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Agents and what they do by Simon Dunmore

Actors without agents tend to lack credibility in the eyes of potential employers. It’s not fair, but it’s a fact. However hard you work at getting to know potential employers, most agents have their fingers closer to the pulse, know what’s coming up, and simply have far more contacts than you can ever have. That’s their job.

Directors and casting directors rely on agents they trust to help in the filtering process of whom to interview. A good agent also understands contracts, knows the ‘going rates’ and has more clout to get money that’s owing.

Individual agents vary in the ways that they like to operate. There are those who like to maintain reasonably close personal relationships with their clients; others prefer to be more businesslike. There are those who actively discourage clients from doing lower-paid theatre, preferring it if they wait around for a more lucrative television opportunity – even to the extent of not passing on an offer. (I discovered such an agent when my offer was turned down for someone who I knew – through a mutual friend – was available and wanted to do my production. I broke the rules and phoned her directly, and she sorted her agent out.) There are also those who are ‘here today and gone tomorrow’ – it’s a very mobile population.

The actor-agent relationship

The important thing is that a good agent works hard at making contacts and makes sure that they are respected by those contacts. Just as the agent represents you, you represent your agent. Being an agent is, most of the time, as disheartening as being an actor – and it’s hard work, easily running into sixty or seventy hours a week. Agents putting clients up for things are putting themselves on the line. All directors and casting directors have blacklists of agents whose clients have messed them around too often, so good agents are very careful about how they select those they are going to represent. They have to feel that they can work with you at selling you effectively, just as directors have to feel that they can work with, and benefit from, you in a company.

Notes: There is huge confusion in the use of the terms ‘personal manager’ and ‘agent’ – this is compounded by the fact that many people whom I would call ‘agents’ are members of The Personal Managers’ Association (PMA). (The Agents’ Association largely consists of those who represent Light Entertainment Artistes.) To me a ‘personal manager’ is someone who sorts out all the nitty-gritty details like travel arrangements and press interviews, while an ‘agent’ promotes their clients to potential employers and negotiates contracts.

To add to the confusion, some agencies have the phrase ‘Personal Management’ in their titles. Also, you’ll hear the term ‘Casting Agent/Agency’ bandied around. These serve a different function. They are usually walk-on/supporting artists’ agents who are employed to supply crowds in television and film. They have client bases of lots of different types and on request can supply a suitable crowd for any occasion. Thus they fulfil the roles of both agent and casting director for non-speaking parts that don’t need to be auditioned.

Types of agencies

There are all kinds of agency and agent listed in the ‘Agents & Personal Managers’ section of Contacts – around 600 (of which around a quarter don’t represent adult actors) the last time that I counted. (All those listed in Actors’ Yearbook do represent adult actors.) Roughly, the ones who primarily represent adult actors break down into the following types:

• The large and prestigious (several hundred clients) with lots of ‘names’. These agencies are staffed by a number of individual agents (often with assistants), and the focus can tend to be on their stars – sometimes ignoring their less well-known clients.

• The large (a few of whom are prestigious) who also represent models, presenters, etc. Once again, their focus can meander through their various specialisms.

• The large and less prestigious with smaller staffs, who rely on sheer numbers to keep them financially afloat – client promotion seems to be effected by sending out great wodges of CVs and photographs randomly in the hope that a few will land on the right desks.

• The medium-sized (around a hundred clients) who are often staffed by a couple of agents with minimal assistance – a few are very prestigious.

• The small (around a few dozen clients) who are usually run by a single person often working from home with a part-time assistant – I don’t know how some of these manage to make a living.

• The co-operatives who usually consist of around twenty members and are run by those members, sometimes with a full-time manager.

Think carefully about which kind of agency might suit you in order to sort out who to target for representation.

From An Actor’s Guide to Getting Work, Fifth Edition, Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury)