“A Is for…”

Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Stefan Davis' A-Z OF PROFESSIONAL ACTING

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A Is for…

The vast majority of the general public and many aspiring actors have little to no idea of the multifaceted world of professional acting. I say this because I too know what it’s like to want to get into acting but not have a clue as to how to even get my foot through the door of the industry.

So let’s start with one of the layers that often can be an enigma when you’re first starting out in the industry.

A is the Agent.

An ‘Agent’ or ‘personal manager’ is an individual or a group of people who work on behalf of the actor.

Their core roles and responsibilities are

To negotiate contracts…
To create opportunities for actors…
To give professional advice…
To have the actors professional and career-related interests at heart…

This may be in the form of introducing the actor to contacts they have established in the industry through their own personal networking endeavours. Fighting for their actor to be seen by casting directors, production companies, television film and theatre producers. They may also recommend networking opportunities, publications and subscriptions their actor should consider. However, it must be stated that these are recommendations and not always necessities.

A WORD OF WARNING!

Due to the nature of business, the world of professional acting is not exempt of its fair share of scam artists.

So when exploring signing an agreement with an Agent.

1) You do not have to pay them anything in order to join them.

Many authentic agencies may have expectations of you. They may require in order to consider representing you within the industry, but some scammers who pose as agents will advise that you have to pay them a joining fee in order to gain representation. You need a showreel that you have to pay them to produce or a headshot taken by their special photographer you have to pay them to take. (Do you see the trend) This is not the case with real professional agents.

Real professional agents will make recommendations but you only have to pay them a percentage (commission) of what you have earned from acting work you have done that they have negotiated on your behalf.

2) Agents advisories are not mandatory.

Many agents will give instructions to the actors they represent as though their words are gospel, however, this is not the case. An agent’s advice is just that, advice. Although it may be sound advice, you are alway at liberty to decline advice offered. This is your career and you are the one in control of the decisions made for your career because it’s your career, not your agents.

3) The fear of being “dropped” by an agent.

Many actors have fears that if they put a foot wrong, they will be dropped by their agent. However, I must emphasise that the agent works on behalf of the actor, not the other way round. An actor, agent partnership should have one common goal, to get you the actor more exposure and therefore more opportunities to work as an actor.

You instruct the agent and, they work on your behalf. The agent makes advisories as to how they can best help you and you choose to take their advice or not. If you are unable to come to a common ground. You have just as much of a right to walk away as they do.

A fear of being ‘dropped’ by an agent is often built up to make the actor feel beholden to their agent’s words and wishes as it often can take many months, even years to gain representation from a reputable agent. However, the reality is that the actor and the agent relationship is a working partnership, and either party can choose to end that working partnership if they should so choose too.

So don’t get scared if an agent decides that they can no longer represent to you and in the same way, don’t get disheartened if you feel your agent isn’t working for you, this just means it’s time for you to move on in order to continue moving forward with your acting career.

Without a shadow doubt, getting an agent or some form or representation in the film and theatre industry is always considered an undeniable necessity. Deemed as a key ingredient to the professional actor’s career, ‘Get an agent’ often sits quite prominently perched between ‘get CV and headshots‘ and ‘get work’ when comes to the professional actors to do list.

In my experience contrary to common belief, an agent is not the be all and end all of a professional actors career.

Yes, agents are an important part of the mainstream film and theatre industry. However, agents are not Gods, nor are they mythical unattainable unicorns in the sky. Having an agent is not an automatic “Advance to GO and collect £250” card that will suddenly propel your career forward and see you automatically enter the big time (Although many agents would like to lead you to believe that is the case if you sign with them)

From my experience and observation quick escalation to playing a lead character on Eastenders or becoming the main character in a Hollywood blockbuster rarely happens. Only a very slim minority see this level of acceleration, depending on the type of agent you sign to when compared with the wider acting community. For the many actors, sometimes being signed to an agent can leave you worse off than someone signed to an agent.

An actor’s agent in its most basic form is ‘a business that offers services to actors in order to make a profit.’ Its essence is build up of administration, strategic planning, organising and networking.

These services include but are not limited to:-

Attempting to creating opportunities for the actors they represent in order to attract better paid and higher profile work.

  • Negotiating contracts on behalf of Actors
  • Arranging meetings/Auditions between actors and industry professionals.
  • Granting the actors they represent access to their network of industry professionals they have acquired over a period of time such as Casting Directors, Directors and Producers.
  • Collecting, processing, receiving and forwarding payments for and on behalf of the actors they represent
  • Providing advice and professional free consultations regarding the careers of the actors they represent.
  • Keeping the actor’s best interests at heart.

In my personal opinion (if I’m to be totally frank) anyone can do the job of an agent. Many agents would disagree with my sentiment that and of course, they would and are more than welcome to do so. But when I breaking down the roles and responsibilities of an actor’s agent I find it quite easy to come to that conclusion.

