Getting an agent
Written by Louisa Robinson, 23rd May 2022
Most up and coming actors think that getting an agent is the holy grail and attach a high premium to being signed. There are certainly pros and cons of having an agent and I will explore some of the arguments in this post. A good number of my actor friends have recounted good and bad agent relationship stories to me over the years which have shocked and humoured me in equal measure. What I have learned over the last 18 months; having an agent is not the be all and end all. As an actor, you have to be a self-starter, make your own work and that also includes writing what you want to perform (big lesson to me).
Agents are privy to more casting breakdowns through Spotlight, so if you are unrepresented, you are unlikely to see all available castings. However, I do want to add that a lot of my actor friends who are currently or have never been represented are often getting more work than me so it is not mutually exclusive.
In my opinion, being represented and having a collaborative partnership with your agent is a positive experience. I have been signed since the end of March 2022 and whilst I haven’t had any auditions yet, the ball is in my court to get showreel footage and improve my Spotlight profile to give myself the best possible chance.
What was my approach to contacting agents? At the beginning of 2022, my primary acting goal was to secure an agent. Fast forward four months and I managed to secure one. I recommend grabbing a copy of The Actors’ & Performers Yearbook- essential contacts for stage, screen and radio) if you don’t have one already. It is like a little black book directory of who’s who in the industry and names of key contacts to whom you should address your cover letter. In January, I set out to write to over 200 agents in this book, and I got very few replies despite my personalised and targeted approach. Bear in mind, I did an exhaustive pre-selection contact list of agencies that were realistic targets. At this point in my career, I was solely targetting co-operative and small boutique agencies in London and the north (Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle). A lot of industry professionals tell you not to contact agents who have closed books. I didn’t really take much notice of this advice and just contacted all agencies that I thought would be interested in my casting type and me as a commercial brand. What is the worse that can happen- they just don’t reply?
Writing to 200 agents sounds like a lot of work and trust me I did have to break this down over a period of weeks I.e. 10 emails per day otherwise it would have been totally unmanageable with my current schedule. Even if agents are not interested in you, they are incredibly busy people and prioritising their own client base (rightly so) so may not always reply. I got approximately ten polite rejection notices and two potential offers to be signed and the remaining number fell into the ether of no replies. My advice is to not view the process as a tick box exercise. Take your time and really invest in the research of making a database of potential agencies that you want to approach. Even if they don’t reply on the first point of contact, it is perfectly reasonable to email again (industry professionals inform me every three months is acceptable, without being a pest and becoming blacklisted). I have been told on numerous occasions to write to those that you want to work with (be it casting directors, agents, theatre companies, writers, producers) with updates on new headshots, showreel material and to send them performance notices.
Deciding which agency is right for you Although I have been working in this industry for over a decade now, I knew very little about how actor-agent relationships work in reality. To this day, I am still learning on a daily basis through my extensive network. There will be a high number of agents who are out of reach, due to their A-list clientele and sole interest in representing RADA and other prestigious drama school graduates. You have to be at peace with that and approach agents who will get your foot in the door. Once you are in the door, it is easier to climb up over the years but it isn’t always necessary if you know, like and trust your agent. There is nothing wrong with being overambitious and aiming high but you have to play the long game in acting, unless you get the 0.00001% lucky break!
Ask other actors about their experience with any potential agents that have expressed interest in you. There are a fair few valuable Facebook groups such as Actors UK which support actors with questions like this and are frankly honest forums for a mutual exchange on any aspect of the industry. You do need to be careful on said forums and follow sensible procedures in terms of never bad mouthing anyone online- it is incredibly unprofessional and believe me, the entertainment industry is a small world where everyone knows everyone!
I think the important factor is to ask the right questions when conducting agent meetings and do your research as you would when applying for any other job. Since going self-employed in July 2021, my acting career has become more of a business venture and if you want work, you have to treat it as such.
What questions should I ask potential agencies? Asking the right questions in initial meetings is really important. You need to have a clear sense of what you need out of the partnership. For me, I was looking for an agent specialising in early career actors (given that it was only over the last 18 months that I am focusing on professional opportunities). I spent time talking to my actor friends and also seeking insight from connections when on projects to gauge what information I needed at my finger tips in order to be able to get specific and understand what I wanted.
Below are the questions I asked the two agencies to help me decide which was the better fit;
- How long have they been representing actors? A new agency won’t necessarily be registered on PMA or indeed linked to Spotlight. Also, their digital presence won’t be fully emerged in terms of following or past examples of their portfolio.
- Do you specialise in any sector? (this is important if you are wanting to niche in stage, screen, commercials or voiceover work).
- Will they let you have a separate agent for commercial and voiceover work? This was important to me as I want to pursue these areas in addition to stage and tv work. They are generally more lucrative and portable as a career portfolio if not living in London.
- What are your connections to the industry outside of being an agent? (It helps if they are also in casting or have their own production company, for example).
- What projects are they currently working on? Any previous projects that they would have submitted you for? (the agent I signed with had an amazing French production that they had recently cast in Paris and I would have been a good match with my language skills).
How often do I speak to my agents? My agents are incredibly busy ladies and I don’t pester them too much as I know they are beavering away behind the scenes and putting their client base forward for potential work. I will contact them approximately once-twice per month to request my submission list and also update them on what jobs I am directly applying for. Having an agent is about having someone on your side who looks at your profile through a business lens and submits you for the relevant opportunities. If we are solely representing ourselves, we can sometimes fall into the rut of applying for everything and anything. A scattergun approach is not going to land you castings if you don’t take the time to target who you are approaching and do your homework!
How do I feel about my agent relationship? It is early days to update on how this is going and what work I will get. I have a very transparent and direct relationship with my agent. When signing, they made no promises of getting me any work. The way I see it is that they are working in my favour as they are applying for jobs on my behalf and they only take their commission if I land the part. Truth be told, getting an agent is the start of when the hard work begins. I am still eager and wholly determined to find my own opportunities. The old adage of actors simply putting their feet up when they get signed is well and truly a myth. I am still on the casting sites day and night, networking in Facebook groups as well as being creative about other ways of meeting theatre companies (which is where my real passion lies). I also need to carve out headspace to write a script as my head is bursting with ideas and I just need to find a collaborative group for a skills exchange. I have never once taken my foot off the gas- I am more determined than ever to push myself forward!