How to Avoid Signing With a Manager Who’s Bad for Your Career

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

Let me preface this by saying there are some amazing managers in this business, and I’ve worked with quite a few of them. They’ve introduced me to talented actors I never would’ve met on my own. We’ve accomplished great things together, and they were valuable members of the team.

This column is not about them. This is about the nonamazing ones.

I begin with a hypothetical: Do you enjoy road trips? I love them. There’s nothing better than leaving your troubles behind as you head out on the open road. So let’s imagine we’re doing just that. You’re behind the wheel of a 2018 Audi A5 convertible. I’m in the passenger seat, and your manager is spread out in back. The three of us are driving down the coast from Northern California to Los Angeles.

The time comes to stop for gas. I whip out my wallet and offer to pay. Your manager pretends to be asleep. A little later, we’re starting to get hungry. There’s nowhere to stop, but you were smart enough to bring a bag full of protein bars and other healthy goodies. I’m thrilled. The manager says something, but he’s hard to understand because his mouth is already full. As we reach Ventura County, you start getting tired, so I take over. Your manager explains he forgot to bring his license so he should probably stay put.

Are you starting to get the picture?

I’ve worked with a lot of managers who are just like that. I was born with a strong work ethic, so it sucks when I get saddled with dead weight. But that’s the nature of what I do.

I know a manager who is the lesser cog at a well-oiled production and management company. This guy has been there forever. He survives by enlisting others to do his job. And by others, I mean agents. He signs promising kids right out of college, and his first move is to set up as many agency meetings as possible. Why? Because he wants to find someone who will take on the work needed to develop a new performer. If a manager does this with 10 actors, the odds are at least one or two of them will start generating commissions.

So what’s wrong with that? Well, it’s a manager’s job to get an actor ready for representation. That involves helping the young performer take decent pictures, find the right classes, get into the union, and possibly book a few minor jobs so their résumé isn’t a blank piece of paper.

Now, let me repeat myself: There are a lot of terrific managers out there, and they’re not all based at huge companies. Some of them are on their own and quite effective. I’ll discuss those people in a future column (maybe). My point today is that YOU have to be cautious when you sign with a manager. So use this advice to prepare a list of questions. Be clear about what you want. This will help you avoid misunderstandings and wasted time.

And here’s an idea—next time we head out on the road, let’s bring my assistant instead, who could really use a break. She’ll pack a delicious picnic, she’ll handle all the driving, and she’ll siphon gas for us at a truck stop, all of which is more than you-know-who would do.

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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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