The debate over what agents and managers do, where the line is between their roles and which one you need is a debate that has confused actors, managers and agents for a long time. It still rages on in some sections of the community and can be a confusing time all around! The purpose of this article is to attempt to delineate some of the differences between agents and managers and hopefully give you some guidance on which one you need, for your stage of career progression.
The key part of this is finding the right people to be on your team, a team that is going to fight hard for you and your career as an actor.
Note: It is also worth pointing out that in Australia, and a lot of the time in the UK, agents and managers are more or less synonymous. In the US, however they perform very different roles. Confused yet? Me too. Let’s break it down…
The primary function of an agent is to find you paying, professional acting work. That is their sole goal for the actors they represent. They look for opportunities and they pitch you for them, using your package (aka headshot, showreel and CV.) They have great relationships with industry professionals and use their connections to get you in the room for auditions.
In the US, you have to have a legal certification to negotiate a contract for an actor, on their behalf. This right is held exclusively by agents, they are also legally unable to produce content and this places them in a very specific box. They can’t make content, they can only bring people together to make it. This is an important distinction as it gives you a very clear red flag for potential grifters. If anyone ever tells you they are an agent, director, producer and writer and they can really make your career take off – they are probably pulling a fast one.
When it comes to booking meetings and arranging networking opportunities agents are very much out to keep it professional. They are not here for your feelings they’re here to book gigs and they are predominantly – extremely busy people with a lot on their plates. Agents are here to fight for you, organise contracts, make sure the legal rights of the actor are being seen to, and if you have problems on a job they are your first port of call. They are working on the day-to-day, audition-to-audition, job-to-job work that is the engine room of your career and they don’t step outside of that.
Managers are here for the big picture. They are your sounding board for achieving your goals and they offer feedback and advice on everything from self-tapes to PR to social media to anything else that could impact your overall career goals. The biggest difference between managers and agents is that a manager is not licenced (usually!) to organise contracts and actually arrange employment for you. They are here to put you in the best possible position to get work, but they are not necessarily on the phone with the studio’s booking your audition for tomorrow afternoon.
Well, at least they are not supposed to be! Recently, a lot more managers have been stepping into agents turf on this front, with varying degrees of support from agencies. Some agents have been thankful for the assistance offered, others have been annoyed by managers overstepping the boundaries set by legislation. Managers are becoming more and more common, however, so these practices will no doubt just get more intertwined as times goes on.
Additionally, because they are not regulated by state law, managers can be producers! This makes them an exceptionally valuable resource for actors, not only for the opportunities they could offer but also for their experience and connections. Also unlike agents, your relationship with your manager may take on a more personal nature. Managers for established actors have been described as being ‘Mamma Bears’ caring for their clients and offering personal support through the good times and the bad.
Another aphorism is that managers can wear sneakers to work, agents always wear suits. Managers generally are a more casual, approachable, personal mentor figure who wants to help you achieve your goals.
The Crossover Between Agents & Managers
Some agents run their business as a ‘full-service’ agency, meaning they offer management and agency services out of the same establishment. Some managers, as I mentioned earlier, have stepped into more of the agent role, booking or at least actively hustling for their clients to get opportunities. The lines are increasingly becoming more blurred. Generally speaking, a manager will come on board before you get an agent and offer guidance to help get you the right agent for that stage of your career. An agent would rarely help you get a manager as it is not necessarily in their best interest.
Whether you want to get an agent or a manager, or both is going to be unique to every individual reading this article.
I would say that if you are a writer/producer/actor/director and have goals across many disciplines or know that you function best with a lot of support and guidance having both an agent and manager is a really great idea. If you are a real self-starter with a high level of confidence with a great package of previous work behind you, potentially just having a great agent would be sufficient. Everyone is different though so explore all avenues and take as many meetings as you can before you decide what the best path is.
One other factor to consider is commission rates. Instead of paying your representatives a wage, your agent and/or manager take a percentage of the work you book as an actor.
It varies slightly depending on your country and the nature of the work, but generally, agents take up to 10% commission and managers can be up to 15% commission. So if you had both an agent and a manager, that’s 25% commission all up. And you’ve also got to pay tax on top of that too.
That sounds like a lot of money to giveaway – but unfortunately, without an agent or manager, you won’t be booking any work (or very little). Agents and managers open doors for you and represent your best interest, and so the commission you pay is compensation for that.
If you have an agent and a manager, you are hopefully doubling your opportunities, and so it might be worth paying that double commission. If however, you are just starting out as an actor, that might not be viable.
There are many things to consider here, and we always recommend you check in with your local acting union, or arts law resources to ensure you’ve got all bases covered.
So there you have it, the difference between an agent and a manager. Both can be vital in progressing your career as an artist, but don’t forget you have a hand in your own career too! It is not wise to leave it all up to your representatives. Their job is to get you the opportunities, your job is to take advantage of everything that comes your way. The best way to do that is by continuing to work on your craft and develop as a creative and as an artist.