The Almighty Assistant

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Walk into any actor hangout in New York or Los Angeles and sooner or later you'll hear someone complaining about how hard it is to get a decent agent. It seems to be the No. 1 concern on every actor's mind. King Arthur was obsessed with the Holy Grail, and you guys are all desperate to find strong representation. I totally get that. The right agent can make a huge difference in your career. But let me point out a different way of achieving the same goal. I want to talk to you about the assistants who work for agents.

You see, most agents in this business started on someone's desk. That means they worked as an assistant to an established agent. Think Lloyd on "Entourage." I spent two years of my life working at one of the largest companies in town. I was part of what they called "the agent training program." I called it slavery. For 24 months I answered phones, called out appointments, arranged lunches I couldn't afford, made travel plans, picked up dry cleaning, ran errands, tolerated verbal abuse, and made practically no money. I'm serious about that. I had to teach traffic school on the weekends to make ends meet.

Why did I put myself through that madness? Because I wanted to be an agent, and I realized very quickly that there were a lot of positive elements to the job of agent's assistant. For example, I was able to listen in on pitch calls and negotiations while learning the ins and outs of being an agent. I also made a ton of contacts. Every casting director who'd call for my boss became my new industry friend. And most of all, I learned how to sign, service, and sell actors. I was even allowed to take on pocket clients while I was chained to that desk. A few are still with me today. Needless to say, those two years of boot camp have served me well.

I now have a wonderful assistant who works very hard to make my life easier. He's Johnny-on-the-spot whenever I need something, and I trust him 100 percent. The guy also has a good eye for talent. He's introduced me to terrific actors whom we've ended up signing. When the time is right, I have no doubt he'll end up on his own desk. Ah, the circle of life….

Anyway, in case you haven't figured out where I'm going with this, I want all of you to rethink your approach to finding the right agent. Why not try to find the right assistant first? Think about it. If watered correctly, assistants grow up and become agents. During that process, they're all desperate to make their mark. That means they might be a little more open-minded about new talent, certainly more than the agents they assist. And if the right assistant decides to get involved in your career, you might be scoring your future agent, an agent who will stick with you no matter what because you trusted him when he was nobody.

That's why you should always invite assistants to plays and showcases and whatever you're doing to show off your talent. Even if you invite the actual agent, you should make it clear that you're extending the invitation to his or her assistant too. These people don't get a lot of respect, so they might be flattered that you're including them. It gives them a chance to act like an agent. And that could work in your favor.

Everyone in this industry is on the move. Never disregard or mistreat someone because he or she is nothing more than a miserable assistant. If you do, that person will remember you. And one day, when you least expect it, he or she could be someone you desperately need in your corner.
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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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