When an actor signs a contract with an agent or a manager he is, basically, entering into a marriage with his or her representative. As with any marriage, there are terms to be negotiated, ways in which each party must conduct him or herself, and communication that must be ongoing and honest. The components I think are the most important are: understanding each person’s role, managing realistic expectations, trust, loyalty, honesty, and communication. As with any relationship, personal chemistry is also a factor, so choose someone with whom you feel comfortable. If you and your rep don’t like each other, neither of you will profit from the relationship.
1. Understanding the roles. The simple fact is that your representative works for you! You pay him or her a salary in the form of a commission for work you have gotten through his or her efforts. The tricky part is that, in order to get that commission, your rep has to work with no guarantee of ever getting paid. They make submissions so that you will get an appointment, then they hope that you give a good audition and that the planets align so that you get the job. It takes a special kind of person to work for you day after day knowing that they might never see a dime. In return, you must confirm appointments promptly, be prepared, and show up on time for the audition.
2. Expectations versus reality. Understand the type of company where your rep works and how he or she fits into it. Do some research before you sign: How many agents work there? How many clients does the company represent? How does the company divide the work? Most agencies divide the town into casting directors or studios and each agent is assigned to a certain territory. Therefore, it is essential that all of the agents want to work for you or else you will only be covered by the one agent who signed you. This is known as being a “hip pocket client” and, while some of the larger agencies follow this practice, it is never in the actors best interest not to have the support of the whole agency.
Where do you fit into the food chain amongst their clients? Where does the company fit into the hierarchy of the industry? It is no secret that agencies are typecast by the type of clients they have. Because of this, some agencies don’t even look at the kinds of roles that are right for you when you begin your career, so a big fancy agency or management company might not be the best one to help with your entrée. Some agencies work by volume: They have lots of clients from whom they expect a certain financial return. This amounts to a figurative time stamp on an actor. If he or she doesn’t bring in a certain income within a certain period of time, he or she is gone. These types of companies might not give you the kind of career building attention you need. Taking on a manager will help, but if you are with a big agency, you will want to sign with a smaller manager or else you will be duplicating the problem.
3. Trust. Once you hire someone, you must trust that they want you to have a good career and that they share your vision of it. Assume that they are making submissions and pushing to get you in unless you have proof of the contrary. Don’t second-guess everything they do, tell them what you saw on the breakdown, or tell them about appointments your friends are getting. That is a very sure route to building up a climate of animosity. If you aren’t sure about something, ask but, remember, the more time your agent is on the phone with you, the less he or she is putting into getting auditions.
4. Loyalty. It is hard work to build a career, which is why some of the larger agencies wait to sign an actor until after his or her first agent has laid the foundation. While it is flattering to be approached by another company, before you jump ask yourself why you want to do it? If it is just your ego that wants a fancier label, you might be doing it at the expense of the special care you’re getting from your original agent. Also, if you are already getting in on the good appointments and booking them, what else can someone do for you? Use your business head to look at the situation. While many large companies lure actors with the idea that they can “package” them in a film, the reality is that packaging is a financial arrangement between an agency and a studio or network wherein the agency gets a fee worth 10 percent of the budget if they provide an element that makes a project a “go.” It does not mean that Steven Spielberg will automatically put you in a film. Important point: When an agency gets a packaging fee, it cannot collect commission from any client who might be cast in the project. So, why would they want to load the project up with clients whom they cannot commission? They don’t! Keep in mind that agencies collect clients like some people collect baseball cards; it doesn’t mean they are going to do anything with them, it just means they have a lot of them.
5. Honesty. Questions and communication are essential. If you don’t understand the whole process of being an actor or what is going on with your career, go in and talk about it. If there is some problem in your life that is affecting how you do in auditions, let them know. It does neither of you any good if you are not up to snuff. It is better to take a few days to pull yourself together than to allow your personal situation into the audition room. However, that does not mean that you should use things in your life as an excuse. Telling your rep that you “can't possibly” go on an audition because you had a fight with your boyfriend is just lame. Pull up your socks and do your job! A heart surgeon would never miss an operation because of a romantic tiff and neither should you. Going on auditions is your job and you must treat it that way.
6. Communication. Don’t be a stranger or a pest, but check in with your rep on a regular basis. Schedule a phone call or an appointment to go over things. Once a month drop by the office with cookies and stick your face in the door. It is always a good idea to give them a visual reminder of you from time to time. If you are having problems with the way your agent is communicating with you, discuss it with him or her. Agents are not mind-readers and, as in any relationship, it is good to talk through problems and come up with solutions rather than just get angry or harbor a grudge.
Actors must understand that working with an agent is a two-way street, so be clear on what they do and what you need do to make this unique relationship work.
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