As a beginning actor, what is the best way to get an agent? Is it all in your headshots? Is it all in your cover letter? Your resumé? If you have experience in TV? Plays? Classes?

If you’re a beginning actor, the time may not be right to get an agent. Have you thought of that? Until you reach a certain tier in the industry, there is more ground you can cover on your own than an agent or manager would cover for you. If you’re getting auditions on your own through Actors Access or Backstage listings, for example, you may not yet benefit from having an agent — nor may an agent take you on at this stage. The time to get a theatrical agent is when you have reached the ceiling on projects such as indie films, nonunion cable series, spec commercials, and high-end student films (graduate-level work from AFI or USC filmmakers, for example). When you reach the point that your credits match those of the typical actors sitting in waiting rooms during pilot season, it’s time to shop for an agent, for sure.

An agent looks at a submission from an actor with the following questions in mind: “Could I have earned a commission off of this actor last week? Last month? Last quarter? Last year?” If the answer is no, then you’re not likely to be called in for a meeting. Keep in mind the many factors at work, in coming up with that yes or no answer. Are your credits at the level the agent could get you out? Is your look the kind that would have you going out a lot right now? Is your type marketable? Does the agent already have too many “of you” on his roster? Much of those issues are ones you don’t control, as an actor. That’s why it’s really tough to say what you can do to get an agent. The timing may not be right for your type this season with that particular agent. Lots of maybes go into this.

Assuming your submission comes across the desk of an agent when all of the stars align in your favor (you have credits at a level the agent can pitch easily, your look is popular right now, your type is highly marketable, and the agent doesn’t already have ten “of you” on his client list), these are things that can help you get that meeting.

Great Cover Letter: I’m going to spend some time in a future column on the finer points of writing a great cover letter, so I won’t go into it too much right here. The most important aspects of the cover letter include professionalism, personality, and proofreading. This is how you’ll introduce yourself to the agent. Make it a great first impression.

Representative Headshot: It’s very likely that an agent will ask you to shoot new headshots, if you are signed. Therefore, I don’t recommend that you go out and get new headshots just for an agent mailing (unless you’re in the market for new headshots anyway, and even then I don’t recommend that you break the bank on this). Just be sure your headshot looks like you, captures your personality, and shows the agent how you tend to market yourself.

Killer Resumé: Make sure your resumé is targeting the way you tend to be (or want to be) marketed. It does not have to list every job you’ve ever had — especially if the credits are too old to represent your current work and the direction in which you are headed. If there is anything that needs clarification on your resumé, bring it up in your cover letter. It is important to be able to account for big gaps in time between key jobs or lapses in training.

Industry Referral: You can see my column What Is a Referral? for more information on this, but basically a referral is the recommendation of someone in the industry, letting the agent know that he or she believes in you, knows your work, and feels that the agent should take a meeting with you. The best referral is the call made directly by the person doing the recommending, but that’s not always practical to ask of someone. A mention in a cover letter that someone will happily endorse you, should the agent choose to call and follow up, is fine.

And, finally, I’d like to recommend something that has nothing whatsoever to do with submissions: networking. Most of the actors I know who have gotten signed by an agent in the past couple of years have done so by appearing in showcases, participating in staged readings, attending networking events, or meeting agents outside of industry activities in “real life” settings. There is no substitute for the “live” experience of connecting with someone. Before you do your next big agent mailing, consider alternative venues for meeting with and performing for potential representatives. Just as CDs go out scouting for new talent at showcases and in plays, agents and managers do too. Learn the art of the schmooze, always follow up when you have been given the gift of an introduction, and keep being “out there” while you’re building your resumé and sharpening your skills. When the time is right, it’ll happen. Believe me, ’til it does happen, you’re better off hustling on your own. Agents will see you getting work for yourself and crave being a part of that team. That’s a great situation to develop!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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