Talent managers deal in much more than buildings careers. We build important relationships all along those journeys. I’ve spent many years in talent development and artist management, and as an arts educator and career coach. Those roles have given me many incredible opportunities to guide the professional journeys embarked upon by a lot of actors, artists, and content creators. The enormous shift in our industry and global landscape has resulted in many an industry-bound young person considering all of the options that exist for meaningful, fulfilling, and creative careers in the business of acting that do not involve performance. However, there’s still great art involved even if one is not performing themselves.
I love the work I do. I’ve been at it for a very long time and during that time I’ve witnessed many small, and lots of huge, changes in the industry landscape that have redefined over and over what it means to represent actors, how you actually do that work, and how you create and implement a strategy to make it all economically feasible for both your business and your clients to thrive. Interested in being a talent manager? Let’s look at an unofficial description of that job and the requirements it takes to be a career influencer.
First, look at the reality of the numbers. You don’t earn a dime (or a 10% or 15% commission on that dime) until your client books a job that actually pays. Like agents, we’re not compensated for the submissions we make on your behalf. We’re not compensated for the auditions we secure. We don’t earn anything (except, perhaps, for a client’s appreciation) for a callback a client might be invited to. If that call back (now often in the form of another self-tape or a virtual, live meeting) lands your client a roll in a “deferred payment” or “copy and credit only” project, your client may earn an IMDb credit for that work. But we still don’t earn anything financial from that achievement. We always feel joy from a client booking a job, but joy won’t pay the bills.
Managing expectations is a huge part of this job, both our expectations of our clients and our clients’ expectations of the audition and work situations we put them in, and frequently the disappointment they might feel when one open door doesn’t open the next one seemingly, perhaps subjectively, just inches away. That also means that we routinely play the interchangeable part of therapist, coach, best friend, business advisor, financial advisor, and cheerleader.
We are the encouragers-in-chief. If we didn’t believe in, embrace, and be willing to invest in a client’s potential, we never would have signed that client. Our partnerships with our clients aren’t hanging on any threads that might unravel if an audition doesn’t turn into a booking. Remember, managers are not focused on jobs. Our sights, instead, are set on careers.
How do you seek, vet, and find clients? What should attract any talent rep to any potential client is really just two things: chemistry and potential. While it’s not online dating, it’s about connecting. There are lots of talent reps who routinely seek new talent for their rosters and there are even more actors seeking first-time or new representation. Why one actor who is turned down by one talent rep gets signed by another instead is an unanswerable equation, with hints as to why rooted in the subjected perception of that chemistry and potential formula.
The ability to lead a team is essential. Many actors have only a manager or an agent repping them, and the truth is that very few actors need both. But when that need is evident, the manager’s role also includes assembling the right players for the team and guiding the client’s journey forward, fulfilling the needs and interests of each of those players. A theatrical agent will have different needs of your client than the client’s commercial agent would or that their voiceover agent would or that their literary agent would. Each of these players are specialists in their fields. But managers always must remain focused, global generalists in the building of our mutual client’s career.
Talent management is really about relationships. First and foremost is the relationship between manager and client, followed by the relationships you develop with other industry professionals. These connections stand to benefit your client’s career, your personal reputation, and your company’s brand image and awareness. For me, over my decades in this job, clients always fast become family.
If you’re still in school and all of this sounds appealing, plan for that career now. Study the arts. Study industry history. Study the business of acting. Seek out internship opportunities (even remote internships can be a great learning experience!) for a casting office, for a theatrical agent’s office, for a commercial agent’s office, and, of course, for a talent manager’s office. Begin to blend what you learn academically with the real-world demands and requirements of both the entry-level job you will first seek and the talent rep leadership role you want to grow into.
While earning dollars is the key to our universal and your personal economy, earning a great career doing what you love is beyond just added financial value. It’s an incredible, valuable gift.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.