As a licensed actors’ agent in Sydney since 2006, I have had hundreds of actors approach me looking for representation; attended countless drama school showcases, theatre productions & auditions; and have also interviewed a huge range of actors from rank beginners to veterans with more than 50 years in the business.
Based on these experiences, I have come up with some very simple principles and practices that will give actors (and aspiring actors) the best opportunity to secure representation with a reputable agent (and also some pitfalls to avoid for the unwary).
The first thing to remember is that an agent is running a business and – as such – needs to be convinced that you will make them money. The actor’s union in Australia (MEAA) states that a licenced agent may only charge 10% commission on work they secure for their clients (beware of those who try to charge you more!). This means that in order to make $50,000 per annum for themselves (before taxes; rent; wages; utilities; marketing; insurance; licensing fees etc) their clients need to (collectively) earn $500,000 in acting work. When you consider that a guest role on a soap might earn the actor $500 for the day or that many TVCs only pay around $2,000 to $3,000 (ie $200-$300 for the agent) an agent needs to have a LOT of working actors to remain financially viable (or at least ONE who is earning a lot themselves).
This means that when an actor approaches an agent seeking representation, the primary question the agent will be asking themselves is - will this particular actor earn income from acting work (and therefore income for my business) now or in the future? In order to then make that judgement they will be weighing up certain criteria. The criteria will be slightly different for each agent but for me, I would ask myself these ten questions about the actor seeking representation:
- Have they demonstrated a long-term commitment to a professional acting career?
- Do they have substantial training and/or experience?
- Have they invested in quality marketing materials such as headshots; showreels and website etc?
- Do they have a discernible “type” and/or marketable look?
- Are they professional and courteous in their dealings with others?
- Are they interested in on-going professional development and doing their own networking and generation of acting work?
- Are they available and flexible when it comes to attending castings and work opportunities?
- Have they done any research into my background and agency before approaching me for representation? (or are they simply casting the net as wide as possible and hoping for a bite?)
- Do they have substantial talent; skills; knowledge and understanding of acting and the industry?
- Are they somebody I can trust as a partner in business?
Before setting out to secure representation I would recommend that every actor (or aspiring actor) asks themselves how many of these criteria they think they meet and – if lacking or deficient in any of them - set about addressing or improving in those areas.
I receive many submissions from beginners whose main criteria for selection seems to be their ‘passion’ for acting and ‘belief’ that they have what it takes to succeed. While these things are important, as a business person I can’t be making significant decisions based on someone else’s passion and belief – I need evidence and a degree of certainty based on past experience.
At the other end of the spectrum, I have also had many interviews with graduates of prestigious drama schools who have unrealistic expectations of their agent’s role in making them successful in a very competitive industry and who often make poor decisions about who they would like to represent them based on ‘reputation’ or on how many big name actors are already on an agency’s books. The reality of the industry is that casting directors and producers are not interested in who your agent is or how big they are or who else is on your agent’s books. They are interested in finding the right actor for each role regardless of who their agent happens to be. If this is true, then the criteria for an actor choosing an agent should centre around trust and communication and whether the agent has knowledge and understanding of acting and the industry in general; time and inclination to offer appropriate advice and guidance; and a good relationship with other industry professionals such as casting directors and producers. Many drama school graduates who are in demand (for a very short period of time) simply because of where they trained make poor choices about which agent to employ based on perceptions and ‘reputations’ rather than proper research and informed decision-making.
Ultimately, actors need to remember that they are not only creative artists – they are also business people. Securing an agent is all about marketing and conducting yourself as a professional person in a professional industry. It is a marketplace where supply and demand rules the day. As an actor you need to position yourself in such a way that agents are competing against each other to represent YOU rather than you competing against hundreds if not thousands of other actors to sign with whoever will take you onto their books.
If you go back to the ten questions listed above and work on getting a YES to each of them then you’ll be off to a good start!
Mark Matthews B.A.; Dip. Ed.; M.A.
Managing Director – Sydney Theatre School & Sydney Creative Management