What If There Was More Than One Key to Success?
Everyone needs someone to open a door for them in this industry. Usually that person is a representative: an agent or a manager. They are the gatekeepers of this industry.
The truth is, there is more than one key. There is more than one path to success. But there are tried and true ways to find the real gatekeepers.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to be “discovered” in a competition or showcase in order to get a representative. You should never pay to be represented or to audition for agents or managers. Occasionally, agents will hold open calls, although that practice is almost extinct (print agents still do it occasionally), but since you are likely to get a 15 second glance before they make a decision, this is the not best way to showcase yourself.
It’s great if you can get a referral to an agency from a friend in the business or from an acting coach or theatre director. But most of us simply don’t have those kinds of connections and have to start from scratch. That’s OK…it can be done!
Note: Do not ever come to Los Angeles expecting to work without an agent. It just doesn’t work that way.
12 Steps to Getting An Agent or Manager
- Know your child’s type. Does your child enjoy modeling or acting more? Do they have a distinctive voice? Are they small for their age, or tall? Charactery or classic beauty? Are they funny or deep? Do they have special skills? There is a place in the entertainment industry for everyone. The trick is finding the right niche, and approaching the RIGHT kind of agent. Step one is knowing your child’s strengths
- Research the representative. Google search the agency name and the individual names. Go to Imdb.com (Pro version) and look up all the kids on their roster. Do they have working kids? Kids who have the kind of credits your child would like to have? Do they represent models, actors, voiceover artists or all of the above? How many clients do they have? What are the names of the agents? Do they take on “newbies”? Ask on one of the many parent Facebook groups such as Kids Casting Calls where they keep a Reputable Agency List by city. PARF (Professional Actors Resource Forum), a free parent message board, maintains a Los Angeles agency list by category here. PARF also has a New York agency list here. For those in Canada, TAMAC (Talent Agents & Managers Association of Canada) maintains a Canadian list of reps by region. You can also check SAG-AFTRA for both SAG franchised agencies (generally smaller) and ATA members (generally larger). Make a “hit list” of 20 or 30 possible agents and managers. You need to be realistic with your choices. Submitting a new kid actor to CAA or WME is silly — those agencies are for star names only, and they don’t look at self-submissions. On the other hand, you want to submit to agencies and managers who are established, have working clients and can help you grow. Try to include large size agencies (ex. CESD, Osbrink, A3 (fka Abrams Artists Agency), Coast) and smaller boutique agencies. We suggest approaching managers at the same time. Again, there could be more than one key to success here!
- Find out how each agency would like to be approached. Go to their website and read. We get asked by agents ALL. THE. TIME. to tell parents to please follow directions. Some agents prefer hard copy submissions by snail mail. Some prefer an email to a very specific address. Since COVID-19, many reps are working from home or they don’t have their usual assistants to sort through submissions, making it crucial that you follow directions. While IMdbPro is a good resource, it is just a start. We advise against purchasing labels for two reasons: most are out of date, and it is a common scam to get you on someone’s mailing list. Better to customize your own list.
- Hard copy submissions. Your packet should include a photo of your child (kids up to about age 6 do not need professional photos at this stage, a couple of snapshots will do), a resume, and a short but sweet cover letter addressed to a real person (not XYZ talent agency) that gives your contact information. Make sure to note if you are from out of town but will be visiting the city soon. This packet should look professional. No stickers and glitter please. No funny stuff. Reps have seen it all before.
- Email submissions. Most agents and managers prefer email submissions. If they do, they expect the email to be the cover letter and a LINK to a website or Actors Access profile with their photos and resume. Actors Access is free and you will eventually have to do it, so start there. Do not send large attachments demos or videos unless specifically requested. Most agencies have sophisticated virus software that will reject your email with attachments.
Pro Tip for more advanced actors, changing reps: you will likely need to prepare a little more for your agent interviews. Agents considering an actor with significant credits will be less likely to ask for a monologue or other performance and will hope to see more vision of the child’s brand/type. You also need to be able to share details like commercial conflicts, contractual arrangements with prior agents and managers, etc. Bonnie Gillespie has a good primer on putting together what she calls an “Agent WOW Kit”. It is a good exercise to do with your child whether you actually use it in the meeting or not.
- Consider the timing. Reps are generally open to submissions when they aren’t busy with their current clients. For Los Angeles, that means pilot season (January – April) is a bad time. Generally, October is a pretty good time. Know that when you submit, you are expected to be able to take an appointment with them SOON. If you are considering a short term (six months or so) trip to LA or NYC, we suggest sending packets to agents a couple of months in advance, and then making one “scouting” trip about a month before you plan to move. That way, you can get your representation settled, your housing done, etc and hit the ground running when you get to the city.
- Answer the phone/email quickly. If reps are interested, they will call you for an interview. This can happen days or weeks from your mailing. If you don’t hear anything, it is acceptable to make ONE phone call to follow up.
- Take a beat and circle back. If you don’t hear back from anyone in a month, reassess your situation. Perhaps you need to work on your resume more. Maybe you need new photos. Maybe your child is just at a difficult age for the business (labor laws dictate some of this). Or perhaps your “hit list” was somehow off. This might be a time to get an objective opinion of your child’s marketability. Many acting coaches in L.A. will provide this service for a one time fee. They might even do it via Skype. They can let you know if your child is “LA ready”, and they can let you know what to work on. This is a great activity for that pre-trip we mentioned in #7. Your next step if you don’t get responses? Try another mailing to your “B-list” or wait six months and try again.
- Interviews. Hopefully you will hear from a few agents and a couple of managers. Try to set up appointments with 5 or 6 reps if you can. The content of the interviews will vary depending on your child’s age, but often includes some kind of performance (a cold read, or monologue), a chat with the child alone, and a discussion with you. Enjoy these interviews and encourage your child to be themselves! Make sure you have a list of questions for the representatives—what is the commission they charge, how do they see your child fitting in to the industry, what other reps do they work with (managers must work with an agent, remember?), what do they typically do for their clients. When the interview is over, make notes so you remember who said what.
- Do not sign with anyone immediately. Take all the interviews. You will learn a little with each one. It is tempting to take your first offer—don’t do it! This is kinda like dating…you probably don’t want to marry your first date. Using the same analogy, “any rep is better than no rep” is not good—it would be like saying any husband is better than being alone, and we know that kind of desperate relationship usually ends in an ugly divorce. A bad agent/manager can do irreparable harm to a child’s career, and can commit you to paying commissions for years to someone who does nothing. Take this process VERY seriously and take your time—your child deserves it!
- Decision time. Decide first if you need a manager. Remember, you MUST have an agent. You don’t necessarily need a manager. You are putting together a TEAM. So you must consider what combination will work best for your child, and whether you are willing to pay the extra 15% to a manager. Large agency, with a personal manager to make sure it gets done? Need hand holding? A manager is your guy. Maybe you are confident and think the smaller agency can handle things just fine. Consider the attitude of the rep—kind, polite, professional? Aggressive or just plain rude? An abrasive rep will likely be rude to your potential employers. Putting together the right team is not about getting the biggest, most well-known agency. It is about what will work well for your situation—a very individual decision.
- Review the contract. Reputable agents typically offer one year contracts, while managers often offer three year contracts. For more tips on what the look for check out Berg v. Traylor, and important precedence-setting case for parents signing representative contracts for their children.
We know this is a nerve racking, but exciting process. We all want to do what’s best for our children. But if you have done your research, you can’t really go wrong. There are many keys to success!