Anyone thinking of finding professional work in the performance industry has basically two primary choices; find an agent or be your own agent. Both have their pros and their cons, and can leave you high and dry if you don't employ some judicious care.
If you go it alone, then good luck to you. You will need to establish all of your own contacts, develop your industry reputation from nothing and hard-sell yourself on a daily basis. That's not to say it is impossible. It has been done and there are many out there who say that it is the better option. For most of us, starting from scratch is simply ludicrous so we flop open the Yellow-pages and let our fingers do some of the walking.
Finding an Agent who will represent you means not having to make as much effort in finding the desired pathways and contacts into your chosen profession. Please note that I said "as much effort" as opposed to "don't worry guys, they do everything for you." You will still need to learn the art of self-marketing and not-quitting. You will also have to be very judicious in who is going to represent you. You can't just walk into the first Agent you find, sign-up, then sit back and wait for the jobs to come rolling in. That is just not the way it works.
"Isn't it?" I hear some of you ask. Of course not.
Firstly, what area are you looking to get into? Film, TV, Theatre, Musicals, Opera, Comedy?
What types of roles? Minor and supernumerary roles, or are you going whole hog for only the leading man and lady?
What geographical spread are you looking to cover? Your local backyard or maybe you want to go globally? Probably best to start aiming a bit lower.
What experience do you already have and are you prepared to seek out more? (The answer to this should always be lots and yes.)
That is before you even walk in the door to a prospective agent. Once you have a better understanding of what it is you want from an agent, the better armed you will be when you start calling them. Yes calling them. Now you need to find out more about them and see if they are compatible to your requirements.
There are lots of them. Really. They cover all different aspects of the industry and come with different extras or pit-falls. Be wary. There are opportunists and profiteers out there who like to take advantage of our industry and the large numbers of hopeful young men and women all so keen to "make it big" as it were.
Your first port of call should be the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance as technically, they are your Union Representative. They fight for your rights and pay rates, and they fight hard. I would suggest that anyone who is seriously considering a professional career in this industry to register with the union as they can be a vital crutch. Here you will find a list of agents who are registered with the Union. Mind you, as the disclaimer on the site says, this is not an endorsement of the agent as the union cannot verify and validate every agency that is out there. It does substantially improve your chances of missing those more dodgy deals, however you will still need to do a little research.
Now you have your list of potential representatives, you need to start putting the feelers out. Make a few calls and inquire about what services they actually provide, what the process is in joining up and so forth. Some questions that may be a useful start might be;
How many people do you already have on the books? This will give you an indication of where you may fall in the pile. A Large number of existing clients may indicate high popularity of the agency which is good but may also imply that you could easily become lost in the numbers.
How long have they been running the business? When was the last change of management? Long term performance is usually a good sign of market strength. That is not to say that a newer agency is not worth a shot. You can never be too certain.
What shows/productions have they actually cast for? Are the productions ones that you know about yourself and if so, this may be a good way to validate what they tell you.
Do they have a recommended photographer? Find out who it is and you may be able to do a little research there also.
Maybe they offer training services. Are they accredited? What is the cost and so on.
These are just sample questions. Do try and think of further questions to ask, after all, you are asking these people to represent you in a tight and cut-throat business. In a real sense, you are hiring them.
Once you feel you got enough out of the agent themselves, it's time to do a little research of your own. Try and "Google" the agent of the net. See what comes up. Sometimes you might be surprised. Quite often I find an agent's name attached to an actor bio for a high-profile production. That is usually a pretty good sign. On other occasions I have found the agent being slammed and accused of this, that and the other. Do take what you find with a pinch of salt. Some of the negative comments may be simply one or two angry members of the public venting their frustrations. Then again...
Finding nothing or very little does nothing either way. Maybe they're too new to have anything flow through to the net. Then again, if they have been around for a while, why is there little about?
Another good source of information are related discussion groups or forums. A very good example would be the Independent Theatre Association Web Site Theatre Australia. There have been several discussions on that site already that have focused on topics such Finding a Good Agent and some of the pitfalls to watch out for.
Again, you do need to exercise caution when reading these forums. They are open to everyone and anyone, which can lead to all sorts of misleading information. My rule of thumb is that if it sounds constructive them it usually is.
Lastly, talk to others in the business. Who is their agent? Would they recommend them?
This is a hot issue and I wanted to deal with it independent of other things. In the UK, it is illegal for a casting agent to charge an application fee to prospective clients. Technically that is also true for Australia. Anyone who charges for simply signing onto the books should be very seriously questioned. Sometimes they may try to hide the fee in things like compulsory photo shoots, Workshops and so forth. This is not say that you should steer completely clear of these places, but just be aware that there are other agents out there who would work just as hard without the initial fee. Here is what the Alliance (MEAA) say about Payment.
Under the Entertainment Industry Act 1989, an agent can only charge the following percentages of a performers salary as
1. for an engagement involving film, television or electronic media - 10%;
2. for live theatre, live musical or variety performances - 10% for any period up to five weeks and then 5% for any period after;
3. in all other cases - 10%.
If you are asked to pay for such things as Photo Shoots, Workshop Attendance, etc, then ask if they are optional. For example, if you already have a portfolio of Photos, would that suffice and negate the fee? Is workshop attendance optional to joining the Agency? If these things are requirements, then I would seriously question the motivation of the Agent in question. Are they seriously interesting in finding the next big thing, or are they more concerned about getting what they can out of you in the short-term? In this industry, you can't really afford to take such risks with an agent.
Remember this very important fact: You are 'hiring' them to look for work for you. Just like an employment agency. The main difference between an employment agency and a casting agency is that you will be constantly looking for performance work as opposed to that one dream job. A casting agent takes a percentage from any monies that you may earn and that's how you pay for their services and not through up-front payments. The more jobs you get and the bigger the job, the more they get paid also. It is then in their best interest to help you find work.
After all that exhaustive work, you should now feel you know enough to make your final choice. If it feels right to you, then do it. Go in, sign up, shake hands. They are now providing a service to you to find you work in your chosen field. Read any contract material very carefully for any previously missed details like commission amounts, their promise to you, etc, etc.
I would also strongly recommend that at this point (if you haven't already done so) you think about joining the Union. If for any reason the agent turns out to be a dud, the union can be there to give you some support. Without that membership, you will be on your own.
They have even provided a Sample Contract for you to follow which clearly outlines the expectations of you, the actor, and the agent.
That's the dream is it not? I have the talent. I have the Agent. Now I can wait for the offers. A Dream, nothing more.
It's now that the hard work begins. Remember I said you have hired the Agent? Think about it. You are the manager of your career, not them. Stay involved with the industry, read the mags, get the gossip, make contacts in those fields you are interested in and when you hear of new ventures, talk with your agent about getting into the mix. Get them to find out what they can and if they can submit your application.
Invite your agent reps to see your work. Even though you have asked them to find you work, what can they possibly tell future producers and directors about you? "Well their CV looks good." They need to see you in action. They love complimentary tickets. Be all too aware that you are not the only one they are working for. You will have to compete with all the other hopefuls on their books for a portion of their time.
If they run workshops or training services, go to them. Get them to notice you and think that you may be the next big thing for them. You need to keep reminding them that you exist and that you are keen, eager and willing to try anything.
Only once you have established yourself and producers are seeking you out will ever be able to even think of resting. Sadly by that point, you'll be working so much that you won't have the time.
Additional and IMPORTANT notes.
Details: A Dark Horror Comedy presented by Phoenix Theatre Inc and supported by Dark Psychic Productions.