by Actress & Career Coach Annie Chadwick

In the 20th Century acting was a journeyman’s profession, learning from a mentor usually through an acting company or a Hollywood studio. The old rule of thumb was, if you were talented and beautiful, you would somehow be found and developed. For the 21st Century actor, show business has changed and evolved into just that, a business. Being “found” is a direct result of your own promotional efforts. The following is a guide that will provide insight into how an agent works and the best way to approach an agent for representation.

Seeking Representation 101

Creating a successful performance career is still a somewhat illusive path. Most aspiring artists begin with the assumption that if they can quickly sign with a good agent or personal manager then their career will instantly take-off. Obviously representation is an important component to any performance career but in many instances it is not necessarily the most advisable first step. The first steps that I suggest you consider are:

  1. Realize that the mind is the builder of any professional career. Cultivate positive mental beliefs in your talent and the worthiness of pursing a performance career.
  2. Train with the best.
  3. Set-up your entertainment business with quality marketing tools.
  4. Define an area of concentration for 6 months.
  5. Create and seek your own work.

After you have worked through these 5 steps, your chances of attracting quality representation are greatly improved. Of course if you have parents who start you out at as an infant or as a very young child, then some of the above steps do not apply and seeking representation is the first step. Also in the areas of print or background work some of the above steps do not apply as well. But if your goal is to have a professional performance career, spend your time learning your craft and becoming a bookable artist before seeking representation.

If you have purchased either our NYC Agent Directory or the companion book, The NYC Personal Manager Director, you are at the stage to begin the process of seeking representation. As in all of our resource publications, it is our goal to provide you with updated contact information as well as a brief overview of the area and type performer that the agency represents. With feedback from our own careers and from working actors, we have tried to remove any agents or personal managers who are not conducting their business in, what is consider by the industry, a professional manner.

As you start to introduce your talent to agents and personal managers, many questions arise. I have compiled information and answers to often asked questions which I hope will help you with your search to find the right talent representative to advance your career. For further clarity on any of the below information always contact the entertainment unions and the Association of Talent Agents See page 5 for the union contact list.

  • COMMISSIONS: Personal manager commissions can range from 10% to 20% with 15% being the standard commission. Agent commissions are usually 10% and set by the union that the agents are franchised with. If you are signed with both an agent and a personal manager you pay BOTH commissions no matter who procured the audition/job.
  • UNION AFFILIATIONS: Agents are franchised by many performance unions and governed by the business practices of these unions See page 5 for the union contact list. You DO NOT have to already be a union actor to submit to a union franchised agency for representation. Personal Managers are not under any jurisdiction or union. Personal Managers are licensed by any state that they do business in the state that they do business. The National Conference of Personal Managers is an organization that does give guidelines and professional standards for personal managers but does not regulate the business practices of its members like the franchised agent relationship with the unions.
  • PAYMENTS: If you are signed with a franchised agent, agents may request that your checks be sent directly to the agency on union jobs. The agent takes their commission and then pays the actor directly. Payments from union jobs procured by a personal manger can either be sent to the actor directly or c/o the personal manager. However, unless the personal manager has an EIN#, they cannot directly deposit checks that are made out to the actor. It is then up to the actor to pay the personal manger commission. If you are signed with both an agent and a personal manager, the actor is responsible for paying the personal manager commission from their salary. For more information on this issue contact the unions or the Association of Talent Agents
  • SIGNED REPRESENTATION: Agents will typically sign a new client for one year and then discuss a longer agreement after the first year if there is interest to continue the relationship. In the contract, it will be clearly stated which areas (Legit-film/TV/Theatre, Commercials, Voiceovers, etc.) you are signed for representation with the agency You can be signed with one agency for legit and another for commercials and voiceovers. Personal Managers sign clients initially for a longer time span than agents. Managers will sign clients for a minimum of 2 years up to 5 years. Unless negotiated upfront, Personal Managers take a commission on all entertainment jobs.
  • FREELANCE REPRESENTATION: Many agents like to freelance for a period of time before signing. If you are freelancing with an agent, you are not exclusive with that agent and can be working with several agents at one time. If you are freelancing an agent has to notify you that they are submitting you for a project. If another agent has already cleared you on that submission, it's professional protocol for you to accept the first agent that calls you and not play favorites. Traditionally if you have both an agent and a personal manger, all auditions and interest are coordinated through the personal manager. Agents therefore have to go through the personal manager and for some agents this is an extra step that they are not interested in.
  • UPFRONT FEES: It is not ethical for an agent or a personal manager to require new talent to have headshots or a portfolio taken with their exclusive photographer. This should be a red flag that the agency is really in the business of selling pictures and not in getting you professional auditions and submissions.
  • PERSONAL MANAGER CURRENT TRENDS: Personal Managers over see the coordination of all areas of an actor's career from development to producing projects specifically for their clients. The personal managers listed in our directory range in size and status from star powered managers to very small boutique offices. Personal managers normally have a much smaller roster of artists that they represent than a talent agent. This will allow the time it takes to devote full attention to the task of coordinating all the multi-facets of maintaining a performer's career. Standard business practice is for talent agents to procure all auditions and personal mangers coordinate these appointments and project interest. However, a growing trend in NYC is, what I call, the hybrid agent/manager. These personal managers get their own daily Breakdowns and procure appointments directly for their clients, not having to go through an agent. They also can negotiate contracts above the line up to a certain amount according to the state that they do business in and can with the assistance of an entertainment lawyer negotiate contracts above this amount. Personal Managers can be members of the National Conference of Personal Managers but many choose to work solely without any affiliation. There are even many personal managers who do not sign clients but freelance and take commissions only on work that is a result of auditions that they procured.

THE INTERVIEW: When you do get that interview, how do you prepare? First off, dress casual attractive. Look "fantastically natural" like you didn't try very hard. Too many beginning actors dress like they are going for a job interview at a law firm. Secondly, you are there to see if there is genuine potential for a creative collaboration between you and the agency. You are not there to sell yourself. They already have an interest in you or you wouldn't have gotten the interview. Your job is to go to the interview knowing your strengths as an actor and what you will bring to this collaboration. Also, does the agent see your unique talent the way you see yourself being sent out and represented? Do your research on the agency. What areas are they strongest in? If they are strong in commercials or voiceovers, can they get you seen for film & TV and vice versa? Too many times actors just assume that if they sign with an agent that it automatically means they have the connections to get beginning actors the auditions for the most sought after work - Film & TV & Broadway. Lastly, have the mental attitude that you are on a first date. Many times actors say to me I'm going into the interview looking good and honestly answering the agents questions. Many times those honest answers are coming from a mindset that views the glass half empty and not half full. On a first date you don't (or at least I hope not) say the honest truth of how you were dumped by your last boyfriend and haven't had a date in 3 months. But actors will give the same negative equivalent when asked by the agent, "What have you been doing lately?" "Oh, it's been really slow. I haven't had an audition in months since I left my last agent." Like on the first date, most people will run and not give you a second chance. Always look positively at where you are with your career. Talk about everything you are doing to advance your career in a creative way. Love the process of becoming a successful artist. If you come from that excited, adventurous mindset, you will attract representation and interest like.