What Does an Agent Do?

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Here is a list of what talent agents do for actors:

Submit You for an Audition

An agent sends a casting director an e-mail, an electronic submission, a hard-copy headshot and résumé, your website link, IMDb page, or other website with your work. You need to provide excellent marketing tools so they can submit you.

Pitch You to Industry Leaders

An agent spends a lot of time on the phone and can talk about you—and your talent—with casting directors, directors, and producers in order to get you an appointment, meeting, or audition. You need to let your agent know what you can really do and what you book the most, as well as any unique qualities and talents you may have.

Follow Up

Agents will follow up for you when you have a callback and you need to arrange the time and place. You need to be available, eager, passionate, prepared, aggressively competitive, and show up 100 percent.

Negotiate Higher Pay

Agents can get you higher than minimum pay when you book a job. They go over the details of your contract including salary, travel arrangements, billing, and other special arrangements of any kind. These could include specific wardrobe designer or clothing style, hair or make-up artist requests, special diet specifications, etc.—all things that might be accepted, especially when you’re an established star. You need to communicate clearly what you want or require so there are no problems once the contract is signed and you’re miles away on location. Research and knowledge are essential on your part.

Renegotiate Contracts

When your contract is up for re-negotiation for a TV show, Broadway show, or network commercial extension, your agent can negotiate an increase in pay. You need to understand the commitment and the possibility of having to turn down a larger, more lucrative offer for a competitive show or project. You need to take responsibility for the results once you sign or re-sign a contract.

What an Agent Can't Do for Actors

Here is a list of what agents, generally, cannot do for you:

  1. Take you shopping. Finding clothes for auditions or meetings is your job. Your agent won’t tell you what to wear or how to present yourself. You need to create your own marketable product that they can promote.
  2. Advise you on which media to pursue. You need to decide whether you should go for primetime TV, films, or Broadway. If they know your work in one media, that is the media in which they will think of you and submit you most of the time until you demonstrate to them that you are capable of doing something else. You need to show them how brilliant you are in a new media if they are going to start submitting you in that category.
  3. Be a marketing or life coach. Discussing marketing strategies or life choices isn't their specialty. Booking appointments and negotiating contracts is their business. You need to find your own coaches and plan a successful marketing campaign so the industry knows you and can reach out to your team to hire you.
  4. Tell you how to create your image. Your agent isn't going to tell you where to study or with whom to take class. They are not going to create your image or hairstyle. That would be the job for an image and branding consultant or a career coach. You need to be the CEO of your career and find the perfect staff to support you and manage your brand. Your agent is only one executive you hire.
  5. Network for you. Your agent is not going to hold your hand and tell you how to network with casting directors, writers, directors, executives, etc. They will expect you to know how to do this and that you will do this! Not every job will come from your agent. You need to be enthusiastically proactive and persistent. Get work on your own and then your agent can negotiate a higher salary!
  6. Sympathize with you. Your agent is not a shoulder to cry on when your show closes, you're fired from your TV series, or you come in second after an extensive audition process and screen test. They may feel bad for you, but are on the job looking for another slot on a show for you, looking to replace you with another client, or—worst case scenario—thinking about dropping you. You need to renew your commitment to your agent relationship, regroup, and bounce back.

Getting signed by an agent doesn't mean you're home free, can relax, and wait for them to do all the work. You know the percentages—10 percent commission means they do 10 percent of the work while you do 90 percent and reap 90 percent of the income. It means the race has just begun. You’re now in the fast lane and have to run faster, try harder, and book even more to stay there! It also means commitment and responsibility as in all relationships.

But the fun part is just beginning. With an agent, you'll start booking challenging roles and seeing your career come to fruition! A good working relationship with an agent is the key. Good news! Now you can spend 100 percent of your time auditioning and working instead of looking for representation!

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Gwyn Gilliss
As the “Foremost Marketing Coach for Actors,” Gwyn was a successful actor herself working in all mediums. An Emmy Award nominee, she appeared on dozens of network daytime and primetime series. Her film scripts won awards from Beverly Hills to Cannes. She’s the premier role model with winning strategies and first-hand knowledge of the TV, film, and theater industries which she shares to help actors succeed. Request a complimentary 15-minute career session: gwyngilliss.com/contact.
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