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Whether you’re finishing drama school, moving to a new city or looking to take the next step in your acting career, finding a talent agent is a brilliant idea. But how does an actor get an agent?
Actors must first have professional headshots and some credits on their CV. Once they have these, they can reach out to agents with examples of their work or invitations to see them perform. Reaching out to colleagues with agents is also highly effective, as a quality reference can go a long way.
That said, finding an agent can be extremely stressful for even the most experienced actors. Whether you’ve had an agent before or you’re looking for your first one, this article will help you find that perfect agent for you and your career.
Table of Contents
What Does a Talent Agent Do?
Before getting started, we need to understand the role of a talent agent.
A talent agent is a person that submits actors, musicians, dancers and other creatives to jobs. A talent agent will get breakdowns of the biggest productions in their area and submit performers that match these breakdowns. The agent’s primary job is to get their clients seen by casting directors and producers.
Once an agent gets an actor an audition or meeting with a casting director or producer, it’s the actor’s job to ‘wow’ them. Although there will be times when you seem to be booking every job you audition for, this is extremely rare. It’s not unheard of for actors to get 20, 50 or even more auditions before booking a singular job. An agent can support you, but as an actor, it’s ultimately your job to prove that you’re the right person for the role.
Talent Agents vs Talent Managers
While a talent agent submits actors for jobs, a talent manager focuses on the bigger picture. Talent Managers will help guide an actor’s career, ensuring the client, their headshots and demo reel are marketable. A Talent Agent focuses on an actor’s work while a Talent Manager focuses on an actor’s career.
Many actors will employ both an Agent and a Manager. While this is more costly, as you’re paying commission to both people, a great manager can be a massive asset. And having more hardworking people on your team whose job it is to ensure that you thrive, can be massively beneficial.
Large talent agencies often have hundreds of clients on their books, therefore, it can be hard for an agent to have too much of a personable approach. This is where the Managers role comes in and thrives.
Talent Managers are more common in North America than in the United Kingdom. In fact, in the UK, the dedicated role of a Talent Manager doesn’t really exist in the same way as it does in the US. Most Agents in the UK take on the role of both Agents and Managers, especially within smaller boutique agencies. We’ll talk more about big vs boutique agencies a little later, as signing with a bigger agency isn’t always the best decision.
First, here’s a short video by Backstage that points out some key differences between Talent Agents and Talent Managers in the US and a few things actors need to think about before hiring both.
Do Actors Need Talent Agents?
Many actors believe that having an agent is absolutely essential. Although, it really depends on where the actor is in their career. While having an agent is definitely worth the commission you pay them, it’s still more than possible to get work without one.
When I first decided that I wanted to become an actor, I was confused by what seemed to be a catch-22. You need an agent to get acting experience, but you need acting experience to get an agent. How on earth does that work?
In fact, there are many ways to get jobs without an agent. An agent simply gets you access to auditions for the larger productions. The most successful actors I know continue to look for work themselves even after signing with an agent.
Focus on getting some experience first, get some professional headshots and put together a demo reel that shows off what you can do. Then, once you’ve got these things and a few credits under your belt, it’s time to start thinking about getting an agent.
I’d also recommend you check out the 7 Essential Skills Every Actor Needs To Be Successful. Actors that focus on these skills will become better actors and be more likely to sign with a great agent.
How To Find Talent Agencies
There are thousands of talent agencies around the world, and they’re not all born equal. It’s ultimately the actor’s job to do their due diligence and ensure that an agency is legitimate and will be a benefit to their career.
But with so many agencies around, how can actors ensure they’re getting a good deal and not being subject to a predatory scam? Here are three of the most foolproof ways to find talent agencies.
1. Research Agent Associations
The most foolproof way of finding reputable agents is by finding lists of agencies with an established track record in the industry.
In the US you can go to SAG-AFTRA’s website and get a list of around 600 franchised agencies that follow the guidance, practice and terms & conditions set out by the Screen Actors Guild. While there are definitely many well-respected agencies that aren’t SAG-AFTRA franchised, being a member of a SAG-backed agency will ensure you’re not being subject to a scam.
