In This Article
by Garry Murdock. July 4, 2023
We’ve all heard the stories:, how a famous actor landed a part or an agent without trying, and became a superstar. Charlize Theron was ‘discovered’ in a bank. Chris Pratt was waiting tables at a restaurant in Maui when a director casted him on the spot. Jennifer Lawrence was vacationing in New York City and touring Times Square when she got noticed. Now they are some of the biggest stars in the world.
But most actors can’t count on being discovered, to land roles they need a good agent. This can be a difficult process, not because it’s hard to find an agent but to find the right one. The agent you sign with needs to be the right fit for you, not the first one that accepts you. Be patient and do your research, so that you can focus on what matters—your performance.
Here are five red flags to watch out for when looking for an agency to represent you:
Never, ever, ever pay to be part of an agency. A legitimate one will never ask for money upfront. When you make money, they make money.
They want you to spend money upfront
You find an agent who expresses interest but right out of the gate they’re asking you to pay for ‘professional’ headshots or a demo reel (even if you already have these, they’ll find flaws in them). They’ll want you to use their people to produce these because they are ‘the best.’ Maybe they’ll also ask you to pay for their representation up front too.
Sunmin Oh, a 2021 graduate of Toronto Film School’s Acting for Film, TV and the Theatre Diploma Program, and who was recently casted in a Netflix docuseries, had this to say: “Never, ever, ever pay to be part of an agency. A legitimate one will never ask for money upfront. When you make money, they make money.”
An agency’s pay will be a percentage of what you take home for playing a role. That’s it.
I would say treat it like you’re looking for a partner. Someone caring and supporting, makes you feel like you’re being heard.
They’re just not that into you
You want to find an agent who’s invested in your career trajectory too.
Orville Cummings, a 2015 Toronto Film School acting graduate who was cast as Lieutenant Christopher in Star Trek: Discovery tells us, “I would say treat it like you’re looking for a partner. Someone caring and supporting, makes you feel like you’re being heard. A bad agent will want to just use you to make money and box you in and keep you as a niche actor, only doing commercials and other typecast roles. My agent, Maria (of Edna Talent Management), is super supportive, and so easy to communicate with, I’m super blessed to have her.”
Sunmin agrees with Orville, stating that her agent Tammy from SoHo Management “doesn’t pigeonhole/typecast me and instead in the beginning, submitted me to all types of roles to get a better sense of how casting sees me. And from there Tammy would also see what the ‘market’ was looking like for someone like me.”
Ask lots of questions about who they are (the agent), why they are an agent, their experience in the industry, the contract, their roster—be specific.
Their answers are vague
Prepare your questions for a prospective agency in advance. Sunmin says, “Ask lots of questions about who they are (the agent), why they are an agent, their experience in the industry, the contract, their roster—be specific. It’s important to have a communicative relationship with your agent, and they should feel the same. Tammy (my agent) is very personable and so easy to chat with. She is understanding, honest and open about her work and the industry. This kind of openness is valuable in building a trusting relationship between an actor and agent.”
You should be able to get straight answers to your questions. Also, ask around, and if possible, talk to a few of the actors they represent so you can get a good feel for what you can expect as a client. As Orville notes, you want an agency that “invests in their clients, and respects them in a way that makes it seem more like a team than a hierarchy.”
A contract protects both of you—it ensures expectations from both agency and actor. Among other things, you’ll know what type of work they are seeking for you and if you can look for acting gigs separately.
They require no written contract
Another red flag. A contract protects both of you—it ensures expectations from both agency and actor. Among other things, you’ll know what type of work they are seeking for you and if you can look for acting gigs separately. A contract will spell out the terms regarding confidentiality, their commission and when you can expect payment. You’ll also learn the conditions under which you can terminate the contract.
On the agency’s end, a contract means they know they can put the time and energy into representing you and finding you work without worrying you will sign with someone else. That’s only fair.
Right away they will be pulling out their “standard contract” and asking you to sign because they have parts you could audition for “this week, you’d be perfect for them!” You may be flattered but resist this temptation.
Reputable agents, the ones you want to sign with, don’t usually advertise. Those who do may seem overly interested in you even if they don’t know anything about you. They’ll be in a huge rush to sign you or offer extras you don’t need like acting classes (that you will need to pay for). Right away they will be pulling out their “standard contract” and asking you to sign because they have parts you could audition for “this week, you’d be perfect for them!”
You may be flattered but resist this temptation.
Sunmin’s agent was recommended to her by a fellow actor. Orville left his old agency to sign with his current one because they felt like a better fit, even though another was pursuing him. Neither of these agencies advertised.
Remember to take your time
It’s critical that you don’t rush this process. Do the research. Ask around for referrals and ignore the ads. Don’t sign the same day. And never pay any money upfront. In this way you can safeguard yourself from committing to the wrong agency. Instead, strive to discover an agency that values your career ambitions and is dedicated to aiding you in achieving them.
Garry Murdock is Toronto Film School’s marketing copywriter. Formerly, he was the supervising producer of Cineplex’s national in-theatre pre-show, the production development manager for Bell studios, and a promo producer and commercial director.