Don’t Get an Agent!

by Teresa Reilly on February 10, 2010

Has anyone ever told you that before?  Well, let me be the first!  Actors worry all the time, but in particular about two especially itchy topics: the 10 lbs. the camera adds and how to get a kickass, killer, awesome agent.  Well, relax folks.  I’m saying it to you today: Don’t Get An Agent!

Okay, okay, I don’t mean don’t EVER get an agent, that would be silly.  Actors need agents.  We cannot, contrary to popular belief, do everything ourselves.  (I’m not the only control freak out there, right?)  Agents are the ones who get our talented butts into the auditions we can’t get into ourselves, they pitch us, they sell us, they work, work, work for us long and hard.  And they do it all for no pay, just like we do.  Well, they do it for no pay until we get paid…then they take 10%.  But the bottom line is that neither the actor nor the agent gets paid till work is booked!  We have a common goal in this biz…

So why wouldn’t you want an agent?  Why not run right out and get William Morris himself to represent you?!  (Uh, that’s not possible, BTW, so don’t try it.)  Because no agent is going to make you anything you’re not already.  Meaning…even if you have the greatest agent in the world, you’re the sucker who’s gotta get the job done in the audition room AND on set.  If you can’t, if you’re not trained or prepared or up for the fight, the greatest agent in the world isn’t going to want to work for nothing for an actor who can’t act.  And you’ll be back to where you started: an actor without an agent.  Or worse, you’ll be an actor locked into a contract with an agent who doesn’t want to send them out because they know they can’t get the job.

So after you move to LA or New York or Chicago, don’t run right out to every agent’s office you can find to get them to sign you.  Do your work first!  Be an actor who has something to offer, and then, eventually, you’ll find the right agent for you.  It may not be the first one you meet with, but you’ll get there.  So!  How do you prepare yourself for your eventual meeting with your dream agent when you are prepped and ready for representation?

-   TRAIN: Maybe it’s Meisner, maybe it’s Method, whatever gets your creative juices flowing onstage or on camera, get a technique!  Find a great teacher, or work with an awesome class who can help you build up your emotional tools.  All of your favorite actors?  You can bet your booty they trained with someone, whether it was a personal coach or at a university, or through a theater company.  Come in to your dream agent’s office as an actor who knows how to act.
-    WORK: Have some credits on that resume!  If you don’t have a reel, do some student films, web series, or indie-indie-indie films so you can put one together.  Hone your chops with some work onstage with local theater companies.  You don’t want (and you cannot afford to be) the actor who walks in with nothing to offer, no roles to talk about, no goals, and nothing but a nice smile.  It’s not enough.  Walk in with experience.
-    PREPARE: Got a headshot you love?  Got your resume flawlessly edited and printed out?  Got a reel?  Got business cards?  Got a website?  You’ll need them.  Walk into your agent meeting with all of those in hand, ready to prove that you are ready to work TODAY.
-    FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT: There are many kinds of agents for many, many kinds of actors.  You don’t want to waltz into a kids’ agency if you’re a 34-year-old man who looks like a lead on “The Sopranos” right?  That will not garner you any kind of usable job offers.  So do your homework!  Seriously, what kind of representation do you want?  Are you looking for commercial work?  Find the commercial agents in your city who are looking for your type.  Are you looking for voiceover work?  Check out the voiceover agents who are currently taking submissions.  Do you want to work with a boutique agency?  Or a mom-and-pop office?
-   DO MORE HOMEWORK: Target the agents you want to see yourself with.  Don’t just say to yourself, “I’ll just take anybody!”  Is that how you’d go on a date?  No.  And that’s not how you’d want someone to do business with you either, blindly and ignorantly.  That’s how smart actors get scammed.  And it happens, right there in the office.  So really be clear with yourself about the agents you’re meeting with.  What do you want from them?
ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS: Make sure you know the answers to all those standard (yet totally important!) questions agents sometimes ask.  Questions like…What’s your type?  What TV show could you be cast on today?  What casting directors know your work already?
-    ASK YOUR QUESTIONS: Equally important are to have questions to ask your prospective agent.  Some of the questions I always ask are: How do you see my type?  How would you pitch me to a casting director?  How can I best communicate with you?  Do you represent any other talent that’s my type?  But really…whatever works best for you.  Figure out your own questions.

The most important thing is to have a sense of yourself before you go looking for representation.  After all, if you have nothing to offer yet, what is there to represent?  Besides, by the time you’ve done all that work and preparation, you will have plenty of reasons for an agent to want to work with you and you will know exactly what you want to get out of your representation.  So don’t get an agent till then!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Pao Yang and Kaya Yang February 24, 2011 at 1:51 am

Teresa,

Although my little girl is represented by a great agent, this is great info for those that are new to the industries, like us. It really does me/us re-think and prepared our self in order to better help our agent for years to come.

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cc October 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

Very misleading title. It should be: Don’t pursue an agent until you’re ready.

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Smudge In The City October 25, 2011 at 9:04 am

So now the question is, if you’re booking work but it’s outside NY (regional theatre, tours etc) to warrant getting an agent, how do you draft the perfect cover letter and persuade them to consider representing you?
Please read my experiences as a non-equity performer auditioning in New York. We’re all just trying to, as Tim Gunn would say ‘make it work’ . NY is tough, this business is tougher and sometimes it’s nice to know that we’re not alone in our struggles to ‘live the dream’ or in reality, just survive!

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Preston January 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm

I have 3 legit agencies nearby I can sign on with. Since 1 has turned me down, I am going to wait before I try my luck with the other 2. This was helpful, thank you.

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jessica March 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm

How exactly do you find an agent?

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