How To Get An Agent
The agent. That power-suit wearing, smooth-talker standing between you and the casting director. Without her you have no career and no hope of one. In an unscientific poll, no fewer than 100% of casting directors and agents I know said that, “How do I get an agent?” is the question most frequently asked by actors. Appropriate answers include, but are not limited to, “Be really talented”, “Be ridiculously good-looking”, “Book a TV show.”, etc. But those answers aren’t super helpful. In fact, the question, “how do I get an agent?” is one without a solid answer. There is no formula that results in getting an agent. Truth is, no formula matters if you don’t have the look or the talent that an agent thinks is marketable. So, yeah, my title is misleading. I’m not going to tell you how to get an agent. You just got suckered into reading this post for nothing. But seen another way, it’s fortunate that you learned this lesson without having to pay $400 to sit through some agency intern’s “LA agent” workshop that does nothing but fund that intern’s climb to the middle. No one has the answer.
No, there is no guaranteed formula that results in agent acquisition, but having signed with, fired and lost a bunch of them, and having seen my clients search for, acquire, lose and re-acquire a bunch more, I’ll offer some tips that may point you in a direction.
Assuming you’re training all the time (if you’re not training consistently you’re probably not going to compete), and your headhsots, resume, reel and LA Casting, Speed Reels, IMDB profiles, etc are in order, the first thing you have to do is get in front of an agent. You have to get a meeting. And you get a meeting by putting yourself out there. That doesn’t mean cold calls (cold calls or blind submissions are one approach I suppose but they’re probably a waste of time. It’s a shot in the dark. If you have an incredible look, the intern who looks at such submissions may look twice. But chances are your stuff won’t get seen). No, putting yourself out there means:
1. If you have friends, classmates, co-workers, acting teachers, etc with agents or who know agents, politely ask them to pass your picture, resume and reel along to their representation. If you don’t have friends with agents, do the work of engaging in a community of represented actors (in a class, etc), and then politely ask them to pass along your stuff. To get a meeting you’re probably going to need a recommendation and the recommendation of a client can be helpful.
2. Take every opportunity to act in plays, web series, student films, etc that will get your work seen by as many people as possible. You can’t always jump right to the big screen. Act wherever you can and if you’re talented the word will get out. Good agents go to plays. No matter how jaded the business makes them, one of the dreams of the agent is to be the first to discover that wildly talented actor who no one else would see and guide them to super stardom. You may be their diamond in the rough. So, go act.
3. Utilize Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc to its maximum potential. Agents, managers and casting directors are a part of the online community. While blind submissions and cold calls are impersonal shots in the dark, FB and Twitter in particular offer you the opportunity to engage with them in a way that could lead to a relationship and may result in a meeting. Could. May. Be VERY careful when approaching agents and casting directors on social media. If you come at them with any level of obsession, desperation or hackery, you’ve ended that relationship before it started. Use the “cocktail party approach.” Don’t do or say anything on social media that you wouldn’t do or say at a cocktail party if you were standing across from that agent. Best thing to do is add something constructive to the Facebook discussion or the Twitter feed, don’t make it all about you and go from there. Don’t be weird.
OK, so you bothered all your friends, did bad LA theatre, stalked an agent on Facebook and you got yourself a meeting. What now? How do you turn a meeting into representation? Let’s start by getting clear about what you’re asking of an agent. It’s more than just wanting her to pitch you to a casting director and get you in rooms. You’re asking her to take time away from the clients who pay her mortgage and keep her kids in private school to focus on you and your career. That’s a tall order. That is an investment of time which is an investment of money. Creative though some of them may be, more often than not agents lean towards their business interests and in this economy (even as it slowly recovers) most are leaning even harder.
In order to win their investment, they have to believe that with minimal development you will make them money. You do that in a few ways. Either you’re charming and have the perfect look (which usually means you’re young and really good looking. Not, “I was Homecoming King and have a Model Mayhem profile”, good looking. Like, really, ridiculously good looking), you’ve worked consistently and/or recently (mostly and), or you’re insanely talented and will absolutely kill in the room. Much of that you can’t do anything about. Within reason, you look how you look and you can’t create a solid reel and resume out of nothing. But the two things you can control are your talent and your hard work. You can work consistently on cultivating your talent (ie: training) so that it is strong and unique. And you can do the work of creating your own material- writing, shooting and posting content consistently- and always doing everything you can to create work for yourself. If you do that work, are of the work, and walk into the meeting with talent as a result of training, you walk in with power.
If you walk into a meeting with no power, desperate for that agent to pluck you from obscurity, dust you off and bestow his infinite light upon you, you’re dead in the water. The assumption that the agent is the one who is going to do the lion’s share of the work in the relationship is enough to end the meeting before it starts. Sure, your agent has relationships that you don’t have and can get you what you want, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at the very least share the work load. Bring as much as you can to the table. Just be of the work. I’m going to write that again. Be. Of. The work.
It is the source of your power. Name dropping (never a good idea in LA), pretending you know more about the business than you do or trying to act all suave is time wasted. Your job is to convince the agent that you are a talented and dedicated actor. Which is really easy when you’re constantly training, doing theatre and creating your own material. It’s a broad stroke, but agents are folks who are gutsy and pushy and spend most of their day trying to turn a no into a yes. They’re often energetic, power people who enjoy the challenge of working hard and getting ahead. If you walk in without your power- the work- you’re boring and not attractive to an agent. So, either be a super model with Clooney charisma or be of the work (preferably both).
The reality is that even if you do the work of maximizing your potential, it’s likely that you’ll still get denied many more times than you’ll get interest from an agent (Like I said, no formula for this stuff). But if you keep your focus on the work, keep training and keep growing, I believe that you will increase your value as an actor, thereby increasing your chances that you’ll acquire representation.
A few other tips:
1. Agents only make money when you make money. If they’re asking you to pay them up front to represent you, insisting that you pay to use their one and only headshot photographer, or want to take more than 15% of the money you make (10% is typical), run away. And consider calling the Better Business Bureau.
2. Ladies, agent meetings don’t ever have to happen over drinks after 7pm. There are agents who exercise the power we give them in an attempt to satisfy their ego and their extracurricular desires. If they’re interested in your work, meetings can happen at an office during business hours.
3. Follow up with an agent, but don’t pester. Try not to contact an agent out of a feeling of panic or desperation. That’s a sign of a high maintenance actor and that’s a red flag. It means they’ll have to work harder. Never be more high maintenance than you are profitable to an agent. You’ll get dropped.
Finally, keep in mind that not having an agent is no excuse for not creating material and distributing it online. Don’t wait for anyone’s permission to create. If you don’t have an agent, it means you probably won’t go through the normal, old channels of the industry. But it doesn’t mean you can’t create something that is brilliant, that resonates with people and that has 2 millions hits by Tuesday. And when that happens, you won’t have to look for an agent. They’ll come looking for you.