From accents and ageism, to dropping clients and demo-reel don’ts – Ambition Talent’s founding agent David Ritchie tackled all of show business’ taboo topics with characteristic candour during a recent hour-long Q&A session with Acting for Film, TV and the Theatre students.
“I think it’s important to give students an opportunity to ask questions to professionals in the business that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to, because I didn’t have that when I was in this position,” Ritchie said in an interview following his Aug. 19 guest lecture at Toronto Film School.
“The other reason is, you never know – I might find a hidden gem among all the students.”
It was four years ago at TFS’s Yonge-Dundas Campus, in fact, that Ritchie first discovered Class of 2015 alumnus and up-and-coming Netflix star Gabriel Darku during a similar Q&A session.
“I found Gabe in this exact setting…He approached me after class, I gave him my card, and one thing lead to another and we’ve been together ever since,” he said of the 24-year-old Yellowknife native, who’s since gone on to land roles in television series such as Reboot: The Guardian Code, Impulse, American Gods, Slasher, and October Faction, among others.
“Gabriel Darku’s been awesome. He’s a phenomenal client. He’s taken direction really well. He’s astute, he’s well spoken, he’s a hard worker, he’s bright, he sees the big picture. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Anxious to follow in Darku’s post-graduation footsteps, a standing-room-only crowd of advice-seeking TFS Acting students attended Ritchie’s most recent guest lecture, peppering the veteran talent agent with questions.
Here are some of the highlights of his advice:
On the best way to get noticed by an agent:
“The one thing I’ve learned over the years, now that I’m in this seat, is that the best way to get an agent’s attention is through a referral – through (your instructors) Hart (Massey), through Adam (Till), through an acting coach, through somebody that I know or my staff know…If they can vouch for you, that will put you ahead of the pile in terms of everybody else.”
On introductory emails to prospective agents:
“Don’t send in a diatribe about why you wanna be an actor, and how you got into the business, and how you’re gonna be the next Tom Cruise. We don’t care. It just needs to be really short and sweet.”
On the ideal demo reel:
“All it has to be is some good work from class, where the sound is good and the lighting is good – it doesn’t have to be this big production. We just need to see that you can act.”
On interviews with prospective agents:
“If we bring you in for a meeting, it’s because we’ve seen something on the tape that we like. So, essentially, it’s an interview. You have to come in, you have to be personable and accommodating, and say all the right things, and not be crazy. Because there’s a lot of crazy people in show business. It’s insane.”
On whether or not good looks matter as an actor:
“Here’s the thing: You have to have talent. You have to be able to portray other characters. But then, from there, you have to know what characters you can portray. You have to have a look. You don’t have to be a leading man. You don’t have to be a leading woman. Because, obviously, the whole world is not full of Abercrombie models.”
On the value of knowing your niche as an actor:
“If an agent’s interviewing you, and says ‘Hey, how do you see yourself?’ a good answer is, ‘Obviously I’m not there yet, but I aspire to a career similar to Joe Pesci’ or ‘Everyone says I look like Steve Buscemi’ or something to that effect, so you’ve that placed yourself. You have to know what category you fit in.”
On ageism in Hollywood:
“I’m just going to be blunt, because I don’t want people wasting their lives: There’s a lot of ageism in show business. If you’re 40 years old and you’re a non-union actor and you’re just getting started, why is anyone going to bring you into the ring when they have a list of professional actors that they’ve been dealing with for 20, maybe 25 years? It’s so hard to leapfrog those people, because there’s literally hundreds and hundreds of them that are legit and qualified to do the job.”
On accents as obstacles:
“You have to remember, we mainly cater to the United States, and the United States took a show that was in English called The Office and remade it because they couldn’t understand the accents…and it was in the same language! So think about that.”
“It’s very difficult to be cast with an accent. If you can speak two languages, it’s amazing, but ideally – and there’s exceptions to every rule – but you want to be able to converse in English with a typical North American accent.”
On dropping clients:
“I don’t drop clients as much as I should, but we will drop a client if they’re not booking…This business is so addictive in good ways and bad ways, but you don’t want to pursue this if you’re not going to be successful at it…Dreams die, but you have to get on with your life. I’m not trying to be negative David Downer here, but I’m also trying to be a realist, because it’s sad. I see so many people pursuing it and they’re in their 40s and they can’t make a living – so, if you’re not booking, it may get to a point where you’re not good enough.”
On starting acting career in Toronto vs Vancouver vs Los Angeles:
“Toronto has more productions. It’s less American stuff, but there’s theoretically more opportunity in Toronto, while Vancouver has higher profile stuff, because it’s mainly American. My philosophy is that if you’re from Vancouver, you should start in Vancouver. If you’re from Toronto, start in Toronto.
“With L.A., you have to remember that every actor in the entire world goes to Los Angeles – everybody here in Toronto, everyone in Vancouver, everyone from London, everyone from Australia, everyone in New York and Chicago – name a city, and they all go to Los Angeles. I think there’s, like, a million or two million people who call themselves actors in the city of L.A. now.”
Anyone seeking representation from Ritchie’s Ambition Talent agency is asked to email a professional headshot, resume and link to a demo reel to [email protected]