The differences between talent agents and managers seem to be a great mystery to many actors just starting out – and to many who have been here a long time.We’ll give you the long and short of it…shortly.
Talent Agents:In California, talent agents must be licensed and bonded.The various guilds also provide franchises to agents, although at the current time, many of the largest agencies in the business are no longer franchised.That’s a long story and so silly, it’s not worth wasting much space over.The unions will try to tell you that, once you become a member of that particular union, you may not hire a non-franchised agent.Strangely enough, that admonition hasn’t prevented any of these huge agencies (nor the smaller ones) from continuing uninterrupted.Actors want to work and as long as they trust their agents to not be ripping them off, apparently they do whatever they want to do, unions be damned.
By state law, an agent is not allowed to take more than 20% commission from a client.By tradition, they do not take more than 10%.However, there are exceptions to that rule:Many times, non-union work provides for a 15-20% commission that is tacked onto the actor’s fee – the rationale being that, since there will never be any residuals for non-union work, an agent has little incentive to provide his clients’ services to a non-u production.So, the producers up the ante.(Franchised agencies are not supposed to do any non-union submissions, but…a lot of them do.Shhhh…!)
Agents seek employment for their clients.That, of course, means trying to obtain auditions; it’s up to the actor to book the job.If an offer of work is made, the agent can negotiate the contract, meaning try to get more money, although nowadays, that is a very difficult thing to finesse.It is also the agent’s responsibility to make sure that his client’s best interests are served if there is a non-standard contract (as opposed to a standard union contract) being offered.
Is there some law somewhere that demands that an actor have an agent?No.But the producers and studios will not want to deal directly with an actor, so if you happen to book a union job on your own (a.k.a. “a miracle!”), you will probably have to beg some agent to represent you (not unheard of – you might ask your friends to refer you to an agent, or just call some up cold).The alternative to that is to hire an attorney to handle the contract.
Every actor in Hollywood wants and needs an agent.Hiring one (yes, folks!YOU hire the agent, not the other way around, even though most of them act as if they’re doing you a favor taking you on!) is far easier said than done.The first thing you should do once you land in Hollywood (or even before) is hie thee to the nearest Samuel French Bookstore, www.samuelfrench.com, and pick up the most recent “The Agencies” book.It’s updated constantly and gives invaluable information on all of the local agencies.Of course, they rarely, if ever, give any truly negative comments (can you spell “lawsuit”?), but at least you will go into your agent search well-armed.
List in hand, you begin the process of submitting to agencies that seem to fit your needs.We suggest you start by sending a postcard with your headshot on it and a short note, stating that your 8X10 will follow shortly.Then send it.We strongly recommend that you use the type of mailing envelope that has a clear window on one side, so that your face is clearly seen before the recipient even reaches for the letter opener (or trash can).
Be sure to include a short, friendly note of introduction, that is personalized to each agent or head of the agency to whom you’re sending it.No note – or worse, one addressed to “Dear Agent”! – equals lazy actor and guess where that lands you…!
Unless you have a truly distinctive speaking voice (one that in and of itself might garner attention), do not make follow-up calls.You will only get the standard response from whomever answers the phone:“If anyone’s interested, they’ll call you.”Click.Those types of phone calls just annoy agencies and waste everyone’s time.
If you are fortunate enough to have a personal referral to the agency, write it on the outside of the envelope, too.That’s in case the envelope was destined to never be opened.
Most agents do attend showcases and really prefer finding new talent that way.Once you land in Hollywood, you’ll find ways to join showcases.Do consider doing that – if you’re good enough to be allowed to perform in one, you never know where it may lead.
Managers:There are hundreds of managers in Hollywood, many of whom are truly fabulous and worth their weight in gold.Unfortunately, due to a lack of regulations, there are also a bunch of worthless ones, whose only interest lies in getting enough unsuspecting actors to supply them with a monthly stipend (“Gee – we have to spend money on postage and envelopes on your behalf.You have to cover those costs, honey!”).Run, do not walk, from anyone who asks you for money up front.
How can you tell the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly?It ain’t easy, pal.Your best shot at culling the useless ones from your list of potential managers is word-of-mouth and…”The Managers” book, also at Samuel French Bookstore.
By definition, managers have only a small handful of clients (usually less than 25).It is their duty to coddle, mold, advise and generally speaking, smother their clients with individual care and attention. (Talent agents, on the other hand, can have literally hundreds of clients, so there’s no way they can give each one that kind of personal attention all the time.)
Managers are not allowed to solicit work or negotiate salaries, unless they also have an agency license or are attorneys.Of course, many of them do it anyway, and if it results in work, we have never understood why anyone would object.But there have been plenty of actor vs manager lawsuits to prove that it can, indeed, become a problem.
Managers do not have to be licensed, bonded or franchised, but many of them do belong to a very fine organization, the Talent Managers Association (TMA).You can always check there to see if someone you’re interested in is a member:www.talentmanagers.org
It has become a “trend” in Hollywood for actors at every stage of their careers to boast that they have an agent, a manager, an attorney, and anything else that makes them look more important (maybe in their own eyes?).In our opinion, not every single actor needs or benefits from a manager and we often wonder why a particular manager would take on an actor with little or nothing on his or her resume.Could it be the potential for that 15% commission…?NOTE:If you have both an agent (10%) and a manager (15%), you are losing 25% of your gross salary in commissions (all tax deductible, of course).Be sure you really can afford to do that before making any decisions.NOTE #2:Most managers ask you to sign a contract that is basically written in stone and, unlike agency contracts, is virtually impossible to break.So, again, be very, very sure before signing anything with anyone that this is truly what you want to do.
Seeking a manager is exactly the same process as seeking an agent (above).