How to Get an Acting Agent in L.A.

Photo Source: Jasmin Garcia-Verdin

Navigating your acting career in Los Angeles can be a daunting and intimidating task. It can often feel like everyone you meet is pursuing a career on the silver screen, so it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Finding an agent committed to advancing your career is one of the most crucial steps in your trajectory to success. While the competition for a top agent is fierce, our guide will arm you with the knowledge you need to develop an effective strategy for landing the perfect agent.

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What should I know before trying to find an agent in L.A.?

Know what to expect from your agent; their job is to procure auditions on your behalf by submitting you to casting agents and pitching you to industry professionals.

Especially in L.A. where getting auditions is largely based on existing connections, securing representation with a talent agent is specifically important. Los Angeles is a mecca of opportunity for the aspiring actor and is truly a city with an industry built around the silver screen. Acting hopefuls flock to L.A. from all over the world seeking industry opportunities in the world’s film and TV capital, making success highly competitive. Finding an agent is no different.  

That being said, you can (and definitely should) start auditioning and working before signing with an agency. Keep in mind that finding your footing in L.A. and assembling a management team usually takes time and isn’t something that can or should be rushed. Depending on how much experience you have under your belt when you land in L.A., you may want to hold off on your agent search until you get settled. Enroll in an acting class and get a sense of what the industry is like here by submitting yourself for jobs via Backstage. Potential agents are much more likely to seriously consider your submission if you’ve proven yourself to be dedicated to honing your craft and are already seeking out your own opportunities.

In the words of top talent agent Jennifer Sims, “We select actors who take this profession seriously, want to collaborate, and are willing to do the necessary work.” An agent will only sign you if they are confident that you are prepared to audition in front of top casting agents, so make sure you put in the work before seeking representation. While technically an agent represents you as the client, you are also a reflection of them, which is why top talent agents only pick the actors they are confident will behave professionally and maintain the reputations they have worked so tirelessly to garner.  

Should I consider moving to L.A. if I don’t already live there?

The short answer is yes. The vast majority of TV and film opportunities are in L.A. and, to a lesser extent, New York City.

It is certainly possible to find acting opportunities in other cities (check out our article here to find out which ones), but if you’re looking to expose yourself to the greatest potential for success, L.A. is your best bet.

While many auditions do allow actors to self-submit via online video link, there is no substitute for in-person interactions and community building. In order to create opportunities for yourself in L.A., including finding an agent, you’ll need to network, which is hard to do if you live remotely. The bittersweet truth is that Hollywood nepotism is a very present reality here in L.A. Fostering relationships with well-connected individuals is an important ingredient to finding an agent. When an industry connection opens a door for you, often many more tend to follow. And while no one will hand you your good fortune on a platter, your connections are much more likely to do you the favor of a referral if you come across as motivated, professional, and serious about your craft.

When is the best time to move to L.A. to meet with potential agents?

While it used to be common for people to move to L.A. for pilot season, this generally isn’t the wisest idea, and one which is becoming increasingly more antiquated.

Pilot season (January–March) and episodic season (July–November) tend to be the busiest times for L.A. agents. During pilot season, agents will be swamped working to secure auditions for their current roster of talent, meaning they won’t be taking many meetings with potential clients and almost certainly not responding to cold submissions. Most pilot and episodic season auditions for network TV will be negotiated via agencies, so you likely won’t be able to secure any auditions unless you already have representation.  

It is important to keep in mind that launching your acting career won’t happen overnight and you should prepare yourself to be in this for the long haul. Give yourself at least a few months to get settled in, prepare your submission materials, and start submitting yourself for jobs via Backstage before approaching agents for representation.

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Where can I meet potential agents in L.A.?

Top agents accept the majority of their interviews with actors who have been suggested to them via direct referral, or actors whose work they have seen and were impressed by.

While this certainly is not the only way to get into the room with an established agent, most agents from top agencies like CAA and UTA do not accept unsolicited submissions. You might want to reconsider a mass mailing of your headshot and demo reel; instead, your energy would be better spent targeting younger, up-and-coming agents who may actually take the time to look through unsolicited submissions in hopes of finding a gem.

