This business is filled with catch-22s. A producer can’t get finance until he or she has name cast, but name cast won’t sign on unless a project is financed. A director can’t get a feature film gig without showing that they can handle the longer format but they can only do that by making a feature. And of course an actor can’t get a good agent unless they are working professionally, but they can’t work professionally without the help of an agent.
But films do get made, producers raise their finance, directors make debut features, and actors do have agents.
So what gives?
The catch-22 myth can be busted by a combination of persistence, hard work and a little bit of luck.
It is one of most frequent questions we are asked by actors – how can I get an agent, or how can I get a better agent? And we see actors time and time again spend so much time and effort in the pursuit of an agent that they miss out on the very thing that will help them land that agent – work.
Agents after all can’t give you an acting job – they can get you in the audition room, they can market you to casting directors and directors, they can use their contacts and influence to get you seen, they can negotiate a better deal for you – but ultimately it is down to you to get the job. And you can start doing that right now on your own. Indeed, it is exactly what a prospective agent wants you to do.
An agent loves nothing more than a self-starting, intelligent actor that understands the business and how to get on in it. They want you to have personal contacts with casting directors (this is where your records become invaluable – you can show them who you’ve met, who you’ve written to, who you’ve auditioned for – even if you have no responses they want to see that you’ve tried), and if you haven’t had an opportunity to meet a casting director they want you to at least know which ones you are interested in and what they do. So hit imdb and get researching.
They want you to have appeared in shorts, plays, low budget films – it shows them that you are employable, have initiative and have gained experience. That you are building up your own contacts, that you have the ability to get work. You’ll have material for a showreel – so an agent knows they can market you more easily. And you may even have some good reviews – make sure you keep all of these and make them available. You might even have built up enough contacts to get an offer of paid work – what better time to approach an agent than the possibility of them earning commission from you straight away?
They want to see that you take classes and showcases – that you are continually honing your craft, that you are networking with other actors (a wonderful source of information – buddy up). Indeed, referrals from an already represented actor is usually a great way to meet an agent.
They want you to have a clear and realistic idea of where you fit into the industry – do you want to do stage, musicals, tv, commercials, films? Yes, everyone would like to do a mixture but if you are able to highlight your true strengths and then focus on those agents that are active in that field you’ll save yourself a lot of rejection. Some agents are great for musicals, others represent a plethora of soap actors, some specialise in actor-comedians. Again you have to research – look closely at client lists – find actors you admire and see who represents them. There’s no point approaching an A-list agent – they will find you when the time is right – so it’s key that you are honest with yourself about your own ability, your short term and long term goals.
They want to know you have perseverance, tenacity, and that you can handle rejection – so they probably won’t take you on at the first attempt. They might test your mettle, see what you’re made of, see how you bounce back with an even better approach and a more focused determination to succeed.
But don’t just sign with any agent – you want this to be a long term relationship, it’s a marriage, so you need to know that an agent is right for you. They need to be knowledgeable about what is casting, to have the contacts to be able to get you into the right kind of auditions for you, you have to be able to communicate with each other effectively through thick and thin, you need to have mutual respect for what each of you do, and perhaps most importantly they have to have a passion for your work, your unique talent as an actor and wanting to see you succeed. So be patient and trust your instincts – and never ever pay someone up front to represent you.
And once you have signed with an agent – even the agent of your dreams – don’t stop what you’ve been doing all along – still keep trying to find yourself work. Keep hustling, keep mining your actor friends for information about what they are going up for, keep in touch with casting directors of your own accord. Your agent will love you even more for it.
One final thought. Even agents have their catch-22s – they all want high-profile high-earning low-maintenance star clients, but it’s hard to sign a star unless you already have a stable full of them. And if they have the good fortune of representing a client that becomes a star it’s hard to hang on to them when another agent comes a-poaching. So you might not be able to help them with the high-profile high-earning part, at least not right now. But the low-maintenance part? Well, that’s entirely down to you.