How to Change Your Agent Successfully
The key to booking well-known TV shows and movies is ... a good agent.
Does an actor need an agent? Um, I’m talking legitimate ones here. Not the fly-by-night scamsters who tell you that they can make you a star of stage, screen, or whatnot within a short time. That is, of course, dear reader, after you pony up some significant $$ for headshots, training, etc. that they - and only they - provide.
The short answer is YES. You do need an agent. If you’re an on-camera actor, it’s tough to land highly-sought, highly competitive TV, film, and national commercial auditions without one.
It’s different than in voice over. OK, it’s true that if you’re wanting to play in broadcast genres, like commercials and many documentary, animation and gaming opportunities … well, you’re going to need a good agent with access to those types of auditions. But – if you’re focused on non-broadcast genres like corporate narration, explainer videos, and eLearning, you can earn a nice six-figure living, as many successful VO actors do, by finding and developing clients on your own.
On-camera actors CAN find bookings on their own. Don’t get me wrong. Those roles, though, are mostly going to be for non-union productions, smaller and more local projects that pay less, and independent films. Occasionally, a casting director will post a small SAG-AFTRA union role (a few lines at most) on a casting site. And there’ll be a lot of background roles, which are non-speaking parts to fill in the ambience of a scene. Most self-respecting on-camera actors don’t do background, as there’s very little acting involved. As background, you’re pretty much a human prop, moved around as needed by the director, and too often treated the same as a chair, table, or other non-sentient piece of equipment. The pay, too, is below minimum wage, often a whopping $88 for a twelve hour day.
Booking on your own carries the same hazards and responsibilities that the veteran voice actor knows all too well. Check and verify your contracts and make sure that everything is as promised in the booking offer. And for heaven’s sake, be careful of commercials that you book on your own to avoid conflicts. The last thing you want to do is to sign away your ability to appear in a Home Depot commercial because you’ve signed a contract with Ma and Pa Kettle local hardware store that is “in perpetuity.” That $300 may sound nice, but do you really want to eliminate yourself from consideration for a national deal that could generate tens of thousands of dollars for you? Every year? I didn’t think so.
That said, an on-camera actor ultimately needs a good agent, one who can submit you for good projects and professionally handle your bookings, contracts, and payments. But what if you don’t have one? Or leave one agent to find another who’s better suited to represent you?
The client/agent relationship works both ways. They bring you auditions. You make them money. Be sure you’re well-matched re: expectations and delivery of services. Or there’ll be a change.
Be an attractive client
I’m not talking physical beauty here, though that doesn’t hurt, especially if you’re pursuing a modeling contract. Be the type of client – actor – that the agent WANTS to represent. That mean:
Good industry reputation
Up to date materials (headshot, reel with clips of recent work)
Profiles on the main casting sites, like Actors Access and Casting Networks, which are most used here in the Southeastern US.
Remember, the agency expects to make money off of you, whether that’s 10% on every union job you do or 15-20% on non-union bookings.
Know when it’s time to move on
But what if you’ve been with an agent for some time and it becomes apparent that it’s time to move on?
There are lots of reasons that actors change agents. Some are initiated by the actor, some by the agent. Here are a few of them:
You’ve not booked much (or anything) within a certain period of time and the agency wants to clean house. In other words, make room on their roster for someone else of your type who might be able to do a better job of making them money. Hey, don’t fret. Chances are that this is how YOU got on their roster in the first place. Yup, it’s a competitive industry.
You’ve gone off and made a real bonehead move that annoyed, insulted, or otherwise embarrassed productions personnel or your agency itself. Maybe you weren’t the team player that you’re expected to be, or you revealed yourself to be hostile, rude, or prejudiced against another ethnic, religious, or cultural group. Or anyone, for that matter.
You’ve changed markets, moving from a smaller film/TV market to a full-blown, top industry market like those enjoyed in LA, New York, Atlanta, and Chicago,
You want a different type of agency experience. Some agencies are known for hand-holding (but not too many!), others have large actor to agent ratios where individual attention is given primarily only to top performers. Some are boutique agencies with known specializations. Others have strong relationships with certain casting directors, directors, or producers and receive auditions that other agencies may not see.
You want an agency with representatives in more than one market. For instance, both your home base and the agency are in Atlanta, but they also have someone in the LA market or a close relationship with a top agency there.
You’ve outgrown an agency and are ready to “level up” to greater opportunities. Let’s say you’ve mostly received co-star and guest-star opportunities, but now you’re aiming for more regular recurring or lead roles that your current agent rarely receives. Or you’re looking for an agent who will go to bat for you and pitch you to production for a particular role, rather than one who’s content to wait for a particular audition from the casting director.