Let’s really think about the services actors agents offer for a moment. Not to be nonchalant about it, but, If you actively seeking acting roles whether they are paid or an unpaid agreement In essence you are:-

1) Creating opportunity with the hope of attracting better paid higher profile work in the future.
2) Negotiate your own contract. (A job with no pay still is a contract negotiated)
3) Arranged a meeting with an industry professional in order to get the job.
4) Networking and building up your contacts with industry professionals you work with.
5) Promote yourself as an artist in order to get a job
6) Actively seeking free advice (by reading this blog)
7) Keeping your own best interests at heart.

So to put things into perspective, if you have done any kind of acting work outside of a drama school or are actively seeking some form of acting work you are in essence being your own agent. Yes, agents can take a lot of the headaches out of the business side of being a professional actor. However, they can also be a cause of them too.

As mentioned previously, an agent is primarily a business and therefore it would be unwise to believe that they are representing you just because they see you have potential. Businesses need to make money in order to function. For the most part, the interest of the agent falls in line with the interests actor and thus you are able to achieve an optimal working relationship but do remember, If they aren’t making more money from an actor other than your, their focus can quite easily and quickly shift from to another actor they represent.

When you first sign an agreement with an agent, you both have a vested interest in the progression of your career. You (the actor) wants to work and they (the agent) also wants you to work. However, you want to work because you want to make a career out of something you are passionate about (you wouldn’t become an actor otherwise). They want you to work because they want to make money from your success.

When agents are unable to capitalise on an actor’s success… it can lead to actor agent conflicts.

Some conflicts that I have seen and experienced are:

Investment vs Income
This is when you haven’t been as successful with them as they had hoped. You may have gotten work but not often enough to justify them continuing to invest in you. Sometimes it’s because you haven’t worked for a long time. The reasonings vary but often their business sees you as more of a drain on resources as opposed to a profitable investment.

The issue with this for the actor is that it can often leave you feeling talentless, or not pulling your weight. It can leave the actor unsure what their next move should be or question their ability.

This can also often stems out the amount of esteem placed on agents within the industry. A constantly reinforced notion that agents are the gatekeepers to the industry and that actors can only be successful with them.

My Advice
Don’t let the lack of work get you down. Maintain good communication with your agent. Find out what they have put you up for and how they are working towards creating more opportunities for you.

Do not let communicated with your agent go quiet for more than 6 months and to be fair, 6 months is being very trusting. If you haven’t had any opportunities or auditions through them for more than 18 months, it might be worth considering moving on and pursuing other representation.

Rising Star Vs the Problem Child
Another conflict is that some agents have certain named actors or actors with celebrity status they represent. Some have actors who begin to gain momentum and have had a higher rate of employment in comparison to you. This can lead to them being seen as the ‘rising star’. This can have positive effects as the influx of funds for the agent can give them more scope and time to focus on you, but the reverse is that it can sometimes lead to you being pushed out as a ‘problem child’. This shifts the agent’s focus and resources off you and can often leave you out in the cold.

The issue with this for the actor is that actors have a rightful expectation that the agent will do everything in their power to help push and propel their career forward, but when this doesn’t appear to be happening, It can leave the actor again very frustrated and feeling like their career and efforts are stagnating.

My Advice
Sometimes signing to an agent that has recognisable names on their books isn’t the best thing for you. if you are starting out or if you have substantially less experience than the other actors they represent it may make things harder for you starting off then easier. It is fair to say that agents with big name actor on their books will most likely have links to some of the bigger casting directors and production companies, but with big contracts, there can often have big expectations and also less understand as to what your strengths and weaknesses as an actor are. So they will put you up for anything that comes along and if you don’t nail your first couple of auditions they lose interest. I can’t say that this is the case with all agencies but can crop up on an occasion.

Signing with an agent that is willing to work with you, and choose roles that are truly suited to you as an actor will not only help improve your working relationship but also increase your chances of getting the part you audition for. So just think carefully when presented with the opportunity to be signed by an agent. Make sure that regardless of how big of an actor you are now, they can see ahead to the future of the actor you are going to become.

The Hunger Games Beatdown
This conflict can crop up from time to time when an agent or agency simply take on actors in bulk. They sign almost every actor they meet. They have no plans to really focus on managing the actor’s career effectively. These types of agencies simply sign a large number of actors in order to see who gets work and who doesn’t within the first couple of auditions. Those who get work get the focus, the others get dropped or put on the back burner.

A fairly clear indication of this is when they put more than one actor they have signed up on their books for the exact same part.

The issue with this for the actor is you simply get a poor quality of service, a non-tailored approach to your career and often just left feeling despondent and repulsed by the very thing you so passionately chased after. Especially if you are very new to the industry.

My Advice
When meeting with an agent, ask them lots of questions. Find out how invested they are in you and moving your career forward for the long term. If you start to see actors your agent represents on multiple auditions that you go to do, maybe they don’t care who gets the role as long as they get their commission. That to me doesn’t seem to have your best interests at heart but theirs.

In conclusion
Actors agents are a very big part of the mainstream industry. They can help to open doors of opportunities that you may struggle to open yourself, but they do not define you as a professional actor.

Your mentality, your ability, commitment and focus are what make you a professional actor.

You CAN progress your career without an agent.
You CAN get amazing work without an agent.
You CAN get television and film work without an agent.

How does one do this?
By working really hard, networking your socks off, having a no quit attitude, take a risks and just putting yourself out there.

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