How Talent Agencies Work With Actors

Talent agents aren’t usually too open about how they decide which actors to add to their roster. I’ve been an actor for 20+ years, and I’m still learning about how agents do their jobs. As someone who writes books and posts videos on how actors build careers, I try to share what I’ve learned to those who might want the info.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a healthy perspective on the process of getting representation when you’re having difficulty landing it. It helps to have some understanding of the process. To that end, I interviewed three agents at three different talent agencies, one in the Midwest and two in LA. Unfortunately, none of them wanted to be identified since they consider how they work with actors a sensitive subject. But all have many years in the business, and granting them anonymity made all of them feel they could 100% honest.

Though this group represents a good cross-section of the business, it should go without saying that each talent agency works a little differently. Any agent’s end goal is the same: to rep a group of actors that regularly book work and help the agency stay in business.

Agent #1

This agent works at a full-service agency in the Midwest. Their actors book everything from print and corporate work to voice over and commercials.

CA: How many new actor submissions do you get every week?

A1: More than we need, sometimes more than we can handle. We like submissions as long as they follow our policies. A lot of people think hitting us up on social media is a good way of submitting, but it’s pretty worthless from our point of view. Your profiles usually aren’t what we’re looking at when we consider whether to rep you. We need to see resumes and reels to make a decision, not selfies of you and your dog. Also, my social profiles aren’t work-related, they’re for me personally. So I don’t want to be approached when I’m scrolling through my feeds. I see that as my personal time.

CA: Has the rise of social media changed your job?

A1: Yes and no. I remember when Facebook was fairly new and I had a client contact me there looking for one particular actor. I was surprised because I rarely used the site, and then all of a sudden there was work coming from it. Today, as I said, too many people look at social media in general as a way to get in touch, just because we’re available there. But we often hear actors brag on their metrics. Your social media numbers are just not that important to us. Maybe to other agents they are, but the people coming to us for talent don’t care how many followers you have.

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CA: What do you look for in a new actor?

A1: We tend to stay away from actors completely new to the business since they can be such a wild card. We have to see some training, some theatre, some other skill that’s marketable. Improv experience is good to have. It also depends on if we have a need for that talent’s type at the time. If we’re set on that demographic, there’s no need to bring anyone else on.

CA: Do actors recommend their friends or other actors they know, and do you look at those people?

A1: Oh yeah, all the time. Nothing wrong with that but again, our criteria remains the same. Those actor’s friends might be nice people but can they make themselves worth our investment in time? If the answer is “not yet”, we pass on that person but are happy to look at them again when they’re a little more experienced.

CA: Is experience the number one thing you look for?

A1: Yes and no. I feel like I’m saying that a lot but the reality is decisions like this are always in flux. There is no reliable way of telling if someone is going to pan out. Actors with solid resumes that I’ve had high hopes for have been disappointing and others have worked much more than I ever thought they would. You just never know.

CA: What advice would you give to actors as they submit to agents?

A1: Do your homework. Know who you’re submitting to and what sort of work they do. Know your market and what work is available. When you submit, follow the guidelines on our website, or on any agency’s website. If there are no guidelines, call and ask. Nothing wrong with asking.

Agent #2

Los Angeles is home to this agent, who is in charge of the theatrical department of a small boutique agency, placing actors in TV, short and feature-length films.

CA: How do actors come to your agency?

A2: This is Los Angeles, even my dentist is an actor. Actually, usually actors come to us via a recommendation from a manager, producer, or someone else who has worked with the actor in some way.

CA: Do you consider actors without a connection to someone you know?

A2: Sure, but there’s really no need. We are established, we operate under an established strategy and if we find ourselves in need of something specific, we can make a call to one of a couple people and find someone. So it’s just not necessary to look outside of our network.

CA: When you say “sure,” what do you mean? What would grab your attention?

A2: Really good work will always get my attention. We placed one of our actors in a short foreign film. There wasn’t any money in it, and it was a situation where the actor was from that country and could work as a local. But the director was kind of up and coming, and our actor was perfect for the role. Another cast member’s work was amazing, she really stood out, even above the actor we placed. So I had to know who she was. As that film was making the festival rounds, she moved to Los Angeles, so we connected and I signed her.

complete-voiceover.comCA: Do you ever work with actors outside of LA?

A2: I’m not opposed to it, but there are practical issues. Everyone self tapes these days but what people don’t understand is that this is a long game. That means going into rooms and connecting with people on a level that you can’t with self taping. And call backs are in-person a lot. So if you live somewhere else and you rock your self tape and they want to see you in the callback, are you going to fly in for it with little notice? That gets expensive and I have to believe you’re willing to do that before I’ll work with you.

CA: You mentioned that this is a long game. Can you elaborate on that?

A2: Actors are always in a hurry because they see other actors get a job and suddenly they’re the next big thing, so they want that for themselves. I want that for them too but the reality is it’s not that easy for everyone. It takes us pitching an actor 5, 10, 20 times in some cases for casting directors to give them a shot. That could be a year or more for just one CD to see an actor for one role. Multiply that by hundreds of CD’s. And maybe the role is a three-line co-star. One year to get you into a room, or on a self tape where you’ll be seen for about a minute. That is reality, not clickbait overnight success BS. No one is an overnight success, yet that’s what actors hope for. It’s upsetting when someone leaves us because we’re not getting them enough auditions. We’re trying, but it takes a long time and actors need to be patient.

Agent #3

If you’ve done any research about talent agents in Hollywood, you’d recognize the office this agent is with. They have worked with unknown actors and mainstream name actors.

CA: How do new actors come to your attention?

A3: The actors who get my attention aren’t new in the sense that they are new to acting. Our agency generally doesn’t develop actors. We will look at talent who aren’t known for working at a certain tier but they’re still experienced actors. There are other agencies for new actors, we are not one of them. Besides, I really appreciate the skill an actor possesses, and how much time and work it takes to develop that skill. So I will always prefer to work with an actor who is trained over someone who is new to the business.

CA: Is any part of your job devoted to finding new talent or are you busy enough with the actors you have?

A3: We’ll talk about actors we don’t rep, but who might be on our radar. Part of our job is to to keep an eye on potentially interesting people. Maybe they’re in a project we like, or one that has a lot of buzz around it. When Stranger Things came out everyone was talking about the actors on that show. Potential counts for a lot. Maybe one of our directors casts them out of the blue before we were aware of them. If they have a relationship with someone else at our agency we are more likely to give them a look.

CA: So there’s no way someone with few credits would pique your interest?

A3: Well I wouldn’t say no way. This is a business and there’s only so many hours in the day. I’m on my phone day and night and I travel a lot, so if someone without a lot of credits does something to cut through that noise, and I like what I see, then I’ll look into them. But I don’t make it a point to find talent. I take care of the talent I already have.

CA: How have you found actors to sign in the past?

A3: I travel a lot and I love theatre, so if I have time I will attend shows. I’ve found a few people that way. I’ve attended student showcases of top university acting programs and found people there. Sometimes a manager will connect me with someone and it clicks. It just depends. Truth is, I’m set with the people I have now and I’ve worked hard to get them. They’re doing very well so at the moment I’m very happy.

CA: What would you tell an actor who’s looking for their first agent?

A3: Do everything. Don’t say no, just work with everyone if you’re new. You need to be seen and working will help with that. If I can’t see you or your work, you’ll never get on my radar so just work with everyone who’ll offer something to you and keep at it. Write your own stuff, be a hyphenate, make your stuff, you just never know who is going to see it. Just be visible. Not being seen will never help you. Being seen can only help.