Yes there are good and bad agents and I'm sure there are already posts about what to look for in an agent. The problem that many of you are going to find is that a "good" agent is not going to take a chance on someone who has little or no experience or who has not completed three years training at an accredited institution. Some actors do manage to create a career out of sheer determination and undertaking lots of short courses - but it is not easy.
What many performers don't seem to understand is that an agent wants to make money out of the performers on their books. They don't want people sitting there not working - nor do they want to waste time promoting performers who are not going to get work or who are going to require a huge investment of time and energy before they are employable. Of course, this is why the dodgy agencies charge fees - that is how they make their money.
Let me say this once and for all: If you are an ADULT actor and an agency wants to charge you upfront fees - including expensive photo shoots or 'promotional tools' - don't do it. You are better off, if you can’t find a “good” agent to take you on, going freelance. If your agent asks you to join sites such as AT2 or Showcast - they are legitimate casting sites used by most casting agents and you subscribe directly to them - that is not the same thing.
If however you are a child performer, the situation is very different. ALL child agencies charge fees and here is why:
1. They organize photo-shoots for the kids - adult actors are expected to do this themselves.
2. They organize other promotional materials including head-sheet books, website databases etc
3. They undertake all promotion of their artists to casting agents - adult actors are expected to send out their own head-shots and CVs and do a lot of leg-work themselves.
4. Child performers are paid between 50% and 75% of what adult performers are paid - and often much less because they are not seen as "professional" performers.
5. Most child performers are untried and it may take a few years before they gain enough experience and confidence to work reasonably consistently - or to discover that they are really not cut out for the industry at all. Some adult agencies do take on child performers but usually only those who have already proved themselves. Children's agents could not survive without charging up-front fees because there is no way to tell which children will mature into performers and which will fall by the wayside.
Here is how you tell the dodgy children's agents from the good ones:
First, does your child want to be an actor or a model? If they want to be an actor take them to a drama agency. Drama agencies don't do catalogue or catwalk work - they do do television commercials, TV drama and film. Modelling agencies often won't get briefs for film and TV roles, just commercials and photographic work.
Second, if the agency has more than say 200 kids on its books - it is making money out of the up-front fees rather than the commission it receives on work it finds for the kids. Don't go there. There is no incentive for them to find your child work as they have already made their money out of you. If they charge more than a few hundred dollars a year - including your photo-shoot, website listings, head-sheet book etc - don't go there.
I hope that this will help clarify this question for everyone.