The roles of managers and agents have become increasingly blurred. Traditionally managers curated opportunities and the agents were the audition generators. The only discernible difference now is that a manager should be more hands-on than your agent and be across all aspects of your career in all markets. The benefit of adding a manager over an agent in the developmental phase of your career is that given the smaller client list, they should theoretically have more time to give you.
Knowing What You Have To Offer
Before setting out to find a manager, I want you to remember that entertainment is a business that is driven by buying and selling. Consider what are you currently selling? What do you have that you believe will make you a hot commodity? A manager needs to see a path forward for you in today’s industry. Your materials (headshots, demo reel) need to be in sync in terms of messaging, reflecting your most obvious casting type. Yes, showcase your range and talent but be mindful to not confuse. The materials should read: I am this type of actor and these are the shows that I would be cast in. It is very important when you are positioning your type that you are pitching yourself as an actor who will work on current TV shows or films. If you shoot too broadly, it can confuse. If you miscast yourself (no matter how talented you are), it just won’t land. Managers are looking to see if they can make money off you. You are the show, and managers – no matter how actor friendly – are business orientated in their decisions and overall perspective.
While there are a number of ways you can approach a manager (cold emailing, showcases, networking events), you will never beat a personal recommendation. This can come from a current client or someone that your manager has regularly done business with (e.g. clients, filmmakers that have worked with his/her actors, entertainment lawyers, international agents, publicists they trust etc.). I see new actors frustrated when they are told this: “But I don’t have a network!”– so, go create one. “But how do I create one when I don’t have representation!” – acting classes, film schools (aim for graduating students), agent showcases, film festivals and panel discussions are all good first steps. For example, as an acting coach, if I come across opportunities right for my current clients, I will shoot off an email alerting them to said opportunity. I use this example because the goal for any freelancer is to stay top of mind with your network. If you don’t, you will not be the first point of call for opportunities when they arise. “I don’t have the money!” Like any business, you are never going to move the needle without spending money on the infrastructure to succeed.
Represented international actors or U.S actors migrating from regional areas to L.A. have an easier path. Often your representative will serve as both a recommendation and sales agent to forge a managerial relationship. A word of warning: while it is important to have a team in sync with each other, there is value for you to have a little distance between your reps in case a relationship turns sour. You do not want everyone deserting you at the same time and find yourself back at ground zero. There is a lot to gain across the board for pushing these international and regional agents to think outside their go-too circle of managers.
How to Know if a Manager is Right For You
Do your research. IMDBpro has the client list for all managers. If you really take your time to understand a list you can identify that manager’s taste, the breadth of their network and whether or not their clients are working. Check to see if they have similar actors to you too. There is no point chasing a manager only to end up playing second or third fiddle to more established actors of your type. That might be OK at a big agency, but not for a manager/actor relationship. You can also see (via the ‘star meter’) whether they are open to developmental clients. Having said that, ‘hip pocketing’ is a common practice in LA – although it tends to be more common on the agency side. What it means is that you will be represented unofficially. You will not be a priority but if you happen to book early on in the relationship with the few opportunities you are given, you will find yourself transitioning to the client list before you know it. Hip pocketing is used by top-level representatives who want to develop clients without losing any prestige off their public list.
Another tip for actors looking for management is to get to know the assistants. LinkedIn is a great way to identify these future managers. Look at assistants in year two or three on the job. You will find many of them are actually already representing their own starter list of developmental clients – and it most likely won’t appear on IMDBpro. These assistants are hungry to build a list so they can take the next step in their own careers. For greener actors and those coming to the industry at a later age, I think this is the most effective avenue for pursuing representation.
When assessing your tools, it is important to have something to talk about. Heat in this business is everything. If you find yourself with nothing to talk about, you have to go out there and find/create something. A short film in a prominent festival, an upcoming PVOD feature release, a play you are working on, a successful grant application, recent award – or even being a regular student in the masterclass of a prominent acting teacher are all valuable things to talk up. The entertainment business differs from other industries in that it is not a linear path to CEO.
So, how will a manager trust you as an actor? You are currently in class working on your craft.
How will a manager know you will book? Your resume shows your ability to create your own opportunities.
How will a manager know that the industry will like you? You have already (i.e.) won an award or grant for your work.
These ‘badges’ (which is what I call them) chip away at any doubts a manager might before signing you. Remember for a manager to take on a new client, they are committing their time and business resources without any promise of return. In your initial pitch, lead with the hottest thing you got. You need to grab attention from the get-go or risk getting lost in the hundreds of submissions they are receiving every single week.
US managers will often say “let’s wait and see” instead of a flat out ‘no’. No-one in this industry wants to be the one to close the door on an actor who could be the next big thing. So, take them at their word! Stay on top of them with updates while also making sure to stay respectful and professional with the content and frequency of the contact.
Workshops & Showcases
Another effective pathway I would recommend would be casting director-led workshops. I would urge you to consider ongoing classes to build a meaningful connection. It will work as an opportunity to learn, to showcase yourself to someone who can hire you in the future and if you impress, you may find yourself in a position to ask for that all-important recommendation. And let’s be real, there is probably no better recommendation than from a casting director! Note: that of the people I know who have been offered recommendations via workshops, those particular actors fitted the brief of the show or film that that casting director was in the process of putting together. Do your research. Being on top of who is associated with what project you will find is of ongoing importance throughout your entire career and that information is in the public domain via a subscription to IMDBpro.
Don’t Hold Yourself Back
When advising actors on seeking representation, a common response is: “I might wait until the end of the year” or “I’ll wait until something big happens and then I’ll…”. When the chips are down, actors tend to lose all sense of the bigger picture. We can often put ourselves at the bottom of the entertainment food chain when the quiet times hit. No matter where you find yourself in your career, the fact remains: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. There is no reason why you can’t introduce yourself to a manager one month and in the very next, invite that representative to see you in a stand-up comedy showcase or play. It is a widely held misconception that you only get one bite at the apple. Strive to put your best foot forward always but don’t put your life on hold waiting for something to make you feel worthy enough to pitch yourself.
You Are Your Own Business
Finally, it is important to remember that most new businesses require 18-24 months to turn a profit (Forbes, 2015). Acting is no different. You are the business! Also, please be mindful that your journey is not comparable. For example, an actor from celebrity lineage will, by birthright, have a network and heat at his/her fingertips. Another actor whose career is going off like a rocket may simply have had the right look and vibe for the current trend in entertainment. This business has so many factors beyond the craft of acting. If you want it enough, I advise you to stay your course, dig deep, do the work and remember knowledge is always power.