Connections are everything in this industry. And while L.A. can feel huge and overwhelming, the film and TV industry can feel like a small town where no one is separated by more than a few degrees. Do your best to leverage connections, as they may not only serve as great sources of support and inspiration but can also help you get your foot in the door at a top agency. If you have a friend, or even an acting class acquaintance, signed with a top agency, don’t hesitate to ask them for a referral directly.

The more you book jobs (even small ones) and submit yourself for potential projects, the more likely you are to be discovered by an agent. Having an agent approach you based on your performance is the best way to walk into a meeting. If you’re starring in a theater production or talent showcase or have a screening of a film coming up, invite potential agents (or send them a link to your performance) so you can let your acting ability speak for itself.

If you already have a talent manager, they may be able to introduce you to agents, as well. Managers are primarily focused on overseeing your long-term career trajectory and developing you as an actor. Many are willing to set up meetings with agents once you have a body of work to show for yourself. If you’re having trouble getting an agent, securing a manager first is often a good first step.

What is an L.A. talent agent looking for?

Convey to potential agents that you are serious about your craft, not just the perceived glamour that comes with stardom.

Many actors flock to L.A. in search of fame, so before taking you on, L.A. agents want to make sure you understand the city’s film landscape and how you fit into it. Make sure you are well versed in what’s happening in film and television (Deadline should be your bible), and understand how the business side of talent representation works.

Agents in L.A. want to see that you have the ability to hustle within the city’s highly competitive film landscape to make your own opportunities. In the words of ICM talent agent Chris Horsman, “To sit around and wait for opportunities to come knocking is an outdated way of thinking. Especially when you’re first starting out in the business, it’s important to be creating opportunities for yourself.” Proving yourself to be ambitious and motivated will help convey your passion and professionalism to agents and make them more excited about the prospect of representing you.

Check out our agent interview series Repped for more advice!

What makes a good agent in L.A. specifically?

A great L.A. agent is one with connections to the top casting directors in the city.

First off, make sure there are no red flags. Most reputable agencies are affiliated with SAG-AFTRA. Just because an agency isn’t affiliated doesn’t necessarily indicate it’s a scam, but it does mean you should do some extra research to make sure it is legitimate. Any reputable agent will never ask for money up front or insist you use only their own connections for headshots, classes, etc. While they may encourage or try to steer you in a particular direction, any obligation to use only their recommendations may signal that the agent is involved in some shady business practices.  

Ideally, a solid agent will have a proven track record of successful clients who chose to remain signed with them long term. While this is less crucial for newer agents, you will still want to make sure they have proven experience navigating the kinds of roles and audition opportunities that are appropriate for you.

The best agent for you is one that actually sends you out on auditions. Many actors are signed with prestigious agencies, yet still only get sent out on a handful of auditions per year. Make sure you are signed with someone who makes your career their priority and has you at the forefront of their mind when considering which actors to submit for castings. Most actors move to L.A. to be exposed to more opportunities; that won’t come to fruition if you are signed with an agent who rarely submits you for projects or takes the time to follow up.

What types of agencies are most common in L.A.? How can I distinguish between them? How do I know which would be best for me (i.e., bicoastal, boutique, discipline-focused [e.g., voiceover] etc.)?

Boutique: Boutique agencies are smaller agencies, some of which are focused on a specific niche or talent pool. Boutique agencies don’t necessarily have access to the same caliber of casting connections, but since they focus on a smaller group of actors, that often means they are able to give you more personalized attention. Talent rosters usually comprise up-and-coming actors; at a boutique agency, you are less likely to get lost in the shuffle of high-profile celebrity clients. Many new boutique agencies are looking to grow their brand and reputation based on the performance of their actors, and therefore may be more invested in your personal success. These are the agencies that may be more open to cold submissions and willing to take a meeting with an unknown actor.

Examples: AKA Talent Agency, Concept Talent Group

Corporate: The top, powerhouse agencies in L.A. are large corporate ones, usually representing hundreds, if not thousands, of clients. Their talent pool usually extends beyond theatrical into divisions like sports, music, and branded entertainment, and they usually have multiple domestic and international offices. Being represented by a top corporate agency certainly carries prestige and can help propel you to success, but these are not the agencies you should be reaching out to when you arrive in L.A. as a newcomer to the acting scene. Many of the top agencies only take meetings by direct referral, so reaching out via unsolicited submission is generally a waste of time.

