Okay, so far we’ve looked at How To Fire Your Agent and When To Fire Your Agent. Now, as we move from “later in the relationship” to “earlier in the relationship,” we’ll look at What To Look for in an Agent (or Manager). Next week, we’ll wrap this whole series up with The Difference Between Agents and Managers (and When You Need a Manager).
You’ve created your list of agents and managers to target and you’ve managed to get called in for meetings. Yay! So, once you’re in the door and making your decision about who should “represent you” in this crazy business, what is your criteria? (Don’t worry, we’ll get to “creating that list” in a couple of weeks.) First, let me request that you keep one important factor in mind: You’re looking to find the person who should REPRESENT YOU. This is the person who will be your first line of contact with casting directors, producers, and directors in the industry. If you don’t ADORE the face your agent or manager puts on for the world, how will anyone else? Pay attention to the way your potential representative will present YOU to the industry. The best time to pay attention to that “vibe” is before you’ve signed the paperwork. So, what — specifically — should you look at?
Talk To Current and Former Clients
This is pretty dang important. Before you choose to meet with agents or managers, you should do a little bit of “interviewing” those who’ve gone before you. Are the current clients happy? Why or why not? Why did the former clients leave? Were they dropped? Did they fire their agent or manager? This is a good time for me to mention that you may want to learn what casting directors think of the agent or manager you’re considering. Do they enjoy pitches from your agent? Do they see your manager’s clients? Does the manager even subscribe (legally) to Breakdown Services? Do contract negotiations always go afoul? Are their clients blacklisted for some other reason? These are all good questions to have answered before you decide to sign up with anyone.
How Many Clients Do They Rep?
Why is this issue important? Well, if an agent or manager represents far more actors than he or she can handle alone, you may get lost. (The outside number, generally, is 25 actors per manager, 100 actors per theatrical agent, 250 actors per commercial agent.) If the agent or manager with whom you’re meeting is not willing to share that information, how can you find that information out on your own? Well, start with IMDb-Pro, which will list entire rosters. Also look at sites run by the companies themselves, if applicable. If you have a friend in casting, ask her to log on to LACasting.com or the Breakdown Services website to see an overview of the client rosters. Now, if you’re concerned about a number being far too high, remember that commercially, the larger the roster, the better (in most cases). And, on the other end of the spectrum, if we’re looking at a manager with a roster of ten clients, keep in mind that many casting directors may dismiss that manager, simply due to the fact that the roster is too small to “bother” with.
Even more important than the number of clients on your potential agency’s roster is the number of those clients who are of your exact type. It’s bad enough to show up at an audition where you see a dozen “of you” in the lobby. Far worse when six of those actors come from your agency. What happens when the casting director can only see four actors? Are you going to be in your agency’s top submissions? This is a scenario in which you’re far better off being the only one of your type at your agency. The only exception to this rule would be when your agency specializes in actors of your type (such as Dragon Talent — now Lemon Lime Agency — specializing in edgy, punk types).
Meet the Staff
When you meet with your potential agent or manager, it’s important to “tour the space” and learn who does what for whom. If you’re going to be repped across-the-board, who is your contact for commercial negotiations? What about print jobs? Promotional appearances? Are you covered there? These are all questions to ask before signing. It’s far better to know everyone right up front so that when you get the call for an audition from someone other than your “main agent,” you at least have an idea who you’re dealing with. Is everyone reachable? Can you get through to your agent or manager or are you assigned to intern-only status when you call? Is everything channeled through one point-person? What happens if that agent leaves the company? Do you go with him or suddenly lose your point-person at the agency?
Are There Fees?
I’ve heard of some agencies in large minor markets (not so much in LA or NY) that charge “admin fees” for copies, FedEx expenses, long distance phone calls, messenger services, subscription to Breakdown Services, etc. In some markets, agencies charge their clients $20 per month for such expenses. This is appalling! Think about it: What incentive does an agent or manager have to hustle, pitch an actor, or help an actor get through the door if he is already being paid a monthly amount just for having actors on the roster? The more actors on the roster, the less actual work required, on the part of the agent or manager. A roster of 100 actors each paying a monthly $20 admin fee yields a healthy $24,000 per year before the agent or manager picks up the phone on behalf of a single client. Yikes! The ONLY fees I would ever consider “appropriate” (and, really, it’s still pretty dang sketchy) would be advances-against-commissions. That means you front an agent or manager twenty bucks to overnight your demo reel to a casting director but that $20 comes back to you in the form of a deduction from commissions on future earnings. Legitimate agents and managers spend thousands of dollars per year submitting, pitching, and hustling for their clients. And they earn that money back (and then some) through commissions.
Does the Agent Leave Town Every Weekend to Scout for “New Talent” in Other Cities?
Why should this bother you? Well, as a potential client, you should be concerned with the agent’s frequent trips to scout new talent for a couple of reasons (infrequent trips — one every three or four months — are less troubling, but still worth investigating). One, the agent is out looking for more people to add to the roster, and you signed with the agent (or considered signing with the agent) based on several factors, one of which is the number of actors on his or her roster. Two, if an agent or manager is “doing the circuit” and earning a healthy honorarium with each trip to “scout,” where is this person’s incentive to hustle for you as a client? Since agents and managers earn money only on a commission basis with their current clients, any major source of income outside of those commissions becomes a little suspicious. That includes going on scouting trips, teaching classes, running a headshot photography referral service, charging for having a profile up on their company’s client website, getting you into red carpet events, and other such “advance fee” territory issues.
Read That Contract!
Is it a SAG-approved contract? A generally-accepted GSA? If we’re talking about a manager, is it a TMA or NCOPM contract of record? Regardless, is there an “out” clause? How much notice must be given before the contract is considered terminated? Are commissions due long after termination? What is commissionable? What is the commission percentage? How soon after the gig should you expect a check (minus commissions)? How long does the commission last? Is it forever (“in perpetuity” is a troubling phrase in agency and management contracts)? Is it for the first season? Is your image commissionable, should a character you portray be turned into an action figure? This is important! You may only be thinking about how you’re up to be the next big star of the X-Men franchise, but somewhere down the line, there’s a stocking stuffer crafted in your image, and your reps may be entitled to commission on that sucker forever!
Of course, no one wants to enter an agreement thinking about how it will end. That’s the same reason young lovers get engaged and are appalled at the idea of signing a prenuptial agreement. Get over that. This is business. Absolutely, you expect that you will be in a perfect partnership forever, but you MUST protect your business interests. The good news is, if the relationship never goes bad, it was all protection put in place for “no reason.” The better news is, if the relationship goes bad, you are protected! No one can fault you for building this into your initial contract.
Does the Agent (or Manager) GET You?
Whether you end up signing on with the agent or manager, once you’re in the room having a meeting, you should take advantage of the opportunity to learn how they see your type, how they would market you, what types of roles for which they’d submit you. This can inform your self-management tactics from here on out, regardless what happens! Remember that the BEST part of having an agent or manager on your team is the fact that his or her belief in your abilities, the risk he or she takes, that passion with which he or she is willing to help get you through the door elevates your career to the next tier. Bottom line: If an agent or manager doesn’t GET you, how well will he or she pitch you?
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000371.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.