If you want to be a professional actor, one of the most cruicial things to do is to get an agent. Without an agent you may find it difficult to get a good mix of acting work. Getting an agent may seem a daunting task, but if you plan this search carefully it may not be as difficult as you might think. If you are an actor, musician, writer or director the process of getting an agent may differ, but one key factor is that YOU need to do all the work and effort in finding one.
There are also many different agents out there. Some agencies will only get you theatre work whereas others may only work within the film industry or TV commercials. Most good agents will deal with all of these areas so can therefore get you a varied range of castings. Just make sure you contact the right agents in your field. So when you begin to look for an agent you need to do your research and shortlist the agents that will actually work for you.
Getting an Agent is secondary to Starting your acting career
All agents will want you to have some experience in the acting industry before you contact them. That is a fact. Some ‘extra’ or ‘background artiste’ agencies may take you on without any experience at all. But if you want to be a professional actor, it’s best not to get stuck in a routine of just doing ‘extra’ work. You can gain some acting experience from doing ‘background’ work, but it will be limited.
To get some good acting experience find parts in plays, short films, student films, whatever and whenever you can. Take any acting classes if only to increase your experience and in doing so you will meet other actors who may just happen to have a connection (or even an agent) that will help you get what you need. Get some sort of acting career going first before you even consider getting an agent. Get to know the acting industry and be your own agent for a while!
Co-op agencies are actor agencies run by actors. These actors manage the whole of the business and run the office amongst themselves, finding each other auditions, castings and work.
This type of agency really suits anyone who enjoys a ‘hands-on’ approach to their career. You need to have acting talent but also the networking, negotiating, researching, liaising skills of an agent. It is not ‘the easy route’ and definately not ‘a stepping stone’ to a commercial agent. This type of agency can be an excellent learning curve for any newbie actor because you get such a great insight into the whole casting and audition process, from the business point of view.
A lot of actors have began their careers by being part of a co-op agency, and a lot of actors seek out a co-op after being represented by a commercial agent. They are worth researching and looking into, because they could be just what you are looking for.
What are agents looking for?
A actor and agent relationship is all about business. You are the product and they want to make money from your talent and what you can do. You will be working as a team. An agent will want to see that you have confidence, be talented and also be remembered. They will want you to have experience in theatre, TV and film work. They will also be interested in any other activities that you can do like singing, dancing, horse riding, stage combat or playing the drums – these can be great selling points, and some small detail may secure you a part.
A good ear for dialects and voices is also a good skill to have, but make sure you can do them before selling them to an agent. So before looking for an agent, make sure you have been out there in the acting world and got as much acting experience as possible. Doing student films is a good way to get some filming experience, they tend to be unpaid but you do learn a great deal and have a copy of the film to use for a showreel.
Some agents may have a website where you can check them out and even their actor clients. This is a good indication of how big their business is and you can also judge whether there are any actors that are similar to you. If not, you may be able to fill that particular niche for them. It’s then a good idea to contact that particular agent first to see if they are actually looking to take on any more actors, otherwise it’s a waste of time and money sending them your CV, headshot and showreel.
CV, letter and headshot
One of the most common ways to contact agents is to mail them a headshot, CV and a covering letter. If you don’t check whether the agents ‘books’ are actually open chances are that most of your mailouts will end up in the bin. If you would like any headshots or showreels returned to you should enclose a large stamped addressed envelope, which means you may get some headshots back, but they tend to be a bit ‘dog-eared’ and not suitable to use again. You may also get a brief reply from the agent if they are not interested.
Your CV and covering letter should be brief and well written. Make sure these are typed and address each letter personally to that agent’s name. Writing ‘To whom it may concern’ is unprofessional and impersonal. Also, don’t bore them with pages and pages of your theatrical history, they can find all that out on your CV and website, if you have one.
Your headshot should be a professional photo taken by a professional photographer and if it’s a repro make sure it’s a 10×8 and a good quality one. All these should be stapled together securely. Your details may end up in a ‘maybe pile’ with other actors mailouts, so if some bits go missing, you’ll end up in the waste paper shredder.
The cost of mailing out hundreds of CV’s, showreel discs, stamped addressed envelopes, letters and headshots can be very expensive, especially if they end up in the agents bin. But getting your own website is a good way of sending your details to agents and casting directors instantly. The initial cost of getting a website designed for you will be less expensive than spending hundreds of pounds on headshot repros, showreel discs, expensive stationary and postage stamps.
A website will show the agent that you are a serious professional actor and mean business. They can also see additional photographs, voice clips and all your latest news and reviews at the touch of a button. The website should be sleek and easy to read and navigate. It should be designed with the reader in mind, rather than being a busy colourful, all blazing, all singing, all bells and whistles version of you.
Your website should also contain a CV page, showreel, a headshot and photo gallery, latest news page and a contact page. Actor websites are now becoming more popular and the casting agents and actor agents are also keeping up and welcoming this trend. Actor Design, is a company that designs websites solely for actors. The unique thing about Actor Design is that they are actors themselves who also happen to be web designers. They know what the industry requires when it comes to sleek, simple and easy to navigate websites.
Agents would rather watch a short showreel than read through all your letters and CV. So if you have done some film or commercial work, it’s a good idea to get it put together professionally onto a showreel.
Spotlight and Equity
Most agents will only consider you if you are already a member of Spotlight or any similar actor database. So make sure you join Spotlight. You can also upload headshots, showreels and voice clips onto your Spotlight page. You have to pay a yearly subscription for a Spotlight enrty, but hardy any agents will be interested if you are not already on there. Both Spotlight and Equity have departments which will help you find an agent, get in touch with them and they can match you up with suitable agencies.
If you are lucky enough to be offered a meeting with an agent, remember this: You only have one chance to make a good impression! Don’t blow it. Make sure you are on time, be polite and courteous, even if the agent isn’t! Also rembember to take CV, headshots and showreels with you to the meeting. These are your ‘business cards’. And most of all be confident, or at least appear to be.
Do you need to be trained at Drama school to get an agent?
No, you don’t. Some of the worlds greatest actors have never been trained and have learnt their trade through hands on experience. Agents welcome both professionally trained actors and non trained actors, you just need to have that talent and experience.
Some drama schools will hold a ‘showcase’ at the end of the academic term and invite agents and casting directors to see the new acting recruits. The students tend to perform in short pieces. There are also some companies who offer these showcases for actors who have had no or little training. You may have to pay a fee, but if they can get some agents to see you it may be worth it.
There are some agencies out there who will offer you representation in exchange for a one off or yearly subscription fee. Avoid them. Any reputable agent will take you on free of charge and will only take money from you when you get paid work. An agents fee will range from 10% to 20%, depending on the job.
When you have got an agent
If you have been lucky to get an agent, the hard work doesn’t stop there. Although your new agent will start to find you work, it’s also important that you to do your share of job hunting. Don’t just sit back and wait for the agent to call. Continue networking and checking out any casting websites. If you do manage to find an audition or get contacted directly by a casting agent, make sure it all goes through your agent first. Let them work for you, who knows they might get you a better fee! They are also your representative in legal matters that are related to any of your acting work.
Before thinking about getting an agent, you need to make sure that you are totally committed to working with one. Any actor who has an agent will tell you that auditions can come straight out of the blue. And you need to attend them. Make sure that you will be able to take time off work at short notice and even more if you get a filming job. If you can’t attend auditions your agent will drop you as quick as anything. There are thousands of actors out there who can take your place on their books.