Actors’ agents – also known as ‘talent agents’ or ‘talent representatives’ – have an incredibly busy and diverse workload. Yet a large amount of this work is unseen by actors themselves.
Because of this, you may be unclear on the role and responsibilities of your agent. This knowledge gap can lead to some actors feeling frustrated by their relationship – and maybe the communication levels and frequency – with their talent agent.
This blog will provide you with some clarity on the role of actors’ agents so you are aware of:
- who agents are
- what actors’ agents do and don’t do
- how an agent’s work connects to you and your own career responsibilities, as well as the wider casting process.
AGENTS – WHO ARE THEY?
Talent agents represent professional actors in the performing arts industries. Agents assist with the process of coordinating paid performing arts work for the actors they represent.
Agents may work for an agency, they may work in a team, or they may work independently. They may represent just a handful of actors, or they may represent dozens.
The vast majority of agents’ work is done online and over the phone these days. Therefore, agents can work from an office space and/or home.
Some actors’ agents have personal experience in the performing arts. Some arrived to the job through other channels. An agent will have – at the very least – current working knowledge of contracts, legalities and the processes that occur in the performing arts industries.
Agents come from all locations and employment backgrounds. But they all have the united goal of aiming to secure professional actors with paid performing employment.
So, what does their job involve?
WHAT AGENTS DO & DON’T DO
Let’s start by exploring what an agent DOESN’T do.
Your acting agent is NOT:
- your employer
- your business advisor
- your mentor
- your coach
- your career advisor
- your accountability partner
- your financial advisor
- your marketing coordinator
- a casting director
- your personal assistant
- your parent
- responsible for your acting career
Agents are not employers. They do not – and cannot – guarantee you with any acting work. This is simply because they are not in control of the potential jobs that become available. They do not control what roles are being cast within your casting bracket, skillset, experience level, location and availability status. Agents are also not in control of whether you get cast in the roles you audition for.
Agents do not ‘land’ the acting jobs. You – the actor – lands your jobs. This occurs in two steps:
- by you undertaking excellent preparation for your castings and performing your very best in the audition room/on self-tape; and
- you then being a match to the director’s and creative team’s vision for the production.
Agents have no input on who is ultimately cast – they are simply not part of this process.
THE CASTING PROCESS
So, how does the casting process work?
The performing arts world is incredibly structured in terms of job roles and who does what. Take a film set, for example: specific jobs are given to specific people. A camera operator would not tweak the lighting on a set, no matter how close they are physically standing to the lights. The ‘tweaking’ would be the job of the lighting department.
This same specificity of job roles and tasks applies to the entire casting process in the performing arts.
Agents and casting directors do work closely together. Part of both of their job roles include finding and booking professional actors to perform in productions. But their jobs are very different.
Casting directors are assigned by a client (creative and/or corporate) to cast a production. Discussions take place to understand the client’s vision for the production.
A casting director then advertises the relevant acting roles needed for the production. They may advertise roles:
- by directly contacting a pool of agents. (Some of these agents – and their talent – may be well known to the casting agency, some may not be)
- more widely using online casting services (e.g. Spotlight; Showcast; Casting Networks etc.) that agents have access to.
It is at the submission point that an agent will become involved with the casting process.
Casting directors assume that talent agents only represent actors who are professionals: actors that carry out their duties professionally, timely, efficiently and to an excellent standard. Agents work on behalf of their talent roster to facilitate the application process of castings. This is one of the most key and frequent tasks undertaken by actors’ agents.
Casting directors publish briefs (i.e. a character description or ‘job spec’) through the above-mentioned channels. Agents read these briefs. They then review their talent roster, searching for those performers that suitably match the casting descriptions in the given briefs.
Agents then submit the suitable actors’ marketing materials (such as resumes, showreels, headshots, links to online casting profiles etc.) to the required casting agencies for consideration.
So, for this particular aspect of an agent’s job, we could describe actors’ agents as a filter between performers and casting directors.
BUT WHY CAN’T ACTORS SUBMIT THEMSELVES FOR ACTING ROLES?
