. I've had a lot of actors sit in my office and talk trash about their current agent. I just sit there, nodding, thinking the actor is an ungrateful tool and will probably do the same to me one day.

Also, you never know who knows who. I have a poker buddy who happens to be an agent at another company. We always share information and we never compete. A few weeks ago, one of his clients came in to meet me. I wasn't aware that my friend represented this woman, because the meeting had been arranged by her manager. Well, she just sat there and insulted my buddy ten ways from Sunday. I was stunned by the venom pouring from her mouth. Despite what you've heard, not all agents are backstabbing sharks who would sell their offspring for a quick 10 percent. So I called my friend and told him everything. Guess what. He dropped her. And I passed.

Once you've decided where you're going, you need to fire your agent. There are two ways of doing this: like a man or like a spineless jellyfish. The coward's way out is to send an email. Or you can leave a voice message after hours. But I would suggest you man up and do it on the phone. I realize that's not easy, but there's a lesson to be learned by choosing the tougher road, and you'll feel good about yourself when the pain is over.

I would also refrain from using this call to tell your agent off. You're ending a business relationship and you need to behave like a professional. So keep it brief and to the point. You don't have to mean it, but thank the agent for his or her efforts. There's no way of knowing if your paths will cross in the future.

When all is said and done, make sure you notify the unions about your new agent. Update your résumé and website. Send postcards to all your casting fans informing them about your new home.

Nothing feels better than a fresh start. So enjoy yourself and hope for the best. But you might want to save this article, just in case you need to read it again in about four to six months.

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