These really are unprecedented times in the world—and that includes in Hollywood. As such, Backstage scheduled a special interview with our weekly columnist Secret Agent Man to get his thoughts on how the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting impact on the industry and economy at large are playing out in Los Angeles and beyond. While things look bleak now, he assures that everything being at a standstill doesn’t mean you should anticipate being dropped by your agent. And secondly, he advises you take a page from his book and use this time to take care of yourself and your family. If nothing else, the pandemic has forced us to live in the present like never before.
We’re still in the early stages of this pandemic and are all meant to be self-isolating. From your perspective as an agent in L.A., how is it currently affecting the industry specifically as it pertains to what you’re doing on the day-to-day?
SAM: The shocking thing is how quickly this occurred. I would say from the moment we started discussing the possibility of working from home to the moment where every single production in town stopped, we’re looking at about a week to a week and a half. So as far as how it’s affecting me, I have no work. I mean, the breakdowns that we submit on sort of cease to exist. There are little projects that are being released right now, web series and industrials and that sort of thing, but as far as film and TV, which is where we make our money, there’s just not much going on. So I’m sitting at home. I’m in touch with my colleagues, but I’m not really doing any kind of agenting.
Yeah, it is pretty wild how everything is at a standstill right now.
The only thing I am doing a bit of is just calming my clients down. We have about 140 clients, and it’s a very unstable situation for them, and maybe they’re watching the news a little bit too much and have bad ideas in their minds. So part of my job now is just being available to have a chat or exchange an email, try to be positive, think big picture, that sort of thing. So that is one thing every agent I know is doing, just communicating with our clients, letting them know that life will eventually go on.
Have you at all been hypothesizing with colleagues about what the larger repercussions on the industry might look like? What do you think things are going to look like in a few months’ time?
Yes, and it’s not going to be pretty. As far as the agency business goes, I think there’s going to be a lot of negative fallout. The larger companies, who represent star-level clients across different categories are going to be fine. They have very deep pockets. But I think the agencies that are going to get hit the hardest are the boutique companies, which is really bad on many levels because these boutique agencies that have one or two agents help actors get started. If they were to suddenly start to close, there’s going to be fewer and fewer opportunities for new actors who are just starting off in their careers. So in other words, the kind of companies that really do live commission to commission, they can’t afford a prolonged shutdown, which is exactly what we’re experiencing now. I mean, I know my agency is fine, but I don’t work at CAA. This has to get resolved in a few months. As far as the fallout for agencies goes, I think a lot of boutique companies may not survive the current situation.
I think many actors might be worried about getting dropped during this unknown period of time. What advice do you have for anyone who's particularly worried right now?
The last thing any agent is thinking about right now is dropping a client. We’re more focused on our own company and the financial security of the company and ourselves. So I wouldn’t be concerned about getting dropped. But there is a right way and a wrong way to interact with your reps during this time. I would say the right way is it’s OK to check in by email in a positive way. Say, “I hope you're well, I’m fine. We should talk at some point.” Just keep the lines of communication open in a positive, non-selfish way. Because the wrong way to do it is, and I’ve had a few actors do this, is send me emails going, “Hey, don’t forget about me! Maybe you can pick this time to go over my pictures and review my reel.” And honestly, I don’t really care about that right now. There are bigger issues. I have family overseas, and the last thing I’m going to be worried about is one actor on my list asking me to go through 200 proofs that I’m not going to be able to use in maybe two months. So it’s just common sense. Don’t be selfish, don’t make it solely about yourself. Just check in. I’ve had a few actors just send a little email saying, “I know there’s nothing going on. Hope you’re well. Saw this great movie, you should check it out.” What a positive interaction! Almost like a friend sent me an email. I would say that’s the line.
You’re absolutely right that the priority right now should be taking care of your health and taking care of your family. But this will certainly have larger repercussions on what an actor’s workflow looks like and when it’ll start up again. Do you have any tips on how actors can be ready to go for when the time comes?
You know, honestly Ben, I don’t know that I do. I really think this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, in many ways similar to 9/11. And I think this is the time for an actor to just take any experience of what’s happening and doing their best to understand it, and doing their best to be of service. I don’t know that this is the time to worry about craft or having the right pictures. I’m not suggesting actors just abandon their careers. You can spend a little time each day thinking about what you need to do in a few months. If you were thinking about submitting to agents, don’t submit now. That’s a mistake. But you can take a little time tonight and make a list of agents you’ve heard about. Talk to some of your active friends and get a list together. Ditto if you’re looking for new headshots: You’re not going to approach a photographer now, but you can make that part of your to-do list. You can plan for the future, but I wouldn’t obsess about your acting career right now. I would give it a few weeks and just take in what’s happening and try to be of service to yourself and friends and family. Nothing wrong with a little self care.
For more information on resources during the pandemic, check out our COVID-19 Actor Resource Guide.