Conventional wisdom suggests that you need an agent and/or manager to make your acting dreams come true. They sign you, introduce you to casting directors who introduce you to the decision-makers and the result is champagne and red carpets. Well, conventional wisdom is all kinds of wrong. Agents are human beings with human limitations who require some understanding. Whether you’re looking for an agent and manger, or looking to better manage the ones you have, here are five things to know about your representative:
1. Your agent (and from here on we also mean manger) is in business. So, you’re an artist who’s in it for the art. Fine. But Bill Shakespeare and every other artist before and since has had to balance art with finance. Each informs the other and each is necessary. Your agent is no different. Vilifying her because she’s trying to make money and put her kids through private school gets you nowhere. It doesn’t make you more of an artist or get you closer to working with great artists. You need to accept the fact that your agent is trying to make money. And if you’re not a commodity she can sell, it’s not personal; It’s business. Your job is to make yourself easy to sell; to be the actor who has the undeniable force of a flourishing artist. Once that happens you will become that “got-to-have” commodity.
2. Your agent is not here to save you. Actors can suffer from Knight-In-Shining-Armor Syndrome. The notion is it that it’s the agent’s job to dust you off, polish you to a brilliant shine, and escort you to the promised land. The belief is that the agent does all the work. Inherent in this thinking is that there’s someone or something outside of yourself that has the power to make all your dreams come true with little effort or output from you, and once you find that person, you’ll be rich and famous. This is insanity. These days getting an agent doesn’t mean you’ll ever have an audition and it certainly doesn’t mean that you won’t have to do most of the work in the relationship. Spending one minute of your time waiting for your agent to call is time wasted. You have to be in classes, write/shoot/produce/direct your own material, put up a play and put yourself out there. These days you have to work harder than your agent. Training in class consistently, creating your own material constantly, and doing whatever you can to engage with other artists constantly is essential to your craft and your career. You have to give your agent the tools to sell you. Relying upon anyone other than yourself is career suicide. Giving up your artistic and professional responsibility to an agent is a grave error that too many actors make. Do the work and make your agent catch up with you.
3. Your agent is cheating on you and that’s OK. Yes, your agent has other clients. Deal with it. Your agent would go hungry if he only had you as a client. He has to widen the swath in order to give himself the best shot at making a living. Moreover, part of the charm for him is that he has a dynamic group of unique actors with unique needs and talents who allow him to explore different parts of the industry. So when your phone call isn’t returned right away, know that there are 20 other actors who are also demanding feedback. Checking your phone every 10 minutes is like waiting for the guy you went on a date with last week to call. It never pans out. Rather than stew about it, talk yourself into a paranoid delusion and wallow in the slimy ooze of desperation, go write a scene and shoot it. Go to class. Address your artistry.
4. Your agent doesn’t speak your language. Chances are your agent isn’t in a weekly acting class. No, she spends her evenings trolling the computer till midnight, hounding casting directors, trying to get you in the room. While many agents have great instincts about actors, they may not speak a language that suggests that they understand your process. So, don’t expect them to. When they offer a note about your performance that might seem insensitive, don’t take it personally. Translate it into language that helps you grow as an artist. And if it’s not helpful, chalk it up to a subjective opinion. Also keep in mind that agents spend 10 hours a day on the phone and computer trying to turn a “no” into a “yes”. They’re doing and saying anything they can to get you in the room. When you call to talk to them in the middle of all that, don’t expect them be able to pull down the walls and relate to you like the vulnerable artist that you are.
5. Your agent has feelings too. Remember how crushed you were when you tested for that pilot, were the Network’s first choice, but lost the part to that name actor at the last minute? So crushed. Well your agent was crushed, too. And that was the fourth time that same thing happened to one of his clients that pilot season. He talked each of his other clients off the ledge, just like he did for you, while at the same time closing deals for his clients who did book pilots, and selling his development level clients to Studios who were inundated with pitches. He’s holding it together, but he’s ready to crack. Cut him some slack and know that he’s probably doing his best.
Your agent is a person. She has emotional and financial needs that inform how she conducts herself. She believes in you but she’s not responsible for your happiness or your success. Her greatest thrill is when you book a job. Her greatest disappointment is when you don’t. But believing that she lives to make your dreams come true shirks your responsibility to work tirelessly on your craft and, what’s worse, gives up your power. Choose to believe that it’s all got to come from you – the work, the marketing, the mindset. It’s when you stop chasing your agent (any agent) and take control of your work and your career, that the agent starts chasing you.
***OK, so I WISH had written this post myself, but I did not…although everything here is EXACTLY what I would say to you if I had. Acknowledgement goes out to a West Coast actor, coach and business consultant Steve Braun and I repeat it here for you because its important that you GET this! Check out Steve’s site and subscribe to his blog and also give me your thoughts and comments about “art vs. business” and agents and how you operate around them. Would love to hear from you! Lisa