About Talent Agents

by Cathy McKim

Professional male talent agent

A talent agent, or booking agent, is a person who not only finds jobs for actors but also negotiates the deals and sees that his or her client is treated fairly.

In objective terms, your agent is your professional representative. He or she will suggest you, as appropriate, for roles that come to his or her attention and will negotiate your contract when you get the job. An agent also deals with the creative aspects of the business, providing networking and support services.

In subjective terms, an agent can be mother, father, shrink, salesperson, facilitator, publicist. An agent, says Michael Oscars (Oscars and Abrams Associates Inc.) is "a champion, never enough for the client, far too much for the employer." An agent is an actor's lifeline to the industry in a fifty-fifty partnership.

Agents expect honesty, loyalty and professionalism from you. An actor needs to be working as hard as his or her agent to achieve their common goal of getting work. Your end of the deal is to provide your agent with up-to-date photos, resumes and tapes so they have the tools that enable them to sell you to prospective employers. When you get an audition be prepared, off script if possible, be dressed appropriately, be early and do your absolute best to show casting that you are the one for the job.

You must communicate with your agent; this includes everything from changes in hair style/colour and availability in terms of where you can be reached and vacation times, to the types of roles you'd like to be doing. No agent likes to look like an idiot because they thought they sent a brunette to the audition and what casting saw was a blonde. It's also not fun for agents to have to play detective in an attempt to track you down for a booking.

You must know yourself and be honest with both yourself and your agent about your own limitations and strengths. Don't tell your agent you can water ski when you've only done it a couple of times when you were a kid. A limitation can become a strength with proper training and consistent, conscientious work at the craft of acting. Actors also need to be aware of what's going on in the industry. Watch TV, especially the productions that are shot in Toronto, be it home grown or imported.

Also be familiar with who's doing the work out there; your agent can help provide you with information on production companies, producers, directors and casting. The more familiar you can be with the shows that are out there, the better prepared you'll be if your agent gets you an audition for one of them. Go to the theatre too; not only can you see what's happening in terms of live work, but you can find yourself some great networking opportunities among the casting,production, and acting communities. Get out there and circulate. Don't expect your agent to do everything for you.

The agent's side of the bargain is to know your strengths, sell them, find opportunities for work and negotiate the best contract they can for you. Your agent can be a great resource for information on photographers, classes, casting and production and, in some cases, may draft your resume in house. Prospective roles don't all come in through the breakdown service and it is your agent's job to keep informed about what's going on when. You can help by letting you agent know if you hear about a production through your own grapevine; they can find out more and see if they can get you in to be seen. They will help you get ready for auditions by providing background info on the role and assisting you with wardrobe selection and line preparation.

A good agent will be available, often twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to discuss your career in terms of: visual presentation (packaging), what types of roles you're interested in and/or best suited for, who your competition is, how best to sell you, prioritizing goals and suggesting what you need to be doing for yourself to achieve them. An effective agent will be compassionate and understanding of your needs as an actor and can be a good sounding board for your professional and personal concerns. An agent can be your cheerleader before you go to audition for a job and your shoulder to cry on if you don't get it.

To find SAG/AFTRA franchised talent agents, visit Actingland.com. Actingland provides contact information for thousands of agents along with casting notices and auditions.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when you're fresh out of theatre school is to assume that, once you've got your agent, you're all set and, if you were getting leads in school, you'll be getting them now. Only a very rare and lucky few get their careers off the ground right away. You need training and experience. Once you've finished the main bulk of your training, you'll have to invest up to an equal amount of time to get yourself established in the professional world. It's a full time job and you will have to sacrifice time. money, and social life to get what you want.

If you don't have an agent, start making initial contacts before you graduate. Send a photo and resume with a well thought out covering letter and invite them to see you perform. All photos and resumes must be professional, up to date, and a good representation of you; these will cost you money. You need to shop around for a good photographer and seek advice on drafting an actor's resume. Referrals from established actors can be helpful as well. Do some homework first and find out about the agencies you'll be sending stuff to. It is not a good idea to answer ads in newspapers or magazines; use reliable sources among teachers, actors, TAMAC, ACTRA, Actor's equity and publications like this one to find legitimate talent agencies.

Having an agent doesn't mean that you can sit back and relax. Whether you have an agent or not, it is always important to brush up on skills, learn new ones, and gain experience. Check out local workshops, classes, community theatre and independent theatre companies; get involved in a fringe or festival show. Sandi Sloan (The Sloan Agency) has two words for the new kids getting started: "persistence pays" and goes on to say: "I have a lot of respect for those young kids because it's tough out there." It's not glamorous; it's no business to be in if you want to be a star; you have to be prepared for a lot of rejection while you're working your butt off trying to get auditions and trying to pay the bills with a part-time job.

You may want to set yourself goals in terms of "in ... number of years, I want to accomplish ..." And, as impossible as it may seem, try to keep a life happening in spite of all the hard work you have ahead of you. Any outside interests that you maintain can only round you out both as an actor and as a person.

So, you still want it? Wanting it is important too. You have to want it, believe in yourself and work like hell to do it. A very wise acting teacher once said that "we are the damned." He was half joking but it only goes to show that a sense of humour about all this craziness is paramount to keeping your sanity. It's hard work, but when it's working, it's damn fun. As Jennifer Goldie (Golden Talent) says: "Assume your position! Carpe diem!" Cheers!
Cathy McKim is an author and blogger living in Toronto, Canada. She studied visual arts at York University and acting at George Brown Theatre School. By day, she works as a copy editor/staff writer. After hours, she can be found acting, scenic painting, or involved in other forms of visual arts projects. She also finds time to write short stories, personal essays and blog posts. Her article is an excerpt from "An Actor's Guide to Agencies in Toronto" published by Moonlighters Publishing Inc.

With thanks to: Jeff Andrews, Colin Armstrong, Shari Caldwell, Cari Fallis, Michael Gaitt, Jennifer Goldie, Megan Goldwell, Carolyn Govers, Frank Hogg, Gerry Jordan, Cindee Karnick, Peter McGuire, Fran Messinger, Sandie Newton, Penny Noble, Michael Oscars, Louise Parent, Mark Preston, Nancy Ramos, Estella Ruston and Sandi Sloan for their time, insight and humour.

Copyright © Moonlighters Publishing Inc. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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