An Agent’s Assistant Could Be the Secret to Getting Picked From an Agency ‘Slush Pile’

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Photo Source: Tetiana Yurchenko/Shutterstock

Behind every great agent is a great agent’s assistant, and Eric Leiggi is living, breathing, email-corresponding proof of that. As the senior assistant at Avalon Artists Group, Leiggi has his hand in just about every step of the operation, from coordinating with casting directors to assisting clients with the self-tape process to being the first set of eyes on the “slush pile.” That’s right: He fields every unsolicited submission and decides whether it should be passed along to his bosses. Here’s how he does it—and other spilled secrets from one of the assistants who make this business tick.

What does an agent’s assistant do?
They have their hands in basically every aspect of the logistics of the company. Obviously, one of the biggest things is contact with the clients and with casting: sending out appointments, going back with confirmation, time changes, sending out material, helping the clients with all of that, as well. [With] self-tapes, it’s a lot of technical support, even with clients, as far as sending us the right types of files to upload. There are also office management [duties] like managing office calendars and meeting calendars, dealing with checks for clients and commission checks and all the paperwork that goes with that. I would almost say it’s [like] being an executive assistant at any other company, mixed with all of the industry sides of it.

Have you been able to gauge what makes an agency want to sign an actor?
There definitely is a big difference between who may get brought in for a meeting and who the agency signs. The assistant is more involved in who may get brought in for a meeting, mostly because we’re the first people to see any sort of submissions. Whether it’s a hard copy mail-in submission or an email, we see those first. We’re doing a little bit of vetting and sifting through. The biggest thing that gets people through to set up a meeting is having a connection to one of us at the agency or to the agency as a whole. I know there’s the stereotype of “It’s who you know,” but that does exist for a reason. As far as being signed, at this point for us it’s really about filling holes that we may have, or a trend that is big in casting right now that we may not have any or many actors for. If [owner] Craig [Holzberg] and [agent] Ellery [Sandhu] are constantly seeing a type of person on a breakdown and saying, “We still don’t have anyone to submit to these types of roles,” those people will be of extra interest. Obviously, if [an actor is] coming in for a meeting, they’re already at the point of talent and skill and the meeting is more about connection and being on the same page.

READ: How to Get an Agent

So you field every submission and decide whether it should be out in front of your bosses?
For the most part, yes: all of our unsolicited submissions. We have a contact page on our website, so anything that comes through that email or through the hard mail goes across my desk first. I sift through all of that and then pass it onto the agents.

How do you decide if someone makes the cut?
It’s a variety [of factors]. Obviously, having strong credits is important but not necessary. We will look at school, but again, it’s not necessary. Personally, it’s hard [to evaluate] mail-in submissions if you don’t have strong credits or you’re not coming out of a top school; we are probably just not familiar with the work you’ve done. Now, where that changes is if it’s accompanied by a letter saying, “I worked with so-and-so who you already represent or who you know personally, and they recommend me.” The most effective way to send an unsolicited submission would be via email with links to a website or links to a reel or footage that you may have, so we can see what you do. If your résumé and headshot pique our interest, having a link to click [that I can] then send to Craig and Ellery is super helpful. When there’s nothing I can show as to why I’m passing the person along, chances are they won’t get passed along.

How is being an agent’s assistant a good steppingstone to other careers in the industry?
If being an agent is of interest to anyone, obviously, getting in as an assistant is a great way to start. That’s the typical path for a lot of people who are now agents. But it’s also a great steppingstone if you are interested in casting or anything on the business side. You have your hands in so many different aspects that you can certainly parlay the position into most aspects of the industry, whether it’s in a producer’s office or even general management, because we correspond with them, as well. Something else that I think is beneficial—and I say this to our interns, too—at a basic level, we really get to know who everyone is. Even if I’m not doing the negotiating myself, I’m copied on those emails, I see who it is at those general management offices, who handles each project. If you’re looking to grow your career and move on to the next thing, you have some sort of relationship with all of those people you’re going to be in contact with on your job search.

Since you have similar goals, can you speak further to your relationship with the casting side?
There’s constant communication. We sort of are co-workers with the casting offices. The assistants and the associates and the casting offices that I’m talking to every single day are sort of co-workers. They have a job to do [and] we have a job to do, but we also need each other to make it all happen. That’s something we always say, and I’ve heard Craig and Ellery say that to new or potential clients that we’re meeting with, to clarify what the relationship is between us and casting and to demystify this idea that it’s these two sides that are constantly butting heads. It’s also to demystify the scariness of casting. We’re all working together to get our jobs done respectfully, and all of the assistants at all the casting offices, I talk to them almost on a daily basis.

What is something that’s been surprising to you about being an assistant at an agency?
The idea that no decision is personal, whether it’s the agency choosing to sign or not sign someone [or] things from casting’s side, them reaching out and saying, “This person didn’t get the job.” Any of those sad, frustrating stereotypes that obviously come with this business, so rarely is it ever personal. Of course, if you’re an actor, you want to make sure you’re nice to everyone and good to work with—don’t stop doing that—but it usually is such a huge puzzle that they’re just trying to find all the right pieces for. It is just business, and all of the offices—agents, casting offices, everyone is so busy. We have so many emails that come across our desk every single day. For actors, there might be one email that they have to send to us or that they get from us per week, but we’re working on their behalf constantly, every single day. It’s never a personal thing, even though that one email might hold a lot of weight for you.

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Casey Mink
Casey Mink is the senior staff writer at Backstage. When she's not writing about television, film, or theater, she is definitely somewhere watching it.
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