Should You Be in an Indie Film? An Agent Answers the Key Question

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

My clients are always asking me to get them auditions for indie films. I understand their desire, because some amazing work is being done at that level. But as their agent, I have to make sure they understand the reality of working on smaller projects. 

Let’s say you book the lead in a movie with a $100,000 production budget. That shoot is going to be very different from a studio film or TV series. Instead of catered food, you’ll probably be eating cold sandwiches made by the director’s mom. You’re also going to be working for well below normal scale. To top it off, the finished film might not even get a distribution deal.

You’re probably thinking, Who cares? The movie could go to Sundance! The director’s next film might be huge! I could get discovered! Fair enough. There’s always a chance that could happen. But first, let’s go over the factors I take into account as an agent.

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Before I allow my clients to audition for an indie, I have to know whether the project is fully financed. A lot of producers at this level will jump the gun and start casting before all their funds are in the bank—and years of experience have taught me that this money rarely comes in.

My next question is: Who’s the casting director? Is it someone I know? Have we worked together? If the answer is no, my Spidey-sense starts to tingle. The CD is my connection to the movie, so I have to be able to trust that person. 

A word of advice to filmmakers: If you have limited funds but want to be taken seriously, hire a mainstream casting assistant or associate who’s itching for a chance to move up. That person will work for less, and the agent community will support them.

Next, I ask to see the script so my that my client can read the whole thing before making a decision. They need to be able to understand the totality of the project, so a character breakdown and a set of sides aren’t enough.

I can’t possibly read every screenplay that crosses my desk, so I’ll only do this if an offer comes in. As I read, I pay attention to the quality of the project and the character my client will potentially be playing. I also consider whether the filmmakers have the money on hand to turn the script as written into a finished film. A fantastic story that needs a $5 million budget to work will look like crap if it’s produced for less than half a million.

Last but certainly not least, I research the creative team: Who are these people? Have they produced or directed anything before? Did they go to a known film school? A short résumé isn’t a deal breaker, but I need to know who they are before we get involved. Agents aren’t into blind dates.

Look, I totally get it—indies are cool. But you have to know what you’re getting into. Think of your agent as the oil filter in your car that prevents the gunk from reaching your creative engine. That’s why I do so much extra research for these types of projects.

This story originally appeared in the May 2 issue of Backstage Magazine.

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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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