The entertainment industry is cutthroat. Some actors sign with an agent, agency, and/or manager to help them navigate the treacherous waters. Other actors choose to represent themselves. An agent will have your back but they also have their own reputation to protect. Being a freelance actor can be tricky, but it can also give you professional freedom. It’s a tough choice. In case you are considering going it alone – here are our tips on how to be an actor without an agent.
Note: this advice is written from an Australian perspective, and doesn’t necessarily apply to all international actors.
#1 What Does an Agent do?
It’s important to understand what an agent actually does for their actors. Fortunately we’ve written an in-depth article on the subject which you can read here. Put very simply, an agent finds actors auditions and then makes sure they get paid properly for their work. They are a middle person between the actor and the industry. A good agent open doors for their clients and helps them navigate a career.
#2 Join the Union
If you are considering being an actor without an agent the first thing you should do is join the union. Joining your local actors union is the only way to ensure your personal and professional safety while working as an actor. If you have a problem with how you are being treated at work it is the union’s mandate to mediate the situation on your behalf. Being a union member gives you the power and protection of the collective industry. Acting is lots of fun, but it’s still work, and at work you have rights.
Note: some unions are not as simply as joining via an online form. It’s different in every country so do your research.
Caution: some unions especially in the US are very strict. This means once you join, you won’t be able to do non-union work. In this situation it might be best to hold off until you are ready to take that next step.
#3 Prepare Your Tool Kit
To be an actor without an agent takes a lot of preparation. When a casting agent calls you have to be ready. Get your tool kit in order before you approach anyone. An actor’s tool kit must include a professional headshot, an example audition scene or showreel, and a CV of your recent professional work. If you think that casting agents, producers and directors will look past your selfie stick headshot and see your raw talent and potential, you’re wrong. Click here for an example of a great headshot, showreel and CV.
#4 Educate Yourself
If you want to be an actor without an agent you need to be able to negotiate the terms and conditions of work for yourself. Having awkward conversations is part of the freelance lifestyle. If you’re not prepared to stand up for your rights, get an agent to do it for you. If you are ready to have those tough talks, educate yourself. The conditions will vary from job to job and you will need to be flexible. But being flexible doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have standards. Getting reimbursed for travel costs could be the difference between being able to pay rent or not. All the information you need to negotiate better conditions for yourself can be found on your local union’s website.
#5 Research Your Industry
Researching “the” industry will take you a lifetime, and we want you out there booking jobs ASAP. Instead of researching the whole industry, research your industry; the part of the industry that you are likely to have contact with. Find out who your friends are friends with. Talk to your acting class mates about what auditions are coming up. Send polite, professional emails to local theatre companies asking about general auditions and un-cast roles. Get an IMDb pro account and see what films are in pre-production in your area. If you are specific in your research and professional in your interactions, after a few months you will be a part of your local industry.
#6 See Everything
If you are going to be a freelance actor you have to see everything. Independent theatre, main stage musicals, short films, locally made web series’, independent films etc etc. Seeing everything is the best possible way to (and I hate saying this) network. Yep, network. You will also learn a heap about acting and storytelling. It’s a win-win-win. See absolutely everything.
Being an actor without an agent can be scary, but it can also be incredibly empowering. Always remember to have fun and look after yourself!