By Rebecca Strassberg | Backstage
Representation—every actor wants it, but not every actor knows how to secure it. Finding an agent can be tough.
As industry professionals spanning various areas of the business, our Backstage Experts know what it takes to lock down great representation, so we knew they’d be the perfect bunch to ask the following question:
How DO actors find agents?
Here are answers from 14 industry professionals.
(And if you missed the last installment of this column, check out “How Should Actors Slate?” and see how to get your acting questions answered at the bottom of this article!)
Paul Barry, L.A.-based acting teacher and founder of Acting 4 Camera
If you possess a definitive list of agents in their various tiers including types or traits they’re looking for in actors, and times of year they accept unsolicited submissions let me know. Until then...
1. Research regularly. IMDbPro, your friends’ agents, industry articles, and word of mouth. If you can’t get a personal referral, contact them directly and pitch your uniqueness. Of all the great actors out there, why you?
2. Build powerful relationships. Some agents will say no now but yes later, so stay in touch. Some teachers, CDs, and fellow actors will offer referrals to agents when they get to know you. A handful of strong relationships is better than 1000 Twitter followers.
3. Put the work first. Many actors have secured representation (or better representation) by doing great work and then landing a meeting. Sometimes they’re approached in the theater foyer or at the festival after party. Either way, they now have a “hook” to use in correspondence with an agent.
Be on the lookout, for sure, but in the meantime keep improving and the rest will follow.
Tom Burke, image consultant and creator of the Castable Actor
There is nothing more attractive to an agent than an actor who is professional. If you want to find an agent, you need to present as professional in everything you do: your dress, headshots, and how you conduct yourself in meetings.
Who took your headshot?
My roommate. Isn’t she great? This is my theatrical shot…so dramatic.
What’s your age range?
I don’t know, you tell me.
What roles can you play?
I can do anything. Drama, comedy—you name it.
The headshots I’m currently using are my general shot to show my type and brand, my professional shot, which based on my look, is mainly middle management, and I use this for dad/neighbor.
Very specific. Definitely get an idea of where you fit in the industry. What is your age range?
I’m 36, and while I can comfortably play 32–37, I want to look forward to the direction of my career, so I would be open to moving into the 38–42 category.
Which actor do you think found an agent?
Marc Cartwright, L.A.-based headshot and editorial photographer
Referrals, if you can get them, are really the way to go. Always show integrity and professionalism no matter what project you are working on. You never know who you are working with or who might be a great lead in the future.
Heidi Dean, founder of Marketing 4 Actors
Before you even approach an agent, you must have your actor marketing materials in order. You should have a headshot that shows who you are and what you are most castable as, a professional résumé, and a website linking to your (on-brand) social media channels so when they look you up they will see what you want them to see. Once that’s in place, the best way to get an agent is to invite them to your next screening or performance (and make sure you offer them comps). A referral from a friend, a casting director, or a manager is another great way to get a meeting with an agent. Use social media to see if you share mutual friends with the agents you’re interested in. A mutual friend could become the referral you need to get your foot in the door. Need help writing a cover letter for that agent? I show you how here.
Ken Feinberg, founder and CEO of Creative Studios of Atlanta
The best way for actors to find agents is to ask a fellow actor (or casting director) who knows your work really well. For example, someone from acting class with whom you’ve been studying for a good long while, or someone on a set who you’ve worked with and who knows your work. That’s the strongest way to get an agent. If a good actor recommends another actor saying this is a really talented actor, the agent will likely consider that talent.
The next best way would be to ask your acting teacher with whom you’ve studied for a while. That teacher knows your work, your professionalism, and your work ethic. Actors need to know that if I refer you to an agent, I am putting my reputation on the line. If you don’t do your job or you’re unprofessional or unprepared, then it reflects on me. And so, the next time I go to refer someone to this agent, they will probably not take it as seriously.
Lastly, a great way to get an agent is to do showcases, but make sure you perform with a reputable outfit such as your acting school or somewhere that has a reputation for producing professional-level showcases. You’re only as good as the people you with whom you’re showcasing.
Clifton Guterman, Atlanta–based expert
In Atlanta, agents for on-camera work—(we don't use them here for theater)—often hold open calls or take submissions, so check their respective websites for guidelines and follow closely. Some attend college senior showcases or acting/camera class showcases. Some hold regular roundtables/meet-and-greets/industry gatherings. Some agencies interview new talent based on recommendations from actors already on their roster. Whatever route you take, be professional, courteous, honest, and yourself. Agents are looking for unique actors, not copies or clones of folks they already represent.
Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt and Soul Studio
I suggest that you might try Googling “SAG-AFTRA franchised agents” for your area. (Some non-franchised agents are good too, but be careful.) You can go directly to SAG-AFTRA and check agents out there as well. Don’t forget to try the online directory right here at Backstage! Also, ask local actors who their agents are and if they are happy with them. You can also check IMDb pages to see other actors’ agent affiliations. Make sure you do your research on any agents you are considering to guarantee their legitimacy.
