Who Does What? Your Agent Is Not Your Manager

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There’s a saying that goes, “The definition of unhappiness is when reality does not meet expectation.” This could easily account for so many actors wasting as much time as they do either crabbing about their agents, or their lack of representation, as the case may be. Perhaps if they knew what to realistically expect from a potential talent agent, then the likelihood of both being a great deal happier would increase exponentially.

Certainly the main reason you need and want an agent is because they have access to the work you’re best suited to land—work you aren’t likely to get on your own—and they can assess and articulate your value and worth to those most likely to hire you. For their expertise and insight, they receive a mere 10 percent of what you’re paid, and only after you book the job. Then 15–20 percent if they happen to be a nonunion agent.

The fact is you’re expected to arrive on your potential agent’s doorstep well-trained and prepared to deliver your best. You’re expected to provide your agent with current promotional tools if you intend to work at all. Instead, more than 80 percent of of all would-be talent settle for “close enough” when it comes to their demos, headshots, and training, and the result is either being the least valuable talent on the agent’s talent roster. The phrase “cheap is very expensive” comes to mind. This factor could account for either narrowing the odds in your favor, or against.

Agents will only consider adding you to their roster if they feel you and your promotional tools depict a confident, reliable, competitive professional. These essential industry tools are what get you in the door, and the initial reason the agent will even consider working with you. You may be an exceptional human being and the next Meryl Streep talent-wise, but it will die with you if you don’t supply the necessary tools that define you as the serious professional you purport to be.

Your entire objective is to instill confidence instead of expecting to be molded and modified. That’s not your agent’s job.

The thing is, your agent is not your manager, or your publicist, for that matter. In most cases, you’re responsible for those duties—especially at the onset of your career.

For the record, a publicist helps guide your reputation, what you’re known for, and ultimately assists you in securing positive media attention. A manager guides your training and promotions with the intention of establishing or furthering your career toward consistent, profitable employment. They typically charge a monthly fee, and once you book, they will charge you a percentage of whatever you’ll make from the projects you land in addition to your talent agent’s commission. And in some cases, in addition to their own monthly fee, depending on the specific arrangement.

Additionally, managers advise you on who you should train with, where to get your headshots taken, choose the most effective “looks” for the career you’re collectively crafting, and even schedule meetings/auditions with various casting directors until you secure representation with a talent agent. To be clear, your manager doesn’t pay for each of these essential promotional elements, you do, per your arrangement. Managers ultimately shape the forward trajectory of your ever-evolving career.

You may have thought a talent agent managed all of these duties. Nope. It’s up to you to make your agent look good, not the other way around.

An agent may initially meet with you because a friend referred you, but they can’t honestly move forward until you supply them with the appropriate tools to get you work. Certainly your talent agent will tell you if they require modifications to your demos, headshots, and such in order to accommodate the producers they service most.

In short, to be valuable and bookable as a talent, it falls to you to be reliable, prepared, accountable, and personable. Your agent depends on it, and so does your career.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Kate McClanaghan
Kate McClanaghan is a casting director, producer, and founder of both Big House Casting & Audio (Chicago and Los Angeles) and Actors’ Sound Advice. She’s a seasoned industry veteran and actor who has trained actors and produced demos for more than 5,000 performers over her 30 years in the business.
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