Step 5: Agents, Managers, & “the Team”

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What are actors referring to when they talk about their “team”?

These are the actor’s support group and can be: agent(s), manager(s), publicist, attorney, and business manager. Because this article will focus on the agent(s) and manager(s), I will only give a brief overview of the remaining members of a “team”. These team members are only needed by more established actors who are making a substantial amount of money from their acting career.

The publicist is responsible for all media – good or bad. They set up interviews, oversee your social media, publicize your projects, etc. A publicist can easily charge a minimum of $5000/month. ReelGuru is more than happy to offer a referral to a good publicist should you need one – and have the money to pay them.

Your entertainment attorney will guide you on setting up a legal entity for yourself. He or she will negotiate fine points in your acting contracts, any productions you may put together…in other words, your attorney handles all potential legal issues. Attorneys can work on an hourly basis or on a percentage basis – typically 5%.

The business manager oversees all bookkeeping/accounting issues. Many actors funnel all of their income through their business manager, and the business manager pays all bills. Many successful actors truly have no idea of how much they really make – or spend. Business managers also consult on investments, retirement, and taxes. A good business manager is invaluable, but many actors have found themselves broke – and worse – when dealing with a bad business manager. They typically take 5%.

Now, let’s get to the two team members that you may consider having: the agent and the manager.

An agent, if in several larger cities, such as LA, will be bound by state regulations, which helps protect the actor. If seeking an agent in LA, I would make sure that the agent you are meeting with is a SAG-franchised agency. You can easily find this out at SAGAFTRA.org or by calling SAG. Being SAG-franchised means, among other things, that the agency has to have a separate account for talent funds. This is a wonderful protection for the actors. If you live in a smaller market, it is very likely that there will be no SAG-franchised agency, so you will have to use your networking skills to find out who is legit. Longevity is always a good sign, if an agency has been around for over, say, seven years, it’s pretty safe to say that they’re treating their talent well. New agencies may make joining their agency super enticing – maybe really low fees for headshots, reduced fees for an online presence, a free workshop. All of these things sound great, and may be. It is not because somebody has started a new agency that they are not reputable or knowledgeable, but they do have a lot to prove.

I have met with many people all around the country who were planning to start a talent agency and wanted my advice. I will only continue to consult with someone if our first meeting proves that they are savvy enough and have the ethics to be an agent. Unfortunately, out of hundreds of such meeting, I can probably count on one hand the people who actually had any knowledge of the talent agency business. So here are a few things that you can ask when you go in to talk to an agent:

  • Are they SAG-franchised?
  • Do they have booking agents who are actors themselves? (not good)
  • How much do they charge in commissions? (they can’t charge more than 10% on a SAG-AFTRA project, and should not charge more than 15-20% on any other project.
  • Do they require that you take their classes and use their headshot photographer? (Be careful – they may be working with the best, in which case it’s a good thing, or they could be using this enticement just to make money.)

Once you are comfortable with the legitimacy of an agency, how do you feel about them? No matter how good they are, if you have a weird gut feeling that this is not a good match, pay attention to that. Obviously, the agency needs to believe in you as a talent, or how can they possibly “sell” you to someone else?

Many actors try to sign with several agencies. There are exceptions, which I will cover, but for the most part, don’t do it! In bigger markets, it’s totally OK to have a theatrical (film) and TV agent, a voice-over agent, and a modeling agent. In most smaller markets, you cannot do this. Speaking strictly for myself, if I am casting a film and have an actor submitted by two agencies, I will not see that actor at all! Do I want to get into a possible legal battle between what agency gets the commission if you book the role? No, I don’t. So I nip it in the bud. Right away.

Why would you need a manager and an agent? You don’t, until your career starts to pick up speed. As a simple differentiation, an agent may represent hundreds of people – they submit you, and if you get the role, they get a commission and make sure that you get paid.

A manager will represent far fewer people, and will take 10-20% of anything you make as an actor. They will handle your career on a much more personal basis. For example, they may want you to get into a gym to get more fit, get a different haircut, or change your style. Pretty much branding. They’ll recommend what agency you should be with, what projects you should take and not take. Because they have so much control, make sure that you are in sync with a prospective manager. It is a relationship somewhat like that of a marriage – and manager contracts can be for as long as five years.

Now – here is a question that may be the hardest to answer: Do you actually need an agent?

If in LA – the answer is “yes” – an unconditional “YES!”

Some of you may be working actors in a smaller regional area, and you may know the one casting director and the one ad agency in town – and they hire you directly. I can see your hesitancy in signing with an agent, especially if your local agency charges a fee to join the agency. In this case, I can only tell you two things:

  1. Although I understand financially that an agency in a small market charges joining fees, it’s hard for me to swallow. If you can join an agency, and there’s no fee to you, there’s really no downside to joining. Your first reaction will probably be “Why should I pay a commission if I can get booked directly?” That’s a legitimate question. And the simple answer is that an agent should always be able to negotiate a commission above and beyond what your pay is. This is called a “+10, +20 or whatever is negotiated,” which means “plus ten percent, plus twenty percent, etc…” In having an agent negotiate for you, it creates a “good cop, bad cop” situation. Your agent can now be the one asking for more money, possibly, asking where your pay is, etc.
  2. Having an agent is the proper industry protocol. It makes it much more efficient for a casting director. If you’re planning on being a professional actor, then start now.

These topics will be frequently covered by ReelGuru. If you need additional info, please set up a private consulting session. 

Read step six here!

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Last modified: August 13, 2017

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