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How to Find an Agent... and Survive
You're looking for an agent. And there are people everywhere calling themselves agents, advertising for new faces, walking the streets looking for actors and models. Some of these are agents - mostly background or extras agents. Many of them are simply selling courses or photography sessions; others function as booking services for extras in addition to selling courses and photos, but lack the contacts to promote you as a serious actor or model. How can you tell the players from the phonies?
Agencies Who Advertise
Principal talent agencies rarely if ever advertise. These folks have so many hopefuls lined up at their doors, photos and resumes in hand, that they never need to look for new actors; when an opening appears on the roster, they already have more than enough applicants without having to pay to find more.
Some modelling agencies occasionally hold promotional events such as modelling contests; such events are infrequent, and heavily promoted in up-scale media with major corporate sponsors. Everything about the agency, the contest, and its sponsors is easily verifiable. But they do not advertise in other ways; they also have hundreds of hopefuls lined up outside the doors, and don't need to ask people to come and see them.
So who does advertise? Extras agencies sometimes do. There is a high turnover on some agency rosters as people either get frustrated and quit or (much less frequently) move up to actor's parts. Also, crowd extras (the most common type of extra work, but also the most boring and poorly paid) do not require a great deal of training or experience to start. But the better the extras agency, the less likely it is to advertise. Why? That long line of hopefuls standing patiently outside their door, resume in hand.
So when you see an ad in the paper, or on TV, or at a transit stop, or a sandwich board, think about who might be behind the ad. Certainly not a well established professional agency that already has its hands full of applicants. Maybe a brand new agency that doesn't have a reputation yet, and no line of hopefuls at the door. But it's far more likely to be someone in the business of selling services to a high volume of people, and that's not how a real agency makes its money.
Administration and Maintenance Fees
Agents earn a living on the commissions you pay them when you get work. In most agencies, normal costs such as phone bills, breakdown and courier fees, salaries and overhead are paid out of general revenues, which is to say, commissions. However, some talent agencies charge maintenance fees to cover some or all of these costs. Where maintenance fees are charged, it means that the agent does not expect to be able to pay normal costs out of commission revenue. This may mean that the agent thinks you will not get work, or in the worst of cases it may mean that the agent is not an agent and cannot get you work. So if an agency asks for money up front to represent you, you should be cautious.
If you are inexperienced, perhaps the agent is taking a chance on you. Many agencies who represent new performers or extras charge maintenance fees because their people may work less often and earn less money when they do work.
Established principal talent agencies should have a strong enough roster that they do not need to charge registration, administration, or maintenance fees. Modelling agencies do not charge any registration fees, and rarely charge maintenance fees.
Agencies which charge such fees average around $60.00 per year; fees should not exceed $120.00 per year. Agencies should not charge fees of a union member. Photographic Services Agencies are not photographic studios; however, agents will have varying degrees of involvement with the photographic requirements of the actors and models they represent. Generally speaking, legitimate talent agencies do not offer ionium photographic services for actors. Some talent agencies will make arrangements for you but if you are told that you must have photos taken through the agency, leave at once. Standard procedure is for a talent agency to give you a short list of photographers that they recommend. You should visit each one, look at their work, and select the one you feel the most comfortable with. Photos are a vital promotional tool. While an agent's advice about what photographer to use may be helpful, it is your choice to make.
Continue to Part 2
From "An Actor's Guide to Agencies in Toronto," published by Moonlighters Publishing Inc. Copyright © Moonlighters Publishing Inc. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or distributed by any means without this copyright notice. email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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