How to Become a Hollywood Agent

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

You know what’s rare? An alien encounter. You know what’s really rare? An actor who wants to be a Hollywood agent.

I know this sounds crazy, but I recently met three actors who had decided to join me in the ranks of the 10 percenters. Unfortunately, none of them knew where to start. I’m going to share the advice I gave them, because every actor should know where agents come from.

The first thing you need to understand is that asking how someone becomes an agent is the wrong question. It makes more sense to ask how someone becomes an agent’s assistant, because that’s the path in. You have to learn from someone who’s actually doing the job. There’s no other way.

Massive agencies like Creative Artists Agency and WME are at the top of the food chain. If you want to be an assistant at one of those places, you have to start in the mailroom. It will be at least a year before anyone even considers putting you on a desk. But here’s the problem: Most of your competition in that mailroom will have MBAs. That makes them sharks—hungry sharks. Get the picture? (For more on this, I recommend reading David Rensin’s “The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up.”)

It makes more sense to start as an assistant at a midsize or boutique agency. You’ll be expected to work long hours for low pay, but you’ll learn everything you need to know while also making solid contacts. 

I started at a large company with offices in several cities. My boss was super busy, so everything went through me. I even got to listen in on calls when he was negotiating a deal. After a year, I knew the business well, and I also knew all the casting directors and their support staff. So when I decided to start job hunting for an agent gig, I had plenty of resources to draw on. 

As a last resort, you could aim for a starter agency where one or two reps cover hundreds of clients across the board. That’s not an ideal training ground, but you could try working at a company like that for a few months. This will give you a foundation to build on when you start approaching bigger agencies for better opportunities.

A word of warning: Don’t even think of becoming an agent’s assistant if all you want to do is get inside information about auditions. The first problem there is that no one will hire you if they know you’re an actor. That means you’ll have to lie and become an “undercover actor.” That might sound cute, but it’s a horrifically bad idea that will eventually get exposed—and then you’ll be fired. 

The second problem is that being an assistant is a full-time job and then some. People will notice if you start taking too much personal time for secret auditions—and then you’ll be fired. 

Now, let’s get back to your dream of being an agent. Just picture the early days of your new career: You’ve probably signed all the actors you’ve met along the way, and now they’re calling you, emailing you, and bugging you from morning to night with questions about why you’re not getting them enough auditions. Doesn’t that sound grand?

Welcome to my side of the business! 

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 6 issue of Backstage Magazine.

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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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