I get a few emails a week saying “I want an agent but I can’t afford it”. WHAT?! You should never pay an upfront fee to an agent! It’s emails like this that terrify me. Actors so eager and so invested in becoming actors, or becoming famous, that they will do anything to get ahead. This desperation has created an entire industry that’s sole objective is to profit from naive actors. This article I hope will save many inexperienced actors from ending up in expensive, or dangerous, situations. I want to dispel any misconceptions actors might have about agents and show you the warning signs to watch out for when you are looking for a new agent.
What you’ll learn
By the end of this article you will have a clear insight into what to avoid when looking for an acting agent. If you are in discussion with an agent right now and they have any of these warning signs, please be very cautious moving forward.
For more information on how to get an acting agent.
Acting Agent Warning Signs
An agent that advertises in magazines, the newspaper, or anywhere, is not a good sign. The biggest agent here in Australia doesn’t even have a website! A good agent shouldn’t need to advertise. Most professional agents and managers are busy getting work for their actors. They are swamped by actor submissions, and don’t need to advertise to get actors. Most reputable agents never publicly advertise space on their books. That means they never appear to be looking for new actors.
#2 Up Front Payments
You should never pay for representation upfront. Agents will take a cut out of your professional work and that’s it. If an agency is asking for upfront payments, run for the hills. Even if they brand it in a way like “package includes headshots and a coaching session” this is not a good sign. You simply must never pay to be on an agent’s books.
#3 Coaching Actors as a side business
A decent agent is busy. Very busy. They make their living solely from their client’s work. If an agency has time to run an acting school or acting classes as a side business, that’s always a bad sign.
Generally if an agency has a side business that profits off actors, the warning bells should be ringing loudly. If they are running classes or masterclasses, it means they aren’t a serious agent, and they will probably end up costing you more money than they make you. Of course some agents do workshops or seminars, but if it’s a regular thing that they are pitching largely to their own actors, it’s a bad sign.
#4 Taking a higher than usual percentage of your work
If an agent is asking for a particularly high cut, you should be worried. A decent agent doesn’t need to charge more. Usually the agents charging more are out for a quick buck. Always refer to the recommendations and legal guidelines in your country.
If an agent is charging more than the standard rate, they better have a good reason. Sometimes agents charge a little more if they are offering a more hands on service. Those who do this need a managerial agreement (here in Australia). However, in reality, often those agents that call themselves managers are no different, and are just looking to make more money. My theory is if the biggest agency in the country takes 10% and represents Cate Blanchett, how can a smaller “manager” justify charging more than them?
#5 In house products
Some agencies have close association with an in house headshot photographer or showreel company, but if they are selling a “package” which includes headshots and a showreel or seem to have any side business that capitalises on actors I would avoid it. Most decent agents will recommend companies, but will never force actors to work with specific people. You should also pay for any acting service direct to the professional, not through your agent. If they are asking you to pay them to organise headshots for you, that’s a bad sign.
In some cases, perhaps with agents that look after kids and teens, this may be common practice. But even here I would encourage any parents to always avoid paying for services through an agent.
If you’re looking for advice on getting great headshots, click here.
#6 Unusual contracts
When looking at contracts always read them thoroughly. Your union will be happy to help you with this too, or it might be worth turning to a lawyer, just to check it over. I have heard of awful clauses such as: if you decide to leave our agency the work you get for the next 6 months after is still owed to us. These sorts of clauses are only there to intimidate actors and make them want to stay with an agent at all costs. Moral of the story: always check your contracts and if something seems peculiar, make the effort, and get it cleared up. You have every right to question a contract, or a clause, and have a discussion with the agent as to why it is the way it is. As actors, collectively, we need to be more empowered than ever when searching for an agent.
We all want to get a great agent. A great agent opens doors and will undoubtedly help your career. Your partnership could be the ticket to a long and successful career. That being said, actors are a passionate breed of people and that passion is easily capitalised on. There are many agents who are in the game for the wrong reasons, or perhaps don’t know any better themselves, and will take advantage of any actor who lets them.
Always be detailed in your research and don’t dive in before you are sure it’s a good fit. Getting an agent might sound cool to your acting buddies, but unless it’s someone reputable, you are better off working as a freelance actor for the time being.
Finally, use your instinct. We are actors. We are intuitive, sensitive people and we should use that even we we are not acting. If something feels weird, trust that and never go ahead without a second opinion.