SAG-AFTRA personally vets every agency looking to be backed by the union. They must meet multiple requirements such as a year of experience in the industry and must also provide reliable proof of their legitimacy. In fact, if you’re a member of SAG-AFTRA, you’re not allowed to join agencies unless they’re backed by SAG, so this is something to keep in mind.
In the UK, we have a slightly different approach. The PMA (The Personal Managers Association), which is “the leading professional body for talent agencies in the UK” represents over 200 agencies that have a proven track record within the industry.
Agencies looking to join The PMA, must have at least 2 years of experience in the industry or be backed by a top agency. Agencies that are backed by The PMA must follow good agent practice, care for their clients and show a “commitment to industry-wide values of equality, diversity and inclusion, and anti-harassment.” Becoming a PMA member is a massive achievement for agents in the UK, so joining one of these agencies is a great assurance of quality.
2. Ask Your Actor Friends About Their Agents
Another great way of finding agencies is by asking people in your personal network. Ask for their experience within their current agency or past agencies. Of course, their experience may be completely different to what yours would be, but it can still give you a great starting point.
Having a friend who is a member of an agency is also a great way of getting your foot in the door with an agent, as a personal recommendation from one of their current clients can go a long way! Especially if your friend is actively booking working and making them money.
3. Google Agents in Your Area
If all else fails, simply go to Google and search; “talent agencies in” LA, New York, London, or wherever you live (it doesn’t have to be a major city). Google is great at its job, searching this query will show countless well-known agencies in your area, although be aware that these are not necessarily guaranteed to be a good fit for you.
You may find that an agency represents all the A-List talent, like CAA (Creative Artists Agency) for example, which represents actors like Tom Cruise, Margot Robbie, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and many other famous actors named Chris. While this may seem like a great idea, it may not be the best option for your career. But why is this?
Big Agencies vs Boutique Agencies
Big agencies may get sent breakdowns for lead roles before they’re sent to boutique agencies, but they will also spend more resources finding work for their more notable talent. Less notable actors may struggle in larger agencies and instead find more success working with a more personable boutique agency.
While it may seem like an obvious decision for your career to join a top-tier talent agency that represents A-List celebrities that even your grandmother could name, this may not be the best decision. When you’re a small actor that has limited experience in the industry, you’re in danger of drowning within a pool of celebrities and being forgotten by your agent. This happens all the time.
If your agent can easily close deals in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions by focusing on getting work for their established talent, it makes sense that you may eventually slip under the rug. That being said, agents at this level have a lot of respect in casting circles and they often have access to roles that you could only dream of auditioning for. But it’s no secret that the larger stars are also auditioning for these roles, so you’re no longer only competing with your looks & ability, but your notability too.
For this reason, there’s no simple answer to this question. There are many pros and cons to both sides, so I’d argue that, at least for the first few years of your career, it may be a better idea to start with a smaller boutique agency where you can dedicate more time to honing your ability, growing your CV and developing your brand. Remember, the bigger agencies will always be there in the future.
It’s easy to get caught up in wanting results yesterday, but there’s no point dreaming of overnight success. This is something we all struggle with, especially when we’re struggling financially, but I’d argue we should focus on what we can do today, this way we can strive for long and prosperous careers instead.
Should I Get An Agent In My City?
Actors often wonder whether they should apply to agencies in their own city or elsewhere, especially when they don’t live in major cities like LA, New York or London. But the answer to this question really depends on what part of the world the actor lives in.
Actors based in the US are usually encouraged to find a primary agent in their resident city. This is because, due to travel costs, an actor is more likely to get work in their own city. But actors living in smaller countries like the UK can apply to agencies while living on the other side of the country.