Tammy Hunt, LA-based manager
First of all, actors must be extremely diligent in continuing to hone their acting skills in order to be worthy of an agent. My advice is to start with Backstage’s resources. This is the go-to database for you because each agency is categorized so you will know which agent represents your type. No wasting time on submitting yourself to agencies that only rep voice actors or children if you are on-camera adult performer.
In addition you can ask for referrals from actors in your workshops, your acting coach, or your manager may know an agent they can refer you to.
Joseph Pearlman, L.A.-based acting coach, founder of Pearlman Acting Academy
If you want top-notch representation you must stop pursuing them, as the most effective agents and managers in the industry are the ones that will find you. How? By you putting something exciting on the table: building credits on your own, knowing the right way to pitch yourself for every role you’re right for, creating original content and getting as many eyeballs on it as you can, building and maintaining relationships with writers, directors, and producers (the ones that actually cast you), and having a clear grip on your branding (not to be confused with niche/type—the lowbrow version of this).
Check out my article on this topic, “Why You Should Stop Looking for Representation.”
At the end of the day, agent/manager relationships are a lot like dating—desperation and overeagerness can be quite unattractive. The most exciting and rewarding partnerships are those in which both parties are equally interested and excited about what the other is contributing.
AJ Riley, L.A.–based career coach
I’m often asked about how to find representation to which I reply with another question: Are you ready to submit? My first advice to any actor seeking representation is simple: Prepare your submissions before reaching out to agents or managers.
You can do all the agent/manager research, go to workshops, make lists of possible reps to target, find affiliations, company history, types, age range and submissions guidelines, have the best recommendations going into a meeting—and still fall flat due to poor preparation.
The best way to find an agent or manager is to show you’ve been busy at work building up your career. Your efforts are proof of your readiness to work. Prepare a cover letter along with your résumé and current headshots. Update your website, Backstage profile, IMDb page, your reel, and social media. Be ready to talk about your journey into becoming and actor and your expectations. Show you’re invested in classes and creating content. Add to that a couple of monologues or a scene you can read for them if necessary.
Carla Renata, blogging/branding expert and founder of the Branding Buddha
Research will help you figure out who is or is not a good fit for you and your type. Odds are, if the agency has someone similar to you, it’s generally not looking to stack the deck. How do you go about getting this info and avoiding this scenario? Make a list of 10–20 agencies you may want on your team. Focus on those agencies who can accommodate your talent and type.
Referrals are always great, easy, and accessible, and can be your ace-in-the-hole way of getting in. The friend, casting director, writer, or producer who you know really well can vouch for your work ethic and talent, making doors massively easy to open. If you have a manager, they can be used as a referral source as well. However, it’s not a guarantee, as many agencies require everyone agree to take you on as a client. If one person says no., that door is closed—for now…not forever.
Jessica Rofé, founder and artistic director of A Class Act NY
There are a variety of ways to find an agent, but we find the best way is to participate in an audition-only reputable agent/manager showcase! At A Class Act NY, we do these twice a year! We bring in over 22 agents and managers who are actively scouting for new talent! We’ve had amazing success with these! For example, Danika Yarosh (“Heroes Reborn” “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”) met her agent at a showcase of ours! We also do one-day workshops in which we invite agents and managers to come in and work with our students. Often, the kids get scouted from these workshops like Bebe Wood (“The Real O’Neals,”) and Charlie Plummer (“King Jack”) both met their talent agents at workshops! Also, all of our weekly classes culminate in a performance for agents and managers, as do our by-audition-only summer intensives! All great ways to get in front of the right people!
Denise Simon, NYC-based acting coach
Agents frequent theatrical productions always on the hunt for new talent! And don’t forget about old-fashioned mailings. Make sure you have a great photo that looks like you, attach a résumé and a short cover letter, and send a hard copy. You can obtain a listing of reputable agents and managers through Backstage’s Call Sheet (which you can find online here).Perhaps you have a friend who is signed with an agent. Ask them for a referral. Your acting or voice teacher can also refer you to a rep, as they have the contacts and a trusted relationship with many of them. Many acting workshops and master classes will culminate with an informal performance for an agent, as well as being seen in an industry showcase. There are many ways to try and obtain representation but before you do…study, train, and be ready!
Ryan R. Williams, L.A.-based on-camera coach, founder of Screen Actors System
If you are in the right on-camera class, a legit film agent will find you. Sound too good to be true? My students just know it as reality. Here’s how it works:
Start by joining the right class, get to know everyone, and grow to a certain skill level. When the class widely acknowledges you are an excellent actor, it happens. A large number of my students are constantly working on commercials, as series regulars on TV shows, and even booking supporting roles in feature films. They end up with great agents. If you are not their type (competing with them), then that student will give you a valuable recommendation to that top agency very freely. Because your work is now proven. Because your friends. Beginners say, “It’s who you know.” I say, “It’s who knows you.” Who are you surrounded by in class? Get in a class where people are booking left and right and put up outstanding scenes with them.
That always works for my students when they put in the time.