Why can’t performers submit directly to casting directors? Why are agents needed for this part of the process?
Imagine the chaos if casting briefs were made publicly available? Any Tom, Dick or Harry could apply for acting roles! It would take months to sift through all the applications as there would, no doubt, be vast amounts of submissions from actors (or people who fancy themselves as actors…) who would just put themselves forward for any role going. Regardless of whether they matched the brief or not…
As well as acting like a filter (or perhaps a nightclub bouncer?!), agents get the job done quickly. Agents are familiar with the formatting, style and technology used in the casting process. They have strong business relationships with casting directors, which they work hard to both maintain and grow.
In this part of the process, we can see that agents speed up the casting ‘funnel’. Casting directors juggle numerous amounts of productions and projects each day and often with very tight turnarounds and deadlines. Therefore, they work with talent agents to swiftly and accurately select performers for auditions.
After reading through the agents’ submissions, casting directors compile a selection of actors they would like to audition. They then contact the agents of the corresponding talent and supply audition/self-tape details.
The agent then contacts the requested performers to pass on this information, which typically includes:
- the casting brief,
- script (if any)
- the relevant time, date and location details of the casting (or self-tape details); and
- the details of the job itself.
The agent will also detail the payment amount, including their commission rate/fee. Your agent should be fully transparent with you about the payments that are detailed for roles. Many agents directly forward the casting director’s brief (containing the actor’s fee) to performers as part of the audition coordination process and to aid with transparency.
An audition request will usually be the FIRST time an actor is aware of a production and the role(s) on offer. Agents do not contact talent each time they submit performers for a role. They put dozens of performers forward for dozens of productions each day. It would be impractical to phone each individual actor every time they were merely submitted for a role!
In this part of the process, agents liaise between the casting agencies and talent to assist with the coordination of auditions (including self tapes) between the two parties.
After an audition (and call backs, if any), an actor may be successfully selected and cast in a production. The agent will then coordinate the contractual process. They will negotiate with the casting and production teams to arrange and manage payments and legalities. Once these are finalised, the agent then signs off on the relevant agreements.
If there are any contractual issues during/on the job itself, agents may become involved to troubleshoot any problems for actors. Such issues may include:
- Actors being asked to do things before, during and after the production period that weren’t previously agreed to in their contract;
- Any workplace health and safety issues that may be contractually and/or legally non-compliant.
In this part of the process, agents are utilising their knowledge and experience in legalities and contracts to ensure that you – the actor – are legally, physically and financially protected.
The agent will invoice the production company for payment for the talent’s services. Invoicing may occur once the performance has been completed by the actor. Or – for jobs spanning several weeks or more – invoicing may occur during the production period itself, and multiple times if necessary.
The actor’s payment is sent directly to the agent. The agent will then forward this payment on to the actor, minus the agent’s commission percentage and any relevant taxes or other deductions.
Agents fees: they make it clear! Your contract with your agent should specify these details. Depending on your region’s tax laws and your personal self-employment status, your agent’s fee may be tax-deductible. Agent’s fees may be classified as marketing costs for your business as a professional actor. Check with your agent, union, accountant (who specialises in the performing arts industry) and local tax department for clarification.
The time period of when to expect payment from your agent should be clearly stated in your contract with the agency. Just as it would be in any other form of employment that you are contracted for.
It is in your agent’s interest for you to be booked for paid performing work as that is when their agency receives income – through the commission and booking fees. And some talent agents may work on a commission-only basis. This means that they don’t get paid a regular, ongoing and fixed salary or wage. For agents that use this structure, it may only be when actors work that the agents personally receive a monetary income. To reiterate: it is in both you and your agent’s interests for you to be booked with paid acting work!
If a production is continued or expanded in any way, the agent will then coordinate any further usage, appearances and/or rollover payments. They will forward any additional payments to the actor as and when necessary.
So, in this aspect of their work, agents are coordinating with various parties to ensure accurate payment is received and distributed to performers.
So, from what we have explored so far, we can see that agents are:
- NOT involved in the audition itself
- NOT involved in the casting decisions,
- NOT involved in the creative aspects of your performance.
