Acting Tips: Acting Agencies
What is an Acting or Talent Agency?
An acting or talent agency is basically a collection of people that represent actors and actresses in negotiations between them and film and television producers. Now, of course, an acting or talent agency does a lot more than that, but at it's very core, that is pretty much what the actor / agency relationship is. There are other specialized talent agents that deal with sports personalities, on-air radio talent, models, news persons, writers, directors, the list is pretty extensive.
Just like everywhere else in the film and television industry, there are different levels of players involved in the process and talent agencies are no exception. Some of the major players in the agency world are places like Creative Artists Agency, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and International Creative Management. There are obviously more than just that, but if there are "household names" in agencies, those three are going to be mentioned.
Almost every actor or actress that comes to Hollywood dreaming of success wants to be part of one of these agencies, but the truth of the matter is that getting represented by an agent at one of those companies is much like getting a Gold American Express card, you're going to have to build up to it. The talent agents that work for those companies command a fairly strong reputation in the industry and these are people that have generally proven themselves in a hyper-competitive industry. As such, they're going to want talent that, much like themselves, has already proven themselves capable of booking work. Generally, at the bare minimum, the actors and actresses at these acting agencies are going to be series regulars on major television shows, or they are going to have a pretty significant film resume with a lot of prominent roles.
Don't lose hope though! There are plenty of solid acting agencies around town that are looking for strong talent to help along in their careers. While getting into the "A" list talent agency might be your goal, the reality is that you're going to be starting with someone who's probably just starting themselves. In some ways that might actually be better for you if you're just getting started in acting, because these smaller agencies are much more likely to take an active role in developing you and your acting career. The guys at the top simply don't have the time or the desire to "bring someone up", so to speak.
How Do I Avoid Being Scammed By An Agent?
If you live in California, you can rest a little easier. Talent agencies in California (and New York) are regulated by the State Labor Board and, to do business as a talent agent in those states you have to be licensed. And, this is no rubber stamp deal, the agency has to post a bond, the State can inspect their offices, review their contracts and rates, in short, you have a pretty solid wall of protection. If a person acts as an agent without a license, they can be subjected to pretty severe criminal penalties. Beyond that, it can be helpful to be sure that you're working with what is known as a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) franchised agency. This is another layer of protection in helping the actor or actress know that they are dealing with someone "legitimate".
Now, a lot of people get approached by managers, and managers are an entirely different story. Be VERY CAREFUL when dealing with someone who claims they are a talent manager, as these people are completely un-regulated (for now). As in, ANYONE can put up a sign and become a "manager" overnight. You have to really vet (thoroughly examine) a manager's background, clientele, business practices, etc. before you sign anything with them. There are a lot of legitimate managers out there, but you don't have nearly as much protection if you sign up with a scumbag. Do your homework! Ask for (and actually call) referrals, do public records checks, litigation checks, background checks, talk to their other clients. It's really important to do this, and a manager worth having (should) be pretty understanding.
Getting Started With An Agency
Generally, the more important the agent is, the less likely they will be to take you on if you approach them. For the most part, they're like credit cards, the more credit you have and the less you need the credit card, the more likely you'll be offered a card with the best rates and the highest limits. Just kind of the nature of the game. However, you can find all manner of agencies just by going to the Association of Talent Agents website. Once there, you will find a lot of resources to help you find an agency that is right for you. The basic process is to call and see if they are accepting new talent. If they are, you get their address and send them your headshot and resume.
Rinse and repeat until you get an agent.
Once you're there, don't think you've "made it". While it is their job to find auditions to send you on, you still have to be out hustling and trying to find work on your own, especially if the work you're looking for doesn't pay (because your agent won't make money by sending you on those gigs.) The reason for this is because it shows that you're motivated and trying to help yourself and that you're actively trying to gain more experience (which helps you book more gigs later.) Not to mention, that, if you are booking a lot of acting roles on student or "indie" films, your agent will see you as a person who is out working. Like the old saying goes "out of sight, out of mind", this way, you'll be in sight more often. And, when it comes time to send you or that other guy to the television guest star audition, they might be inclined to pick you because they see you hustling all the time. Get it?
While this article has generally focused on film and television agencies, there are quite a few other talent agencies out there as well, which specialize in commercial work, print work, voice-over, all kinds of stuff. Sometimes you will find an agent that will send you out to all different types of work, other times you might want to separate them, it will just depend on how strong you are in each area that you choose to try and find work in. However you go about it, just know that getting an agent is just a small first step in a long process, but it's an important one! With pluck and luck, you will be moving on and up before you know it!
If you want to learn more about how to get started in acting for film or tv, be sure to check out Acting For Film And Television.
As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, or would just like to share some of your successes, please feel free to drop me a line. I actually answer them.
Best of Luck out there and remember, you can't fail if you don't quit.
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