This is What REALLY Happens Behind the Scenes at a Talent Agency

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

As a salesperson, my role is to serve the needs of the marketplace. That means having a wide variety of clients I can submit to the casting community, which also means those submissions must never grow stale or predictable. That’s why a large part of my job is signing actors.

Has an agent ever told you they’re not looking for new clients? Well, that’s total nonsense. Like sharks in constant motion, we’re always looking.

My list is in a state of permanent change. Some actors leave. Some get dropped. Either way, those changes create openings that need to be filled.

Now, here’s something you might not know. There’s an even more important reason we’re always on the lookout: Agents have financial incentives to sign actors.

When a talent agency brings you on board, the agent who approached you becomes your point person. He’s the one who opened your submission or saw your work onstage or took the call from your manager. In other words, no matter how many reps there are at the company, the agent who signed you is now your point person.

READ: How to Get an Acting Agent

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone is working for you, but your point person stands to make more if he’s the one who books you. You see, most of us are on salary, but the real money is in commissions, and those payouts can take the form of a monthly check or a year-end bonus. Either way, the amount that goes in our pocket is partly based on who we book.

To be clear, let’s say an agent gets 2 percent of every booking and the company takes 8 percent, for a total of 10 percent. The agent’s cut goes up to 3 percent if the booking was for an actor he signed. That might seem like a negligible amount, but we’re talking serious cash if the client’s on a series.

(This is just an example. Every agency works differently. But the idea is the same.)

So who am I going to pitch when I submit two blondes in their 20s for the same role? Probably the one I signed, because I stand to make more. This creates an internal conflict most actors don’t even know exists.

The thing to remember is that we’re not fools. Agents submit every actor who is right for a part, and we try to get everyone in. We also understand the person we signed may not be the strongest choice. So when all’s said and done, every client usually gets a fair shake.

This point person system also creates internal pitching within the company. Let’s say one of the other agents is covering a project that has the perfect role for an actor I signed, but I know for a fact that one of the people he signed is right, too. Well, that means I have to stay on him about getting my actor seen. This leads to a little friendly negotiating. He does this for me and I’ll owe him one. That kind of tit-for-tat keeps the wheels rolling in the agency business.

Understanding the behind-the-scenes politics at a talent agency is one of the many keys that can unlock a successful future for you. So make sure you get to know all your reps, not just the one who keeps pointing at you.

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

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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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