Agents also spend time keeping up to date with the industry by researching what is in pre-, current- and post-production. They also network. They contact, and keep connected to, various industry professionals as well as attending interesting industry events.
Agents need their actors to be marketable to the industry. Keeping your headshots, reels, resume, online casting profiles etc. up to date is of vital importance. You need to be ready for any opportunity that your agent may present to you.
PART OF YOUR TOOLKIT
Talent agents – and agencies – are a marketing tool. They are part of your toolkit: in the same way your marketing materials such as your resume, showreel, headshots, online profiles etc are. They are part of the ensemble YOU put together to promote your acting work to industry professionals.
But agents are not responsible for your marketing. They do not update or edit:
- your marketing materials e.g. resume, headshots, reels, self-tapes etc
- your online casting profiles
- your social media output
- your website
This is your responsibility as an actor. Your career is the one being marketed, not your agent’s. And quite simply, it would be impractical for your agent to make such updates for everyone on their books. They wouldn’t have time for anything else – such as organising your auditions, contracts and payments!
Actors’ agents have specific tasks and responsibilities to assist your acting career. But it is important to remember that your agent is NOT responsible for your career. Nor its progression. YOU are the only person who has ownership of, and is responsible for, your performance and business growth. Agents have their own occupational journeys – being agents!
Your agent can, of course, give you advantageous advice and recommendations about your marketing materials and career direction. It is wise to give deep consideration to any such feedback, and then action as you deem appropriate. But the responsibility for the action lays on you – the actor.
Actors and agents work together – not for one another.
CONTACTING YOUR AGENT
As we have seen from this blog so far, actors’ agents are very busy people! Therefore, they are not contactable 24/7.
Find out from your agent:
- what their working hours are
- their preferred method of contact, and
- their expected turnaround times to communication with their actors.
These details should be stated within the contract that you signed when initially joining the agency. If not, ask your agent for them in writing via email. This clarity will empower you both!
Remember: your agent needs to prioritise their time. Be generous in terms of your expectations to your agent’s response times. Us actors want our agents to be busy booking work!
Understanding your agent’s communication style and time constraints will go a long way in strengthening the relationship between you.
YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR AGENT
Discussed in this blog so far are the many services your talent agent will provide. But the services described here are, of course, a generalisation. They are not definitive or absolute in any way.
Each agent works in the way that best suits their working style, capacity and/or agency’s requirements. Your agent may indeed provide additional services to yourself and your fellow actors on their books. And/or your agent may have team members in their organisation who fulfil some of the abovementioned tasks and duties and more.
Regardless: the relationship you have with your agent is important. You both need to be aligned on your career goals and objectives. Your communication needs to be effective and meaningful. You don’t need to be best friends but it is beneficial to you both if you enjoy talking with one another! Feel comfortable with asking questions to your agent. And equally, be welcoming of their questions and feedback to you.
You and your agent are part of a team. As a professional actor, you could be likened to the CEO of your business. Your agent isn’t in control of your acting career – you are. But you work together as any various partnerships would in other types of employment spheres.
What can you do to strengthen your relationship with your agent so you work as a more effective team?
From this blog, you now further understand just how much work your agent does to advance your industry exposure. You have learnt how administrative, contractual and financial tasks take up a significant percentage of their time.
And note: they do this amount of work for each and every actor on their books.
When – and how – did you last thank your agent for all the hard work (much of it unseen by you) they put into your acting career?
Much of an agent’s work is unseen by performers. Agents can have dozens of actors on their books. Agents submit their actors for many castings daily and will only be in touch with you when you have been selected by a casting professional to audition.
Your agent is not your employer and cannot guarantee you any work. Agents aren’t responsible for your career but can work alongside you to enhance your exposure to other industry professionals.
Creating and maintaining a fantastic working relationship with your talent agent means you will both enjoy working with one another on progressing your acting career.
Need more information or guidance about how to strengthen your relationship with your talent agent?
- Are you currently looking for representation – and need help?
Actors Career Coaching is here to support you. Get in touch today.