One of the hardest things to do in your acting career is to leave an agent, particularly when you have been with them for a long period of time. Sadly, there comes a time in every actor’s professional life when they realise that the relationship they share with their current agent isn’t serving their needs anymore. All too often, I speak to actors who say that they just don’t get auditions from their agent, or that the auditions they do get are not the sort they want to go for. Worse, still, some actors sign with an agency and then realised they’re being grifted: the agents take membership fees, or force actors to do their “courses” without actually furthering any careers.
If you want to leave your agent, it is best to talk to your agent first to try and work out any problems you may have. As a general rule, you will want to check the contract you have with your existing agent, and try to secure a new agent before ending your relationship with your current one.
The thing to keep in mind is that being a freelance actor is tough, but not impossible. You also have to make sure that you don’t burn any bridges—the acting world is a very small place and word travels fast. This is a step by step guide aimed at preserving your good reputation and working relationships, but ensuring that your career is on the right track.
First, Talk To Your Agent
Before you go doing anything rash, let’s make sure you have made every effort to be on the same page as your agent. Their job is not an easy one, and it really does take two to tango. Organise a meeting with them, either in person or digitally, and have a conversation about your career and goals. Ask for their insight on how you could work together to make this happen. You might discover that their plan for you is different, if no less considered or effective than the one you had in mind. The actor and the agent are a team: working together to achieve a goal. That goal is your success and, in particular, what success looks like for you.
If they refuse to meet with you, the meeting goes poorly, or you just get the vibe that this relationship is not going to work—then it is time to look at moving on.
Do Everything In Your Power To Make It Work
Have you done everything in your power to make this work? This is a serious question. Has your agent asked you to do stuff like get new headshots, update your reel, do more training or put down particular self tapes? If so, have you done that? Have you reached out to them for a meeting to have a conversation about your career? Are your casting profiles looking schmick and up to date? (You can check out links for Canadian, US, UK and Aus/NZ casting websites by clicking on these links!)
Friends of mine regularly do self-tapes to send to their agent, just to keep their performances at the front and centre of their agent’s mind. This isn’t to pester them, more to remind your agent you exist and you’re constantly working to get better. A great way to do this is by joining the StageMilk Scene Club, where you can work on new scenes and monologues every month and get expert feedback from working professional actors and casting directors. Click this link for more info.
Just bear in mind that you’re (presumably) one of many actors on their books: every actor is hungry for work, and your agent knows that not everybody is going to get work in a given year. What can you do to distinguish yourself? What can you do to signal that you’re ready to work and take any opportunity they throw at you? If you’re not doing that, know that other actors with the same representation as you certainly are. And that’s where your agent’s attention often lies.
Check Your Contract With Your Agent
If you have done all of that, you have really made an effort to connect with your agent and get on the same page but it still looks like this isn’t going to work out, then it is time to check your contract. If you are unsure about all the legalese it’s a great time to chat to a lawyer about it and see what the legal requirements are for you to leave your agent. It might be that you are locked in for a period of time, that you need to give them a certain amount of notice, it could be that the contract expires after a certain period and you are free to do your thing.
Now: I know lawyers are expensive, they’re on that lawyer money, but there are a couple of ways around this. Firstly, join your union. I am a very proud MEAA member and they have lawyers on staff who I can go to with a contract that will examine it for me as part of my membership. There are also a range of government and community organisations that offer free or discounted legal advice for a range of circumstances. That is worth a Google. Failing that, bribing a family friend with a nice bottle of wine works too! Whatever you have to do to make sure that you are not going to be in breach of contract and therefore able to be sued by your agent. That is the last thing you need!
Your contract may also have details in it regarding HOW you must leave your agent. I.e. in writing two weeks before you can start other work etc. Make sure that you examine and are aware of all this information before you move on.
Find a New Agent/Representation
The next (and arguably the hardest and most important) step is finding a new agent before you leave your current one. If you leave your agent before finding a new one, you may put yourself at risk of being freelance for an unexpected period of time; this will cost you a tonne of professional opportunities that only come through an agent. I have had friends who have left an agent, and found themselves working freelance for (literally) years. And while there is nothing wrong with being a freelancer, it is really hard. Being an actor in the first place is already tough enough.
So how to go about it? Well, the best recommendation is to operate exactly like getting an agent any other time. Ideally, an actor mate of yours, on the books at some excellent agency, has a chat with their agent and recommends you—even passing on your package with a glowing review. Otherwise, it’s back to the classic advice we give about getting a new agent. Make a spreadsheet of the agencies you want to approach, try and find personal emails of agents to send your package too, send a short email along with your headshot, showreel and CV and see what comes back. After you have emailed them, cross them off your list and touch base again in a couple of months to see if anything has changed.
We have detailed instructions on how to get an agent, how to upgrade your agent, how to contact an agent and what is an actors toolkit at these links. Check them out for more information. Once you have successfully signed with a new agent (in accordance with your legal requirements) it is time to have a difficult phone call…
Call Your Agent
This conversation is going to be difficult. But you’re an adult and you know that sometimes you need to have a difficult conversation in order to get where you want to go. Call your agent, be polite, explain that you have been signed to a new agency and you will be leaving their books. Thank them so much for all of their hard work. Try and keep it short and professional, do not bring up any grievances, if they ask why you have moved on, keep it really simple. The worst thing you can do is get emotional, here; you really want to stay in a professional, grateful and honest space in this conversation. Don’t feel that you need to go into too much detail, keep it to the point and clear. (And remember not to burn those bridges!)
If it goes to voicemail, ask them to call you back. If they fail to do so, send them an email explaining the situation, which you will outline below. Again: “professional”, “grateful” and “honest” are the three keywords for this interaction.
Thank Your Agent
Follow up your phone call with an email; again, thank them for their hard work and explain that you have signed with a new agent. If there are any particulars in your contract regarding how you leave this relationship, outline them in writing in this email i.e. ‘as per our contract dated (insert date here) this is my formal two-week notice that I will be exiting this contract in two weeks time on the (insert date)’.
I am the kind of person that will send a nice bottle of wine and a thank-you note; you might be more of a ‘box-of-chocolates’ kind of person, or maybe nothing at all! But I always feel that a thank you gift goes a long way to leaving a positive impression, so have a think about that too.
So there you have it! If you have done everything in your power to improve your relationship and get on the right page with your agent but it hasn’t worked out, then it is definitely worth leaving your agent and finding new representation. Make sure you honour your legal responsibilities and secure a new future elsewhere, then give your agent the courtesy and respect they deserve by being professional, open, honest and direct with them regarding your departure. This is a business relationship and it needs to be treated as such. Just remember that the creative world is a small one and we always want to keep people on side, you never know when you will bump into them in a foyer somewhere—or even find them working for that fancy new agency you’ve just signed with! Good luck out there, and I hope this article helps put you on the right path for your acting career.