How do you know when it’s time? You’ll know when you become frustrated with your current situation and have ALREADY DONE EVERYTHING IN YOUR OWN POWER TO HELP YOURSELF. (That last bit is really important, in case you haven’t noticed.) That means continuing with your training, keeping materials current and competitive within the industry (headshots, acting reels/clips of your work), networking, and seeking and securing some work on your own, too.
You’ll also know when it’s time when respected teachers, coaches, and even experienced colleagues gently suggest that you may not be receiving the opportunities you would if you were represented elsewhere. It’s not something to take lightly, but if you’re thinking of making the move, make sure that it’s for a good reason.
Before you change agents, make sure that you’re doing everything in your power to help yourself.
Be the consummate professional
Reputation is everything. When you’re ready to leave an agency, especially if you’ve been there for a long time, do so respectfully and professionally. I’ve seen too many actors take out their frustrations, and even their own emotional instabilities, on an agent. Besides burning a bridge and tarnishing their industry reputations – word gets around fast and social media documents everything FOREVER – some of these actors refused to even consider that they may be the source of their problems. See the checklist above for those things each actor needs to be doing for himself.
Most agencies prefer to terminate the professional relationship immediately upon notice, though as a former corporate gal, I always will give two weeks’ notice. And what is an appropriate notice? A professionally worded, respectful email followed up by a mailed letter. Of course, if the agent sends a termination notice immediately in response and you find yourself removed from their online roster before you can say “wow, that was fast,” I’d say the email was sufficient.
This was my case very recently. After over six years with my agent and a growing dissatisfaction over time, I made the decision that it was time to leave. Not an easy choice, as I’m a very loyal person, and my last year saw some pretty nice bookings. But my career felt stagnant and I was ready for a change.
I gave two weeks’ notice, but unsurprisingly, the agent ended the relationship immediately upon receiving my email. Also not unexpectedly, my daughter was dropped from the roster at the same time, which is why I waited to leave until she was just about to go off to college. If you and other family members are represented by the same agency, this is not an uncommon occurrence.
This begs the question: do you leave one agent before finding a new one or do you look for a new agent while still being represented?
That’s one of those “it depends” answers. It’s hard to tell. Some agencies won’t look at an actor who’s already represented, while others aren’t concerned. It’s a matter of how comfortable you are going without representation until you’re picked up by a new agency.
My situation is a combination of both. I’m with a top Southeastern agency for voice over and they’ve recently welcomed me into their Commercial team for commercials, industrials, and print jobs. I’m thrilled, to say the least. But their TV/film roster is closed to new talent for a couple of months. At the time of the offer to join their Commercial team, I had a choice of accepting, knowing I’d need to wait to see if their TV/film division is interested in representing me (assuming their roster opens), or declining and looking for a different agency to represent me across the board. I chose the former. And if their TV/film roster doesn’t reopen or I’m not deemed the right fit for what they currently need, I can begin looking for TV/film representation with another agency at that time.
Looking for a new agent
How do you find a good agent? Primarily from two sources:
Referrals from actors, teachers, coaches, casting directors, directors, or producers. People who know the person or agency involved and have direct experience with them.
Industry reputation. Look, you already KNOW who’s good. For a lesser-known or newer agency or agent, Google is your friend.
Don’t rush into anything. And be sure to carefully review any contract that’s presented to you to avoid any gotchas, like a requirement to pay them upfront for any fees. Remember, you’re not supposed to be paying your agent to represent you. They make their commissions off the work they help you book.
In the meantime ... Indies are calling
Until I get a new film/TV agent, I’ll focus on opportunities that I can find for myself through current contacts, referrals, casting site auditions, and independent productions. There’s always something a motivated actor can do! Some of those independent productions offer great acting roles or exposure. Many end up in well-known film festivals and garner awards for both the production and the actors.
And no matter what, continue to train and focus on those areas where you are well-represented. For me, that’s in commercials, industrials, print work and voice over. And, of course, voice over jobs that I book on my own.
Moral of the story: no excuses, just buckle down and make something happen for yourself. After all, you’re the one who cares most about YOU.
Laura's Quick Tips
A good, reliable agent is essential for consideration for many professional acting roles.
Know when it’s time to change agents and know how to do so professionally.
Be the kind of client a new agency WANTS to represent and continue to expand your skills.
Be resourceful and do what you can to network and find good opportunities on your own.
Like they say, acting is a journey, not a destination. A marathon, not a sprint. And so forth. An acting career is like a lot of things, but most of all, it’s about resiliency. There are a lot of ups, downs, and sideways moves in this business, changes in representation notwithstanding. Stay the course, keep your chin up … and wish yourself and your fellow actors good luck!