For the actors: five tips on how to get an agent.
The most common question I get from up-and-coming Producers is “How do I raise money for my Broadway or Off-Broadway show?” I spoke to that one here.
Recently, I got an email from one of my favorite and faithful actor readers who asked me to address the most most common question I get from up-and-coming actors, which is, “How do I get an agent?”
So this is for the actors out there, although, honestly, it could apply to writers, composers, directors, and anyone looking for representation of any kind.
Five Tips on How To Get An Agent
1. Got a friend? Get a Referral.
Word of mouth is what sells tickets and word of mouth is what sells anything. Getting a friend who is already with an agent to walk you in the door, send an introduction email, etc. and vouch for your talent is one of the best ways to get a meeting with an agent. Ask your actor friends who are already repped to do you a solid. And then ask your Directors, Casting Directors, General Managers, etc. They know all the agents very well, and often agents will do them a solid to get on their good side. Gentle reminder, if you ask someone to vouch for you and they tell you they’d rather not, don’t push them. It’s probably not a reflection of your talent. You can imagine how many requests like this Directors get, so some folks just don’t do it. But it never hurts to ask. And it’s your job to ask.
2. Play the Picture and Resume lottery!
Almost every actor I know has done a mailing to agents at some point in their career. It’s not a bad idea, and I have seen it work, but you’ve got to manage your expectations. Sending out 100 pix and resumes in the mail is like playing the lottery. The odds of that pic/resume getting by the assistant and then to the agent and then opened and then it standing out and you getting a call are like the odds of someone doing a musical version of Jaws . . . with a real shark. It’s also expensive and labor intensive. That said, sending pix and resumes are part of your “media mix.” You’re a product, and a picture and resume might not lead to an appointment, but it certainly is another impression. So maybe you got a referral from a friend, and then your picture shows up and reminds that agent to give you a call.If you are going to play the lottery, do it smart. Get creative. Realize that 100s of these things show up every day (I worked for an agent for 3 months and it was my job to sort through these suckers and it was one of the reasons I quit), so you’ve got to get yours to stand out. Here are some ideas:
- Time it to arrive towards the end of the week, when the mail loads are lighter.
- Put it in any color envelope just not a plain manila envelope.
- Send a letter a week before the picture, introducing yourself. A letter sized envelope is much more likely to get to the agent, and maybe they’ll keep an eye out for that soon to follow different colored envelope.
- Don’t send to the agent. Send to an assistant. They’ll be flattered and much more likely to spend more time on you.
- Include a short, personable and personality driven cover “note” (I recommend twice as large as post-it size).
- Make sure your picture and resume are professionally done (and the same size and stapled together).
- Do a mailing when you’re in a show. Agents need to see you do your stuff. It’s the first question they’ll ask when you meet them, “When can I see you in something?” Have an answer.
- If everyone else is mailing their stuff? Do it different. Messenger it. It’ll seem urgent and may get through the secretarial gates. Sound expensive? Well, you’re an actor, right? Do what I told my bike-riding friend to do . . . throw a messenger bag over your shoulder, get a clipboard and play messenger for a day. If they recognize you later when they’re staring at your photo? Well, that would be awesome.
3. Pay to Play.
There are lots of classes you can take around town on auditioning, acting for soaps, etc. that are taught by agents. Actors Connection and TVI are two of the most popular. Make no mistake, these are exactly what they seem to be. You are paying to get your A$$ in front of an agent. But hey, if you’ve got the goods, why not? If you’re fantastic and what an agent is looking for, do you think an agent wouldn’t want you to ‘stay after class’, just because you paid an admission fee? People in this town are always looking for the next big thing, and it doesn’t matter where we find it, as long as we don’t let it go when we do.
4. Work for one.
Agents are always looking for interns, assistants, etc. so offer to volunteer your administrative services a few days a week. While it would be awesome for that agent to pick you up and start sending you out on countless auditions, that’s not why I recommend it as a tip for how to get an agent. Working for an agent will give you an inside perspective on what they are looking for in clients, mailings, etc. You’ll see who stands out and who doesn’t, so when you’re ready to market yourself to an agent, you’ll be highly educated. And if they do start sending you out, well that’s a bonus. Word to the wise – don’t push this either. You can let them know you’re an actor, of course, but they won’t want you anywhere near the office if they think you’re only there in search of rep. Keep that on the DL and let it happen naturally. Be a smart and subtle salesman, not Crazy Eddie.
5. Do great work.
Ahhh, and this is it, my friends. The ultimate and sure-fire way to get an agent lusting after your bod. Do what you do. Perform. And do it well, and with other great people, in great productions. Sooner or later, whether you like or not, people (and Agents) are going to take notice. It’s the Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come” theory applied to actors and it’s as true here as it was for Costner. I know so many actors out there who put themselves on life-or-death missions to get an agent. Your mission should be get yourself out there – to perform – as often as you can. The agents will follow. Besides, what would you rather do . . . chase someone down, begging them to work with you? What kind of relationship is that going to bring? Would you ever beg someone to go out with you? No, you’d much rather them come a calling, right? Well, the same theory applies here as it does to dating. Be the chasee, not the chaser. I often tell people, when you’re ready for an agent, one is going to be right there, in front of you, begging for you to sign with them.
There you are, my actor and artist friends. Five simple tips on how to get an agent.
But let me leave you with this. When I was coming out of acting school at NYU, I had this image that agents were like Wizards of Oz . . . all powerful and scary people that were hidden deep in offices/fortresses all over the city who had more knowledge about the business than I ever could. I thought to myself, “If I could just get to them, my life will change.” When I got out there and met a few of them (including one who had just left a job editing porn for pay-per-view), I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It’s important to realize that an agent is not going to change your life. You are going to change your life. Agents can’t get you the job. They can make it easier for you to be seen for a job, and negotiate a good deal for you when you get that job, but you’re the guy in the room that’s going to convince someone to give you that job. And you’re the guy that’s still going to have to market yourself when you do get one (and in this age, you can do a lot of that without an agent).
So don’t give them God-like status and think they can change your career with a wave of their hand.
The good agents, and there are good ones out there, are your partners. And they can’t be your partner when you’ve got ’em up on a pedestal.
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