That being said, some actors get around this by having more than one agent, one in their home town and one in a major city like LA. This is also true internationally, many actors based in the UK that want to break into the US market will apply to agencies in LA too. This is something that you must run by your agent though, not all agents like the idea of actors having more than one agent and it may be a breach of contract.
While it’s not important to live in one of the major cities I recommend you check out this article I wrote on the Best Places To Start Your Acting Career.
How To Apply To An Agency
Once you’ve found a talent agency that you want to apply to, the next step is to actually apply. As simple as that sounds, the process may be different from agency to agency, as some agents prefer applications in different forms.
Many actors screw their chances at representation by making some critical mistakes at this point. This is something you definitely want to avoid. By following the steps I’ve laid out below, you will give yourself the best possible fighting chance at booking a meeting with a talent agent.
1. Visit the Agencies Website
Any talent agency worth applying to in the modern day will have a website, this is an incredibly valuable resource. The first thing I’d encourage you to do before applying is to take a look around their website. Read their ‘About Us’ page, find out who they currently represent and the agents currently working there.
Some smaller agencies may only have one agent, whereas larger agencies like United Agents may have over a hundred agents all specialising in different areas of the industry, all with varying levels of experience.
Some actors may also want to look into the agency’s social media accounts, these will most likely be advertised on their website somewhere. This may or may not be important to you, and often smaller agencies won’t focus too much on social media. An agent’s social media following probably shouldn’t be a deciding factor for you, but it could be an indicator of notability.
The more you learn about the agency the better. You don’t want to be applying to random agencies just to get signed with someone. You want to sign with an agent that you truly believe will help you in your career. If you don’t think this agency is for you, move onto the next one and restart this process.
2. Find Their Preferred Method of Contact
Every agency will have their preferred method of contact as well as its own policies in regard to applications. When visiting an agency’s website, find a contact page or a page about applying. Most agents will lay out the guidelines of how they would like you to apply, as well as their preferred method of contact on a page like this.
Most agencies prefer to be contacted via email, although some offer applications via online forms on their website and there may be one or two old-timers that prefer snail mail. As well as this, be aware that agencies with multiple agents may have general emails as well as personalised emails for each agent. Look into which email is the best to use.
3. Gather Your Promotional Materials
When contacting an agent for representation there are a few things that you will need to have to be put up for consideration. As mentioned in the previous step, some agencies will tell you what materials they’d like you to provide on their website. The ones I mention below are considered the standard.
The main resources an agent will expect to receive from an actor are professional headshots, a resume and a showreel. These will allow an agent to get a good understanding of an actor’s ability, look, experience, training and potential castability.
Professional actor headshots are the absolute bare minimum for applying for representation. It’s often recommended that actors don’t contact agents until they have industry standard, professional headshots. This is because, as a professional actor you are a business and for an actor, your headshot is your first point of sale.
Agents get hundreds of applications from actors at all levels of their career. Unless you have a super original look, most agents that see an actor send an application with amateur headshots will presume that you’re not at a point in your career where you’re ready for an agent. To give yourself the best chance at success, get some professional headshots first!
A resume or CV is an absolute must for any actor trying to land an agent. If you don’t currently have much experience to put on your resume, tailor your resume towards any training that you’ve had. You don’t have to be on Netflix to get an agent. Simply include your physical traits like height, gender, etc, any experience and training you have had, as well as any skills that set you apart from the crowd. This is more than enough.
A showreel may not be a must for landing an agent, but having one will dramatically increase your chances. You may have a great look, a top education and some great credits; but if they can’t see you perform, they’ll rightfully be hesitant to sign you. If you have scenes from short films or tv shows you’ve been in, it’s a great idea to create a showreel. But if you don’t have experience on screen you still have options.
A good showreel isn’t for bragging about what shows you’ve been in, but to present your ability and casting type as an actor. If you don’t currently have any experience on screen, perhaps because you focus mainly on theatre, a great option is to film a monologue or self-tape and use this as your showreel. Not only will you then have something to show your acting ability, but you’ll also be showing the agent that you know how to do a great self-tape, which is an absolute must in the modern day.
