Actors Ask: How Do Agents Steal Clients From Other Agents?

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

“Where do you get your clients?”

This question comes up all the time. Everybody wants to know where agents find actors who are willing to give up 10% of their income for representation. Well, it’s not hard because this business will always have more actors than agents. That makes the process fairly easy if you know where to look.

So let’s break it down. The majority of my clients are referred by someone in the business; others show up through submissions, and sometimes I find them performing onstage. But the best clients, the actors I love most, are the ones I steal from another agent.

Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is fun. And it’s not like you’re stealing actual property that could lead to prison time if you’re caught. Raiding someone’s list is part of the job, and there are no consequences. 

Now, before you start judging me, consider this: I can’t take an actor who doesn’t want to be taken. Happy clients tend to stay put. The ones that respond to my larcenous approach are already halfway out the door.

According to the (fictional) “Agent’s Guide to Success,” stealing someone’s client is a five-step process:

1. Identify your target.
If I visit one of my clients on set, there could be another actor there I would love to sign. Or an impressive performance on a TV show might catch my eye. And every agent I know has a wishlist on their desk. So we’re talking about a target-rich environment. 

2. Calculate the odds.
If the actor I’ve chosen is represented by CAA or WME, my ability to steal that client just went right out the window. But if the actor is working with a company that’s smaller or a little bigger than mine, then it’s full speed ahead.

3. Research possible connections.
Does the actor have a manager, lawyer, or publicist? Do I know them? This could be a way in. What about teachers? Is the actor studying at a school where I send my clients? That could be another entry point. I just need to find someone, anyone, who can get me direct access. 

4. Plant the seed.
Now it’s time to reach out and set up a casual hello over a quick meal. Nothing fancy. This has to be a subtle seduction. And I will never admit I’m interested. That’s way too direct. The trick is to be passive-aggressive about the actor’s current representation. “Oh, they didn’t get you in on that movie? That’s odd. Well, they were probably busy. It looks like they have quite a few clients in your category.” If I do this correctly, my target will go home, water the seed I planted, and then I’ll get a call about setting up an actual meeting in my office.

5. Wait for good news.
During this final step, the actor has to be the one who brings up representation. That’s what plants the hook firmly in their mouth. And then it’s game over. I have a new client. 

So there you have it. An inside look at the real game. I’ve had this process pay off quickly, and I’ve also had the actor contact me six months down the road. I’m good either way—because I win either way.

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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