17 May, 2010

Ask Al: Agents, Part 1 - The Basics

Dear Al,

I was wondering if you could shed light on the world of Agents? What is an agent and what do they do? How do they function in an actor’s career? How does one go about finding and ‘getting’ an agent? And what are some helpful suggestions in regards to having a good working relationship with your agent?



* * *

Dear M,

Great questions. And big ones. I’ve divided this answer into three sections:
1. The Basics,
2. Getting and Agent and
3. Working With an Agent
       —because they are all very intricate and different things.

Getting an agent is probably the single most important thing a professional actor can do for his/her career. Although you can book and negotiate professional jobs yourself (I have a few friends who got into commercials, Fringe plays and even West End shows without an agent, it is without a doubt the exception to the rule).

* * *

Some people do survive quite well without an agent - especially in those specialist areas like Theatre-In-Education where jobs are regularly advertised and employers are happy to regularly deal directly with the actors-- but getting work in theatre is hard, and extremely difficult in the film, television and voice over/radio without one.

Actors without agents sadly appear to lack credibility in the eyes of potential employers. It's not fair, but it's a fact. However hard you work at getting to know potential employers, most agents have their fingers closer to the pulse, know what's coming up, and simply have far more contacts than you can ever have. That's their job. Directors and casting directors rely on agents they trust to help in the filtering process of whom to interview. (And remember, these professionals have form long relationships with one another and come to trust each others’ judgment. In the same way that you would trust the friend of a good friend to sublet your apartment, or to do good contract work for your house, you trust the judgment of an agent who has consistently sent good, dependable clients your way).

A good agent also understands legal contracts, knows the 'going rates' and has more clout to get money that's owing.

Being an agent is, most of the time, as disheartening and unglamorous as being an actor - and it's hard work, easily running into 70 hours a week. Agents putting clients up for things are putting themselves on the line. All directors and casting directors have blacklists of agents whose clients have been consistently late, ill-prepared, undependable in any way, so good agents are very careful about how they select those they are going to represent. They have to feel that they can work with you at selling you effectively, just as directors have to feel that they can work with, and benefit from, you in a company.

* * *

Let’s start with the basics:

What IS an agent? And what do they do?

An agent is an actor's representative. Once an agent represents you, you are his or her "client." They will submit you for roles and try to get you seen by casting directors. They will take 10% of your gross pay once you book a job. They will negotiate your fees and your contracts, and are your greatest professional advocate.

Agents represent lots and lots of wonderful actors. They're busy, and they may not even be looking for new clients. Getting any agent is hard enough, so how do you go about getting a great one?

How does one “get” an agent?

There are three basic ways an actor gets an agent. They are:
     1.  The agent sees your work (live, film, YouTube, radio) and calls you in for an interview.
     2.  You are recommended to the agent by a casting director, manager, director, producer or fellow actor who is a client of that agent.
     3.  The agent calls you in for an interview because of your photo and resume, which he or she received in the mail or electronically.

It is important to do your homework here-- comb online for agency websites, ask friends about their experiences with certain agencies, read publications such as Backstage, Playbill, Contacts, and Spotlight. See who the agency represent, what their clients are doing. This will all create a composite image of each agency, and help you narrow your search. Remember: ultimately, the agent works for you, and you need to make certain you are happy to be with this particular agent, not just anyone. (I often equate agent searches to dating searches--some people are content to just be with someone even if the match is wrong simply because they don't want to be alone, while others would rather be on their own than with the wrong match. It is personal and up to you! Regardless, some form of search is necessary to find this match, whatever the nature of it may be.)

Having an agent see your work is the best way to get representation, because they really need to get to know your work before they can represent you to the best of their ability. Even if you get an agent interested via another route, they'll probably want to see you in something before they'll represent you.

After that, an interview or two are necessary for the agent to understand your personality, your goals, your "vibe" so they can help you not only get work, but also help to build your career and speak to casting people accurately and enthusiastically on your behalf. That being said, it is importnat to have a good relationship with your agent, to feel that they understand you as a person, your career goals, your ambitions, as well as feel able to talk openly with them in general. The better you communticate with everyone in the office (assistants, finance, and interns are all included in this), the better the working relationship with be overall.

* * *

Now let's hear from an agent in the actual industry: Kevin Brady of London-based agency Amanda Howard Associates. AHA represent actors, writers, designers, directors and many other creatives.

The wonderful/magical world of agents eh?
What is an agent and what do they do?

In it's simplest explanation I would say an agent is someone who finds jobs/opportunities for the actors they represent.

How do they function in an actor’s career?

An agent has access to breakdown services, casting directors and producers/directors which they use to learn about up and coming projects and suggest their appropriate clients. If a casting director wishes to see an actor for a role then the agent will arrange the meeting/audition.

When an actor gets a job the agent will also negotiate the contract on their actors behalf to get the best possible rate they can. In return for this the agent will take commission (typically 10-15%) on the actors fee.

Generally an actor and their agent develop a strong working relationship with the aim of furthering the actors career as best they can. 

How does one go about finding and ‘getting’ an agent?

Most reputable agents will wish to see an actors work before offering representation. Established actors may well have a show-reel of previous tv/film work which can be viewed or may have been in productions the agent has seen.

Agents will also often go and see drama school showcases and productions in order to find actors about to start their careers.

The best way to try and get an agent is either to go to a decent drama school with a good track record of student success (i.e. where it's likely agents will see your work and graduating showcase, or try and get into a production and invite agents along to watch).

An agents primary responsibility is always to their current clients though and they tend to be very busy, this can often make it a frustrating process getting them along to see your work.

What are some helpful suggestions in regards to having a good working relationship with your agent?
It's hard to say exactly what makes it work but I guess in my opinion an actors relationship with their agent should be a partnership. Both parties should be pro-active and they both need to trust each other. Like any good relationship communication is the key and both the agent and actor should share common goals for taking the actors career forward.

* * *

End of Part One. 
Part Two shall include my "tier" system of agent classification, contacting agents, and the "courting" process. Stay tuned.


  1. I'm so happy to read this! This is very helpful. In addition to your creative writing, have you ever thought of writing an 'in the business' book?

    I look forward to the next installment!

  2. Maybe...? ;)

    I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I'm working on your questions too! Soon!


  3. AnonymousMay 20, 2010

    On the subject of "Getting An Agent", I've had the same Agent for 15 years now but I still don't get her...

    Sorry, clearly too much time on my hands. ;p



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