Although you could send these resources to an agent as attachments in an email, many agents prefer not to download files and instead like you to provide an online CV that includes all this information. One of the most popular among actors and agents in the US is Actors Access. It’s completely free to complete your resume and add up to two headshots, but to apply to casting opportunities on the site, you must become a paying member.
In the UK, the industry standard is Spotlight UK. Although to become a member of Spotlight, you must meet certain requirements. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out this article I wrote on How To Join Spotlight.
If you’re unable to meet these requirements, Backstage is also a great option for actors living all around the world. I highly recommend you join one of these platforms.
Here’s a great video by the Hollywood talent manager and founder of WAW Entertainment, Wendy Alane Wright, where she talks about the most important things actors should send to agents and managers.
4. Target A Specific Agent
Actors often make one of two big mistakes when addressing agents. The first, although relatively innocent, is getting the name of the agent or agency wrong, whether it be the spelling of the name or the name in its entirety.
When sending emails to a few different agencies, it’s relatively easy to get mixed up and email Agent Adam with “Hi Emma!” Agents understand that this is an easy mistake, and are very used to it happening. But that being said, you want the agent to feel good when reading your email, and getting their name wrong doesn’t exactly help.
The second thing is something we’ve all done before, admit it! You copy and paste the same exact email multiple times and send it out to multiple agencies that you’re interested in, only changing the name of the agent. Although this may make the process of outreach quicker and easier, it leaves opportunity on the table.
The best practice when applying to an agency is to target and email a specific agent. This helps show that you’ve done some research into the agency and makes you seem more professional and less desperate.
It will of course be similar to emails to other agents, in the fact that it will include the same key resources that we mentioned in the last step. But personalising each email to the agent and agency will give it a more authentic feel, and the agent will be able to tell.
Maybe there’s a specific reason you want to apply to this agent or agency, maybe you could reference a friend they represent. You want to show that you are a real human, not a robot, spamming the inboxes of hundreds of agents, hoping for something to bite. Be a real person!
5. Keep it Short
Most actors, when first starting to contact agents, fall into the trap of telling them their life story. “I’ve wanted to become an actor ever since I was…” The reality is, agents get hundreds of applications every week.
Sure, a good agent will skim through these emails to see if they have any promising applicants, or they’ll at least get an assistant to do it for them. But unfortunately, they don’t have the time to read every word that every actor sends them. Their main job is to find auditions for their current talent. The longer your email is, the less chance you have of them reading the important parts.
The bare bones of your email will be an introduction, including anything they might be interested to know (if you’re about to graduate from drama school or perform in a show, or maybe you have a unique ability that sets you apart from other actors) and then the links to your resume, headshot and showreel. Be professional, be yourself and most importantly… Keep it short! That’s all the agent wants.
6. Follow Up
Once you’ve sent your email, forget about it and move on to the next agent. If you haven’t received a reply after a while, it may be worth following up. Although you’ll want to be incredibly careful about this. At a maximum, you don’t usually want to email prospective agents more than a few times a year, anything more than once every 3 or 4 months is probably too much.
Actors that spam agents’ emails will just end up getting blacklisted or blocked and will definitely leave a sour taste in an agent’s mouth. If you haven’t had a reply, don’t worry! This doesn’t mean you’re not a good actor, or that they don’t believe you have what it takes. It simply means they’re not interested, right now! If you’re working on developing your career, this will more than likely change as time goes on.
A great way to do this is to follow up with agents when you have something new to offer, such as a movie you’re in or some free tickets to a show. This gives you a great excuse to develop a connection with agents, allow them to see you perform and most importantly they will see that you’re working on something new every time you contact them. They’ll understand that you’re working hard on your career, and they will want to be a part of that.
How To Prepare For A Meeting With An Agent
At some point in your journey to find an agent, you’ll be offered a meeting. Once you get to this point, congratulations! This is a massive step!
