Manage Me!

by Teresa Reilly on November 11, 2009

Acting, whether you realize it or not, is a team sport.  Your team, as I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, contains a bevy of players, from your agent to your headshot photographer to your lawyer; furthermore, they all truly just want you to succeed. And no one wants you to succeed more so than your manager.

When I was working in New York, I totally pooh-poohed the idea of a manager. What was the point?  Why can’t I manage my own life? Wasn’t the real goal to get an agent?  What does a manager even do, anyway?  (I had a vague notion a manager was like the guy who’d stand outside the boxing ring and yell at the boxer while he’s the one who’s getting punched in the nose and there’s blood oozing out of his nose.)  I had a few friends who had managers, sure, but it seemed like a lot of them didn’t get much out of the arrangement other than a snazzy graphic on their resume. When I moved to LA, however, everyone seemed to have a manager, and everyone I talked to really encouraged finding one for myself.  So I did my research!

First of all, a personal manager’s job is simply to advise. While talent agencies are legally required to be licensed in order to seek employment for their clients, managers are not.  Which means…anyone can be a manager.  In Brian O’Neil’s outstanding book, “Acting as a Business: Strategies for Success,” he clearly outlines that a manager’s sole job is merely to guide one’s career, as he “is not licensed to seek or procure employment for his client”; however, there are loopholes that allow the personal manager, “on behalf of his client,” to instigate “the ‘incidental’ procuring of employment.”  Meaning, managers find work for their clients all the time, even though it isn’t really allowed.  (SIDE NOTE:  While you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not to get management, I do highly recommend getting “Acting as a Business.” It is a clear, concise, and smart book that is an excellent tool for any business-minded actor.)

So.  You want a manager to “advise” you.  What the heck does that mean?  It boils down to guiding & counseling you and your blossoming career.  For instance, coaching you for auditions or on-camera technique, helping you decide what to wear when you go in for a read, which headshots to pick, which agents to meet & when, classes & workshops, who to use as you build up the rest of your team, and reading & assessing contracts.  If you don’t have representation yet, your manager will be essential in getting you agent meetings. “Acting as a Business” points out that a personal manager does also offer a level of “hand-holding” that a talent agency does not have time to offer.  It’s not really their job.  In exchange for that level of care and commitment, however, a personal manager is paid a larger fee than a talent agent is.  While an agent receives a standard 10% commission, a personal manager generally receives 15-20%.  If you’re balking at the number, think about how much work both of these two very important members of your team do for you for FREE.  Neither of them gets paid until you do.

Speaking of your team, remember you are the owner of the whole shebang.  In another awesome actor-book, “How to Agent Your Agent,” agent/manager/producer extraordinaire Nancy Rainford explains it as the “bulls-eye theory.”  If you are the center (or the bulls-eye/target, like on a dartboard), and each ring represents each member of your team, each ring/team member is further and further outward and away from you.  Your personal manager wants to be as close to that inner target (you) as possible, so that every other member of your team has to go through them to get to you, including your agent.  You can see that it’s imperative that you A) have a manager you trust & love B) understand what’s going on with your team.

Some final thoughts about managers as you decide if/when you choose to find personal management for your team:

-    Personal management contracts typically start with a year term, as an introductory period; however, don’t be surprised if they offer you a three-year term.  Management is a long-term relationship, and instant fame & fortune is not totally realistic right away.  If three years is too long for you, work out an escape clause in the contract in case you need it.
-    Don’t just sign with any random person who calls themselves a manager.  (Because remember…anyone really can manage.  My Aunt Tilly could be a manager.  And she is a librarian in rural Massachusetts.  No.)  Don’t feel like you HAVE to have a manager.  Make a career for yourself first, and figure out what you want out of it before you find someone else to manage it for you.
-    Make sure you interview them as they interview you.  What are their aspirations for your career?  Do they match up with yours?  How many clients do they have?  (Be wary if they have more than 10-20 other people on their roster.  Will they have time for you?)  How do they want to communicate with you?  Via text, phone or email?  How will they pitch you to agents?

I’ll leave you with my own experience with my manager.  Her niece, who grew up with me back east, referred me to her.  I met with her in her office, I loved her energy and felt reassured we had common goals for my career and me.  She helped me pick out my headshots and read all my contracts for my new projects, she pitched me to agents and tirelessly called them on my behalf.  I had confidence going into agency meetings, because I knew she was backing me up and pushing me to meet with fantastic industry people she’d purposefully targeted and knew could really get my career going.  She keeps me on track, and reminds me of my goals.  The best part is, my team is strengthened because of her commitment, and I know we’re in it together.  Many wonderful actors have managers, and many do not.  Poke around, interview a few different ones, and don’t pressure yourself.  Always remember, it’s all about making your team stronger and better.  Good luck!

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