Managing the Slowdown

"I think after casting as long as I've been casting—it's not that I'm burnt out, because I love doing it—but I feel [casting] is like waking up in the morning; I do it so naturally. I needed a little bit of a new challenge in my life," said Barbara Divisek, who earlier this month opened shop as a manager with her new business partner and longtime friend, former agent Susie Mains.

Together they launched Trilogy Talent, a management company servicing actors of all ages. In addition to managing, Divisek and Mains hope to offer classes—which Mains and Divisek emphasized will be completely separate from the management division. They also hope to cast theatrical projects in the near future. Divisek will continue to run her previous company, Divisek Casting, a commercial casting office that works with such recognizable feature filmmakers as the Coen Brothers and Reggie Hudlin, among other clients. Recent projects include TV spots for McDonald's, Sears, Mattel, Burger King, and Earthlink. Divisek is casting partners with her older sister, Karen, who gave Divisek her first casting job in 1975. According to Divisek, she's always enjoyed helping actors get to the next level in their careers and "gave a lot of people their first jobs," including Drew Barrymore and Michael J. Fox, both of whom she Taft-Hartleyed.

Mains arrives at her new management job with 18 years under her belt as an agent, first in New York where she worked for Schuller Talent, followed by many years in Los Angeles. She was a partner and commercial agent for Kelman/Arletta, then headed the theatrical department at DDK Talent Representatives. Most recently, she was vp and head of talent at Collaborative Artists. Mains has discovered and represented such now-well-known actors as Tobey McGuire, Brian Austin Green, Seth Green, and Tia and Tamera Mowry. Mains also represented both of Divisek's children, who in recent years left the acting business.

"We always had a mutual respect for each other and thought that sometime it would be nice to work together," said Mains. "Together we really have a lot of expertise, and we have a lot of connections and affiliations in the business."

Regrouping after the strike: Divisek and Mains have witnessed a profound change in their industries since the Screen Actors Guild's commercial strike three years ago. Where Divisek cast 200 to 300 commercials per year before the strike, she found that those numbers dropped substantially post-strike with so many productions now shooting in Canada, South America, and Australia. She said it's now more in the 100s annually.

As a result of the strike, Mains noticed a severe downsizing within agencies, particularly those with commercial departments. Some agencies had no choice but to close their doors. Others had to lay off agents and assistants. As a result, many agents now have less time to service their clients, noted Mains, and that's where she believes a manager can be helpful to an actor. She said, "More and more, the role of the manager has changed. It used to be that a manager was an optional thing. Now, I think, to have that two-fisted representation is really important to an actor because agents don't have the time to be doing all they can do. An actor can slip between the cracks. I think what a manager does is go above and beyond what an agent does."

Divisek agreed. She said, "Ten to 15 years ago I don't think actors needed managers like they do now. I thought actors just needed good agents. But now what's happened is agencies are shrinking or are merging together and having more [clients]. I think there is a place for a manager to do that extra push."

Taking it to the next level: Besides being hit by the slowdown in her work as a casting director, Divisek became interested in the idea of becoming a talent manager because she sees so many talented actors come through her casting office who frequently book commercial work but not theatrical work. As a manager, she hopes to change that. Said Divisek, "I know a lot of very talented actors who are very solid. They might be, say, character actors and have always been very strong commercially but not theatrically. There are some people who are not necessarily names who are very competent, and if there's any way I can help some folks whose talent I believe in go to that next level, that's really exciting to me."

Mains likewise looks forward to getting more involved with her clients' careers. "As a manager," she said, "you get a chance to see where they're going, who they work best with, what type of things they're going to be good at, what level they're at, and how quickly they can get to the next level. To really be a part of their lives is exciting. As an agent, you do a little bit of that, but you don't really have the time."

Always an opening: Mains and Divisek emphasized that they are open to all submissions and all ages. Said Mains, "In order to sign with us, no one has to have anything except talent. There's always an entry for somebody who's really good." She recalled when Tobey Maguire, then 11 years old and an unknown, showed up for an open audition at her agency office. She immediately recognized his passion for acting and took him on as a client. What impressed her most about Maguire was that he was committed to learning his craft and took his craft seriously at such a young age. "Tobey wasn't about, 'I want to get this part.' He didn't want to audition for anything until he thought he was ready. Then he wanted to do small indie films, where he could get serious. He took control of his career. Wendy, his mom, is a wonderful person, but Tobey always made decisions for himself at a really young age."

As Divisek added, children have to want to pursue acting for no reason other than that they love it. "Otherwise," she said, "I think it's a sin to have kids being pushed because it's the parent's dream and not the kid's. Kids have to like it. It's got to be in their blood."

Like Mains, Divisek said she's always been open to working with new faces, regardless of their level of experience. Said Divisek, "As Barbara Divisek of Divisek Casting, I'm always trying to be open to all agents. I open every one of the packages that come to me. I'm not one of those casting people who take my 10 favorite agents and open up [their submissions] and then look at the others. If someone has taken the time to submit to me, I'm going to take the time to receive the submission. I'm always seeing new actors, and I believe in always trying new folks."

Preparing for the job: Besides having talent, an actor needs to be committed to the work, both as a student of acting and as a responsible professional. Said Mains, "It's not just about being on time; it's about being prepared and really taking your craft seriously." Good instincts are also vital for actors, particularly in audition situations. "You have to be able to make different choices," said the former agent. "Anybody can do a good job; it's the one that does the interesting job who's going to get the job."

Divisek recommended that any actor who hasn't studied improvisation consider taking a class. And don't just focus on improv. Said the casting director/manager, "Acting is a craft, and I believe that you can never stop learning. Any actor who goes and takes five classes and says, 'OK. Here I am. I'm ready,' is not an actor who wants to have a lifetime of acting jobs. I think actors need to be like sponges, and they need to get as much different input as possible. Knowledge is power, and you need to not get all of your knowledge in one area. You have to be open and doing theatre and doing as much as you can."

Mains recommended that, in addition to doing plays and, taking classes, beginning actors get their feet wet in student films, and in projects being cast in Back Stage West. Whatever you do, she said, don't sit around and do nothing. "By just sitting there, you're not going to get any better. You've got to perfect your skills and find out what your true skill sets are. It's really important to be out there doing it and developing a work ethic." BSW

Send submissions to:

Trilogy Talent

25876 The Old Road #15

Stevenson Ranch, CA 91381