When an actor gets a meeting with an agent, it’s confirmation that the agency is interested in what the actor has to offer. While agents use these meetings to determine if the actor is a good fit for their agency, actors should use these meetings to determine if the agent is the right fit for them.
You’ll want to ensure when preparing for your meeting, whether in person or online that you bring your most up-to-date headshot and resume with you. If you have any other promotional material, this may be worth bringing too. Some actors may want to bring presskits or previous reviews, but these are definitely not necessary.
The “Tell Me About Yourself” Question
Although a meeting with an agent may be different between agencies, you can almost guarantee you’ll be asked this question. This is a question that haunts many actors, I think this is because it’s seemingly so open-ended. When I first heard this question, I thought… What do you want to know? I wanted specifics. Although, once you understand what the agent is actually asking, you’ll be able to answer this question with ease.
When an agent asks you to tell them about yourself, they’re trying to understand who you are. They want you to talk about something you love. To break down the barriers and relax into your true self. They have your resume, they’ve probably already seen you act and they know that you’re good at it, so you shouldn’t feel the need to read out your resume as an impromptu monologue. Instead, focus on the things that they don’t know.
What are some of your greatest passions, or things that you enjoy doing? How did you fall in love with acting? Where are you from, and how is that important to the person you are? What makes you, you? While you can talk about your training and credits, it may be a good idea to tie them into points that help the agent get to know you, and not just what you’ve worked on.
Know Your Short, Mid & Long Term Goals
Where do you want to be in the next 6 months, or the next year, or even in five years? As an actor and a business person (which is what you are as an actor), it’s incredibly important to know exactly what your goals are. Actors that haven’t set out tangible goals with real deadlines will often end up misplacing their time.
An actor that understands this and can present to an agent their short, mid and long term goals, aswell as the things they’re actively doing to achieve these goals will be seen as a professional and someone that knows what they’re doing.
Some actors rely on luck, waiting for opportunities to fall at their feet. So when an actor can show that they know what they’re working towards, the agent will be able to focus on their job, finding you auditions, and be able to tailor what they do to help you achieve your goals.
What Connections Do You Have In The Industry?
If you’ve trained as an actor or worked in the industry at all, the chances are you’ve made some valuable connections. People that would vouch for you, casting directors that like to bring you in, directors that can rely on you. These connections are incredibly valuable.
They don’t even have to be people that you’ve worked with. If you go to see a lot of theatre in your area and you like to network with people there, perhaps you’ve become friends with some directors or actors, this shows the agent your initiative.
When an agent can see that there are already people in the industry that trust you, believe in you and will vouch for you, it will be seen as a massive asset. You can talk about yourself all day long, but if you can provide names of directors you’ve worked with, casting directors you’ve developed ongoing relationships with, or people that you’re friends with but haven’t worked with yet, the agent will see your potential.
When an agent cold submits actors to auditions where the casting director doesn’t know who the actor is, it’s a much harder sell. But if you have connections in the industry already, you have lines in the water for potential work in the future. And if you’ve developed these connections, the agent will be sure you’ll develop more over time. An actor with connections is a huge asset, so be sure to mention them.
Prepare Some Questions
Asking questions throughout an agent meeting is a great way to make it flow more naturally. When a meeting is more of a conversation rather than an interview, it will give the actor more confidence and the agent will be able to see the actor’s true personality.
If you don’t get a chance to ask questions throughout, most agents will ask if you have any questions for them towards the end of the meeting. But what should you ask them?
Firstly, when thinking of questions to ask an agent, you want to keep in mind that these questions should allow you to decide if this agent is the right one for you. Even if you get an offer from this agent, you don’t have to accept it. If you don’t think they’re the best option for you, saying no is a respectable option and it will save more time in the long run.
So with that being said, you’ll want to avoid asking questions that you can easily find the answers to on their website. This will make you seem like you’ve done no research into the agency. Instead think about what is important for you to have in an agent, and ask a question related to that. Some examples of questions I’ve asked in the past would be;
- What could I do to make your job easier?
