Your child wants to act and you want to do your best to help them with that dream, safely and successfully. One of the keys to success is getting representation. But not just any rep—you want the RIGHT one for your kid. How do you know who that is?
There are a number of important considerations when choosing who to sign with, and some of them depend on where you live, the age of your child, their level of experience, and other factors. Here are some questions to ask as you explore your options so you choose the right representation.
1. Where do you live and what kind of work does your child want to do?
If you live in a major market like Los Angeles or New York, you should aim for an agent before you sign with a manager because only agents are allowed by law to secure work for their clients. This is because, in those two states, agents are licensed and bonded, and managers are not. Agents specialize in different segments of the market: commercial versus theatrical and youth versus adult.
If your child wants to do film and TV, they need a youth theatrical agent. Theatrical agents are more difficult to sign with than commercial agents, and it’s not unusual for agencies to start younger kids in their commercial division before deciding to represent them theatrically.
In smaller markets, there is less work available and there are fewer actors so talent agents represent all ages and send them out for both types of work. Wherever you live, be sure to only sign with an agency that is franchised with SAG-AFTRA. These agencies have agreed to work in alignment with the rules of the union.
2. How do you know if someone is a “good” agent?
What makes someone a good agent is if they’re genuinely passionate and excited about representing your child, and they have the connections to get them auditions. You need both. It’s not enough to have someone who wants to represent your child but who’ll never be able to get them a coveted audition slot because they aren’t established enough. It’s also not enough to sign with an agent at a big agency who isn’t ready to break down a door to get your kid in front of casting. Even big agents have to work to get auditions for their clients.
How do you know if a prospective agent has the clout to get your child decent auditions? Take a look at the work their other clients are doing and have done by looking at their IMDbPro page. Are they doing the kind of projects your child wants to do? Are they doing anything you have even heard of? Some of this is market-dependent, of course. But relatively speaking, the IMDbPro page of any agent will tell you a lot about what level of opportunity your child might have through them.
3. How comfortable do you and your child feel with this person?
Do you feel like you could talk honestly with them? Do you trust them? If your child had a problem on set, or you had a concern about something in an audition, would you feel you could reach out to them for support? Whether you’re considering signing with an agent or a manager, you need to feel comfortable communicating with them. These relationships can last years and even though they are business, they cross over into the personal, and it’s your child that is at stake. If you feel you’d be uncomfortable reaching out to them, you should keep looking.
4. Are you and your child and the rep on the same page?
What kind of “type” do they see your child as? If you and your child see them doing leading roles but the reps see them as playing quirky character roles, this is a disconnect to explore.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you need a new rep. It might mean that you and your child aren’t as realistic as the rep, who has more experience in the market, and who might see your child’s type more clearly than you do. But it also might mean that you need to find someone who sees what you see! This can be a tricky one. But it’s very important to have the same vision as your rep, because their vision will affect what auditions they send your child out on, and your child’s opportunity for success depends on being able to convincingly inhabit those roles for casting directors.
5. Is your child safe with them?
In California and New York, part of the licensing process for agents includes getting a background check and being fingerprinted, to make sure they have no history of convictions of abuse. But managers are not subject to that process in those states, and other states don’t have the same protections.
One additional protection that child actors have in California is the required Child Performer Services Permit. Anyone who represents, or who provides child performer services to any artist or performer under 18 years old in the state of California for a fee must have a background check and register with the state. This law was designed in large part to close the safety loophole for managers. You can check for current permit-holders here. (Note: agents do not need to be on this list because they already have to pass a background check to be licensed.)
If you’re outside these major markets, you have to rely on your instincts and your own research. In general, never leave your child alone with an adult you don’t know and trust completely.
6. Red flags to watch out for.
Finally, here are a few red flags to look out for. If you encounter any of these, keep looking and do not sign with that potential agent or manager!
The agent or manager wants you to pay them any kind of up-front fees.
Agents or managers should only ever make money from your child when your child makes money, and then they should only make a commission. Never pay an agent or manager to represent your child. This includes requirements to pay them for headshots, to be listed on their website, for coaching, etc.
The agent is not SAG-AFTRA franchised.
You can check to see if the agency is franchised with the union by checking the legacy lists for AFTRA here and for SAG here. They don’t have to be listed with both, but they should be listed with one.
The agent or manager says they can make your kid a star.
No one can promise you that! Runaway if you hear anything like this.
You are approached in a shopping mall.
It’s a cliché at this point, but no legit agents or managers approach potential clients this way.
The agent or manager is pressuring you to sign right away.
Never sign a contract without taking the time to have an entertainment lawyer review it. Any legit rep should expect this.
Your gut instinct feels uneasy.
Sometimes our subconscious picks up on clues that our conscious mind can’t identify. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason with a potential agent or manager, just keep looking.
*This post was originally published on Jan. 27, 2020. It has since been updated.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.