Examples: UTA, ICM, Gersh

Commercial: Commercial agents submit their clients exclusively for commercial jobs, and while that isn’t the goal for most aspiring actors, it can be a great steppingstone to other work. Many larger agencies have both theatrical and commercial departments, but most actors are signed to a different agency for each to cast a wider net of connections and potential opportunities. Even if your ultimate goal is working theatrically, booking commercial jobs can provide you with exposure, not to mention a generous paycheck that beats waiting tables. Signing with a commercial agent tends to be easier than getting theatrical representation. At the very least, it will provide you with more experience going out for auditions and understanding the entertainment landscape here in L.A.

Examples: Clear Talent Group, L.A. Talent

How should I prepare to submit myself to an agency?

If you’re planning to submit yourself to L.A. agencies, you will need to spend time and money assembling your submission materials beforehand.

Check out the full guide to landing yourself an acting agent, but below you’ll find a basic outline of the essentials you will need to submit when reaching out to agents:

Headshot: Invest some money into getting a great, professional-looking headshot. This will be the only physical representation agents see before meeting you, so make sure it is not only flattering but a truly accurate depiction of what you look like in person. As Chris Horsman of ICM puts it, “There’s nothing worse than seeing a headshot and then meeting somebody that doesn’t match the photo. It’s like going on a blind date where the person doesn’t look like their photo.”

Showreel: Your showreel should be a showcase of your most impressive body of work, ideally displaying your versatility in a wide range of roles. Keep it short and to the point; most agents won’t spend more than a few minutes reviewing your submission, so keeping your reel concise will help ensure that agents actually watch it to the end. In the words of Chris Andrews, top agent for A-listers at CAA, “Showreels should be no more than five minutes with a couple of your best scenes. People have short attention spans.... Less is more.”

Résumé: Your acting résumé should be a concise summary of all of your relevant acting work and training. It’s also your place to list any special skills or talents you have that may be relevant for agents to know about (e.g., former competitive ice skater, speaks three languages, etc.).

If you need more guidance assembling your submission materials or are simply short on time, the Actors Service is a great source for personalized assistance. The company will help you write your cover letters and résumé based on your experience and industry goals, and work with you to edit and finesse them until you are fully satisfied with the finished product. It will also strategically recommend L.A. agents based on your experience and acting “type” to help ensure the greatest likelihood that you’ll be called in for a meeting.

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What is the best way to submit to an L.A. agency?

Once you’ve assembled your materials, you’ll want to draft an individualized letter to each agency you are applying to.

For the full Backstage guide to submitting to an agency, click here.

What are the biggest L.A. acting agencies?

Remember, while these top L.A. agencies certainly carry prestige and name recognition, your goal should be to sign with an agent who is excited about you, believes in your success 100 percent, and is willing to fight for you. Bigger and more prestigious doesn’t always mean that agency will be the right fit for you. Below are the biggest names in the business.

Creative Artists Agency (CAA)
Perhaps holding the most prestige in terms of name cachet alone, CAA is one of the best agencies for those seeking theatrical representation. CAA is one of the most powerful and well-connected agencies in L.A., and holds a similarly prominent reputation worldwide.

International Creative Management (ICM Partners)
With offices in NYC, L.A., and London, ICM is consistently ranked as one of the top agencies for theatrical representation. The agency boasts an impressive roster of Oscar and Emmy winners in its theatrical department, and also represents literary and theater talent.

United Talent Agency (UTA)
UTA is one of the biggest and best agencies for actors in the world with over 300 agents dedicated exclusively to actors.

William Morris Endeavor (WME)
WME is the offspring of two of the top L.A. agencies, William Morris Agency and Endeavor Talent Agency. The two entities merged in 2009 and represent a top roster of talent in film, sports, music, and publishing.

Getting your first agent in L.A. won’t be easy, but if you’re determined, smart about your approach, and relentless in the pursuit of your career goals, a good agent will want to be a part of it!

Ready to find an agent? Browse Backstage’s Call Sheet talent agency listings!