by Anne Kelly-Saxenmeyer
Somewhere in Beverly Hills, an actor new to the L.A. freeway system is wondering how to get to his afternoon audition in Burbank. He's reading for the lead in a miniseries about Elvis. Unsure of what he sees in his Thomas Guide, he calls his managers at LINK Talent Group from his car. Paulo Andrés and Kurt Patino field the call together from their small but comfortable Valley Village office, while a Back Stage West columnist waits to interview them. On the phone, Patino begins explaining the freeway-to-freeway route and then the tangle of Burbank avenues, while Andrés, sitting across from him, confirms the directions on mapquest.com. It's not a scene you would witness at an agency.
The opportunity to help actors navigate the day-to-day issues of their careers was what Andrés and Patino were looking for when they became managers—Patino, after a series of production jobs and five years as an agent at Defining Artists (the theatrical arm of the Bobby Ball Agency), and Andrés, after many years as a working actor, during which he helped build The Actors' Network, where he still serves as vice president. Andrés was content being an actor until, going into his third busy pilot season, a broken leg put him out of commission for a while. "It was a life-changing moment for me because I was physically and then kind of spiritually incapacitated for the first time," says Andrés, who had also been a recreational marathon runner at the time. "I sat and thought about what I wanted to do when I 'grew up.' And I realized what I really enjoyed doing was helping actors through The Actors' Network achieve their goals, rather than fulfilling my own as an actor. Being an actor no longer sated me the way it did when I first moved out here."
Patino, too, was fairly happy in his previous career, but he wanted to work with a smaller list and have more time to devote to individual clients. "As an agent, if a client's not doing well, they're just not doing well, so you kind of move on to the people who are hot at the time," he says. "I wanted as a manager to find out: Why aren't they doing well? What can I do to better market them? I wanted to be someone who could stay on top of our client list and really guide them along the way."
LINK opened its doors in June 2004, and both managers are enthusiastic about the partnership. In a recent interview, they talked about their young company and shared advice about the actor's life.
The best fit: Asked about LINK's process for selecting clients, Patino tells us it's "always the look first," in terms of what's in demand, but that occasionally the other vital considerations will trump the look. Patino remembers discovering America Ferrera (Real Women Have Curves) back at Defining Artists: "I'd just seen her in a showcase doing copy for a Coke commercial. She had no credits—she was non-union, she was 17. But she came in with such a charisma and a confidence that, as an agent, I was saying, 'This is the kind of performer we want to have on our list. She just has something, and it's very rare to see it.'"
Patino's boss had reservations about Ferrera, who wasn't at all what the market was demanding, but Patino made the case. "Those are nice surprises that you'll find," he says. "Sometimes I'll see someone at a showcase and say, 'They just have something,' or 'I have to have them.' Maybe the market's not looking for it now, but they may be soon, and I'll have it."
When asked what kind of actor LINK can do the most for, Andrés replies, "We're definitely going to help a young actor coming out who's in their teens, early 20s. That's probably going to be the case for most managers in L.A. I think who we're right for because of our sensibilities—and we've been able to bring in a couple of clients like this—is the actor who did some work, got some notoriety, quickly went to a large agency or management company, was forgotten, was put on a shelf, and is now looking to regenerate their career, whether that's at age 25, 35, or whatever. So, it's somebody who was almost to the point of breaking out but, for whatever reason, was mismanaged."
Patino adds, "I see us as very creative managers. We're managers who are always trying to find a way to get our clients into a room, and I say that in terms of marketing. If pictures aren't working, what other pictures do we need? We are actively, day-to-day trying to help our actors and push our actors to do things to help us help them."
Says Andrés, "I think one of the reasons that he and I make really great partners is that his focus is on that marketing idea—and what is television other than marketing?" Andrés sees the business more in terms of relationships: "It's having solid relationships with our clients, with the agencies that we work with, with casting, with studio executives, with each other. And our role is to continue to develop those relationships so that our clients benefit. Now, people call that networking, people call that schmoozing, blah, blah. But what we're about is really fostering those enduring relationships, and I find that's key in my life as well as in this particular industry."
Taking responsibility: Certainly the job of making professional allies doesn't end with reps. Andrés says he wishes someone had told him, when he first moved to L.A., how crucial it is that actors do their own networking.
"The 'hows' to do that are varied," says Andrés, "from nurturing that relationship with your agency once you find them—because you don't know who they know—to aligning yourself with theatre companies, to joining organizations that will help you, like Women in Film, Women in Theatre, IFP West, The Actors' Network…. Part of it is making sure that you announce to the world that you're an actor. When you're at your waiter job, let people know you're an actor. It's OK. That's what this town's all about."
Adds Patino, "I think it's important to ask questions. A lot of actors, when they find out you're an agent or a manager, it becomes, 'Let me get a meeting with you' or 'Sign me.' But when you approach meeting someone who could possibly help your career, I think just asking questions is the best thing to do. People love answering questions and helping in that way. And then you're not putting pressure on me to sign you and get you work."
Andrés and Patino also suggest that actors seek internships at casting or management offices, agencies, production companies, or theatre companies, where they'll not only learn an enormous amount but also "build relationships through service."
Another often overlooked way actors can feed their own careers is by practicing good money management. A question about how newcomers should and shouldn't spend their money clearly strikes a nerve with Andrés, who hates to see actors burying themselves in debt and bringing to their auditions the added desperation of being flat broke. He says actors should not only maintain a reliable source of income but also not come to L.A. without reserves in the bank.
"Actors, when they move out here, they're developing their own business—the pictures, the resumés, the marketing materials, the acting classes to support their craft, the car with gas to get to the audition, the cell phone to be able to call their agent," he says. "And actors forget that, or they don't know it because it's not taught in their BA in theatre. It's starting out with low debt, having low overhead, so that when an agent or manager says, 'We need 100 new pictures,' the actor doesn't turn around and say, 'I can't afford that.' It's got to be, 'Great—I'll take care of it right now.' We have clients who are auditioning for series regulars, and we—I don't want to say demand—strongly request and advise that they get coaching. Private coaching is $100 an hour. But if they invest the time and money, they'll do really well in that audition, whether they actually book that job or they impress the casting director, who now sees them as competitive in the series regular market. That's important."
Finding a balance: That Andrés and Patino pour tremendous energy into their work is clear. They acknowledge, however, that it's important to keep show business in perspective.
"I'm engaged to an actress," says Patino. "And one of the reasons we are engaged is because that's not all she talks about. She loves acting for acting. She understands the business; if she doesn't get a series, it's not going to be the end of the world. The thing is, even if you get to a certain point where your career is going great and you have your million dollar home, if it's still all about acting and the business, you're never going to be happy—not unless you're happy just being with your family and enjoying the simple things in life."
To sustain themselves through inevitable disappointments, Andrés advises actors to first find a creative outlet, something that satisfies them in ways the audition process won't. Then he encourages them to "find a way toward being of service."
Says Andrés, who is board president of the nonprofit Common Ground, "Actors, by nature, must focus on themselves; they need to develop their craft and their bodies, get rest, take care of themselves. But if they can be of service someplace, whether it's for a nonprofit or something that they care about, or to their friends—something that compels them to be of service—they stop thinking about themselves, and they actually see the world." BSW