You may have heard other actors talking about being ‘represented’. This is the terminology used for an actor who is registered (or ‘on the books’) with an agent, who puts them forward for roles and handles their contracts and payment if they are cast. An agent is a useful ally to have, but having one is not necessarily essential when you first start out. Let’s talk through why you may or may not need one.
What they do
Firstly, you need to know the difference between an agent and a casting agent. A casting agent is the liaison between a client (someone who needs to cast a role) and an agent (who represents people who want to be cast). They are usually the ones who run screen tests and assist the client in making casting decisions. Casting agents do not have ‘books’ as such; that is, they don’t represent actors directly. It is their responsibility to find the most appropriate actor for the job, and therefore representing particular actors would be a conflict of interest. So casting agents are not the ones to approach when you are looking for representation.
Occasionally, for certain projects, casting directors will accept freelance submissions – meaning if you don’t have an agent but you hear a role is being auditioned, you may be able to book an audition time straight through them. This is usually only possible if the casting agent has advertised the role publicly, or if an agent knows your work and trusts that you are worth submitting. This sort of arrangement varies greatly from state to state and I’m referring particularly to what tends to happen in Perth, so you will need to suss out the situation for yourself in other states. In general, it is more advantageous – and appropriate – to develop a relationship with an agent rather than a casting agent.
Note: casting agents are mostly used for screen rather than stage work. In the theatre, it is most often the director who makes casting decisions. This will be the case on some lower budget screen projects as well.
Now, an agent is a company or an individual within a company who puts you forward for auditions. Every day they are asked by the various casting agents to provide actors to fill certain briefs, eg. ‘athletic blonde, late 20s’, ‘cute and bubbly, 20-24’. They will be given a certain number of audition slots to fill and they will choose actors from their ‘books’ to put forward for those slots. If one of their actors is chosen, they will negotiate the terms of the contract and handle payment, from which they will deduct a fee for their commission.
How much they cost
It is unusual for an agent to ask for money before you have completed a job for them, but it does happen from time to time. Some agents ask for a fee to represent you as an extra only, rather than for featured roles (which will get you some experience and exposure but won’t make much money for them, so it could be considered fair enough to charge you), while others may ask for a fee for headshots or for website maintenance. Ask around and search online to ascertain whether this is a reasonable request before you agree to anything. A general rule is that you shouldn’t have to pay an agent anything until they’ve booked you for work.
- Why they’re useful
Having an agent cuts down on your workload. An actor’s workload can be huge, as you’ll have to juggle other jobs, study, going to see shows, working on grants and other creative projects; networking and researching like crazy on top of that is a lot to ask. Not to mention the fact that after a while you’ll begin to annoy peers, professionals and even your family if you advertise yourself as a product too much (“like my facebook page”, “look at my website”, “give my CV to your friend”… blurgh). There’s nothing wrong with asking people to come to your show, but when you get to the stage where you have to manipulate your friends and family in order to get to where you want to go, you’re straying into very unprofessional territory.It’s also worth considering that once you’re at a professional level, if you’re not represented, it can raise serious questions about why you aren’t. Is it because your previous standard of work wasn’t good enough to secure you an agent, or is it because your personal code of conduct was not satisfactory? That is, are you just plain not a good actor, or did you act like a jerk and piss someone off? Neither may be the case but unfortunately both these scenarios are all too common, so it’s probably for the best that you plan to seek representation once you’ve started to work at a professional level.
Above all, your agent has experience and knows what they’re doing. They know what needs to be in your contract and how much you need to be paid. They can help you avoid getting ripped off or working under poor conditions. If you’re a freelance actor, you’ll definitely want to become an Equity member to help you deal with these issues.
- When should I get one?
Let’s get one thing clear. You don’t necessarily need an agent to work as an actor in Perth, especially when you’re first starting out. It is possible to seek work as a ‘freelance’ actor, especially for stage or film work that is considered ‘independent’ (which is generally the small-to-medium size stuff that sits between community theatre and major theatre companies). However, if you are ambitious, it is infinitely easier to access the big stuff via an agent.My general guideline is to think about getting one once you’ve finished, or nearly finished, training of some sort. Agents don’t just look for credits on your CV but often prefer taking on actors who are trained to some degree. However, training is not a strict prerequisite, so decide when it’s right for you and plan ahead before you approach them – take a long, hard look at your CV and think about ways to fill in the gaps. You don’t have to have a long list of credits to your CV, but what you list should indicate the sort of actor you are, as well as what sort of actor you want to be.
Keep in mind that a lot of agencies only take on new actors at a certain time of year (unless they’re scouting for something very particular), so it’s worth calling them and asking when it would be best to apply, and while you’re at it, check what format they want your CV and headshot in (soft copy via email/hard copy via post). If in doubt about when to send, send it through when you’re ready and follow up a few months later with an update. Don’t give up if you don’t hear back right away – agents receive so many submissions every day and won’t go through them straight away. It could take months. My recommendation would be to submit around January/February, when agents are more likely to be assessing whether they are able to take on more actors.
- The tricky stuff
Getting an agent is not the hard part of being represented. The hard part is maintaining a relationship with your agent that is pleasant and mutually beneficial. Until your agent gets to know you and trust you very well, you may not hear from them much at all. The catch-22 is that they may not trust you until they see you do work, but you might feel like you can’t get work until they trust you enough to give you auditions! Persevere with getting your own work through auditions you’ve found yourself, and make sure you invite your agent along to see your performances or screenings of your work, and send your updated CV every so often. Keep in touch without being a pest, and eventually it will be pay off. Don’t be alarmed if that takes a few years, and most importantly, NEVER whinge to or about your agent.
- Who are they?
So if you think you’re ready to be represented, you need to do some research about the agents in your state. Before you agree to ANYTHING, you really need to understand properly whether your agent is a major acting agent in your city, a small extras and promotion agency, or a dodgy online operation. If you don’t know any actors who can give you the inside scoop, hit up a few Facebook groups for actors (you should be following these types of groups anyway) and ask for their opinion.
There’s a lot more that you need to know about agents, but before I write more posts, let me know – what do you most want to know about having an agent?