- What do you wish actors understood about being an agent?
- How often do you like to communicate with your clients?
- If you were to give me some advice or feedback on my headshots or showreel, what would it be?
These are some great examples. They not only let the agent know that you’re open to collaboration and critical feedback, but it helps understand on what level the agent is comfortable with collaboration and giving critical feedback.
These things may not be important to you, but they are to me. Find what’s important to you, think of some questions related to these things and think about how your perfect agent would answer them. This will help you find your perfect agent.
Don’t be afraid to turn down agents that don’t meet your criteria, you don’t want to be stuck with an agent that doesn’t fit your way of working.
Things To Look Out For
When applying to agents, there are a few things to be aware of, from scammers to clauses in contracts. It’s not all bad news, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself into when signing on the dotted line.
1. Beware of Upfront Costs
There are many scam agencies out there that prey on people’s dreams of becoming an actor. The most common sign of a scam is upfront costs. If an agency is asking you to pay them upfront, turn around and run… No legitimate agency will ever ask you to pay upfront.
Some legitimate agencies may advise you to get new headshots, that will ofcourse cost money, but the money will go from you to the headshot photographer, not through the agent. An agency makes money from its actors through commissions, and commissions only. This means when you book a job and sign the contract, the agent will take a small commission.
If you’d like to know more about how agents make money and exactly how much commission they should be taking, you should read this article on How Much Does An Acting Agent Cost?
2. How Much Commission Is The Agent Taking?
It’s important that an actor understands how much commission an agent will be taking. This fee will depend on where your agent is based.
In the US, SAG-Franchised agents are prohibited to charge anything more than 10% commission. Although non-SAG agents can charge up to 20%, most agents tend to follow the 10% rule, as it’s usually frowned upon to charge more.
If you want to join an agency that charges more than 10%, that’s down to your own descression, but it’s important that you understand that most actors are paying 10%.
In the UK, the standard rate of commission for talent agencies is usually 15%, but this can range anywhere from 10%-20%.
If you’re thinking about joining a talent agency that charges more than the standard amount, think about what you’re getting for your money. Are you getting anything extra from the extra commission you’ll be paying, or are you simply signing because you think any agent is better than no agent?
3. When Does An Agent Take Commission?
Many actors find work for themselves outside of the auditions that they get from agents. It’s important that you know whether your agent will be taking a commission from this work too. Agents are often open to discussing commission for work you source yourself on a job-to-job basis.
It’s perfectly normal for this to happen, and there’s nothing wrong with an agent taking a commission from work that you obtain on your own behalf. But it’s important that this is clarified with the agent before signing. You don’t want a nasty surprise when you get offered a job and realise that you have to pay your agent 10-20% of your earnings.
The reason some agents charge commission for work that you obtain yourself is because, during the time you’re working on that job, you won’t be able to work on anything else, and therefore the agent won’t be able to make money during that time.
4. Agent Exclusivity
Some actors like to sign with more than one agent, whether it be signing with an agent in a different state, an agent for international bookings, or maybe even an agency that focuses on voice-over work. But some agents don’t like this, they prefer to represent their actors for all work.
If you would prefer to have a specialised voice-over agency to represent you for voice-over work, or an international/out-of-state agent to represent you for work located elsewhere, it’s important that this is discussed before signing.
What To Do If You Don’t Find An Agent?
If you’re unable to find an agent, that’s okay. Don’t worry. The process of getting an agent can take a long time. It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough or you won’t make it, it just means that it’s not your time yet.
If you continue to put work into yourself, your ability, your career and your promotional materials, you will without a doubt, at some point get an agent. It may not be today or tomorrow, it may not be this week or this year, but one day, with enough work, you’ll get there.
Don’t stop trying, don’t give up. Learn to enjoy the journey more than the idea of the destination. There are roles for actors of all ages, and you’ve only just started. Get out there, show them what you can do and most importantly, show yourself what you can do.