In short, yes.
In fact, if you’re aiming high, and are sitting at home with no professional credits, no formal training and limited acting experience, it’s nearly impossible. But though it’s nearly impossible to sign with a great agent, if you follow the path set out below, there might just be hope.
First we need to set some parameters and to break down why an acting agent is important, before you sacrifice the next three years trying to sign with one.
What?! Three years? I want an agent today.
Signing with a top agent is a process, and one that can take even longer than three years. You may first have to work as a freelance actor for some time, or work with a few smaller agents before you finally settle with one of the big players in the industry. So be patient.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
Okay, so hopefully it won’t take 10 years, but Bill has the right idea. I hear from actors all the time who are obsessed with making things happen this week, this month or this year. Most of these goals are unachievable in such a short period of time but become quite attainable when you give yourself a longer time frame. Acting is a marathon, not a sprint.
Why is an acting agent essential for actors?
An acting agent, sometimes referred to as a manager, is someone who opens doors and get’s an actor’s career moving.
You’re an actor, you’re familiar with the feeling of inertia. That feeling of being utterly stuck, with no means of escape. You’ve done your research online, you’ve been doing your acting classes, you’ve perhaps even been bold and set up a Starnow profile and have been dabbling with a few acting gigs. But none of the extras work, video clips, or short films seems to be helping you gain any momentum.
You’re still listing your part time job in the occupation box on forms.
I want you to know I sympathise. I was there myself, for years. And I still have periods now where I feel exactly that way, like nothing is moving forward.
I know the feeling when you have something to offer the industry and no one seems to care. But the longer you hang around in the acting industry you start to realise that no matter how good you might be, if you’re not following the process you simply won’t move forward.
Agents help turn idleness into work. Paid, professional acting work. They do this, because unlike you, who’ve been complaining in cafes for the last 6 months, they have cultivated relationships with casting directors, producers and networks all for you. Their goal is to get you acting work. Because if they get you work, they get paid.
Core agent responsibilities…
#1 To find opportunities for you in the acting industry.
#2 To help deal with negotiations.
#3 To offer guidance and support.
An agent takes a slice of your paid work (DO NOT PAY FOR AN AGENT) in exchange for getting you work. A pretty damn good deal considering that in the last few years you’ve made less money from acting than you have from baby sitting.
Hold up, I know actors who are constantly working and don’t have an agent.
Absolutely. There are some freelance guns out there. Proactive actors who are organised, grounded and love the hustle. And it works. As someone who works with actors everyday, I can tell you this is not the majority of actors. Most actors are disorganised, mercurial beasts who sometimes don’t even like to admit that they are actors when asked in public. If you want to manage your own career you need to be 90% business person and 10% artist. It’s more important to follow up on emails than to smash auditions. Because guess what? If you don’t have any auditions, no matter how talented you might be, you ain’t got a shot.
So what makes it so hard to get an agent?
This is a small industry. A small industry bulging with hungry actors. We could cut 90% of actors and it would still be tough for the 10% to find a job.
Acting is one of those industries that is full of temptation: money, fame and fun. And the best part? All you have to do is pretend to be someone else in front of a camera.
This notion that acting is something you can just walk into is what makes it so attractive to people. If you want to become an actor, you can become one today. No one is going to argue with you, or stop you, though hopefully some honest family members might lend a strong word. This means that there will always be plenty of actors! And guess what? All these actors want a great agent.
I am blown away by the actors who I speak to who ask: how do I get a role? Or how do I land an agent? Or how do I get famous? As if you can achieve all of these by simply turning up. Like everything else, there is a process.
Here are some of the reasons why landing an agent is so hard…
#1 Agents have enough clients
A decent agent never has “open books”. They are never actively looking for clients. Agents at the top end of the industry have enough great clients to deal with before you come through their inbox. Even a top tier agent is hustling day in day out to get a large portion of their actors work. They simply don’t have time to focus on new clients. The only way to get their attention is to be so good, they simply have to sign you.
#2 Agents are getting tonnes of submissions everyday
Even boutique agents are getting swamped by submissions every week. Your submission email is going up against not only inexperienced actors, but professional actors with many years of experience. This sheer number of submissions makes it very hard to stand out. Agents endeavour to get back to every actor who gets in touch, but there are simply too many submissions. You can begin to see how hard it is to sign with an agent when not only is an agent not actively looking for new clients, they have 100s to pick from every month. What sets you apart?
#3 You look like someone on their books
This is a common response agents give actors, if you’re lucky enough to get any response to your submission email. And it’s often true. If an agent has too many similar actors on their books, they begin to compete with each other. They can’t submit them all for the same role! Generally agents try to have a cross section of different actors, so that they can always submit someone for a role. It’s particularly difficult if you’re under 30 as there are so many actors vying for the same type of roles.
This is why it’s often good to differentiate yourself from other actors. Show off your unique style and skills, so you’re not immediately compared to another actor on the agent’s books.
The Process to Land a Top Agent
So you get the picture: it’s tough. But you didn’t come here for confirmation, you came here for hope.
Everyday actors are signing with great agents. And the ones who are doing it have a few things in common…
#1 They focus on craft
The best agents in the industry aren’t just looking for a quick buck. They’re not interested in getting you a few commercials, or making some money on the back of your “Love Island” debut. They are in for the long haul. They know from experience that the ones who survive this industry are focused on craft. They are great actors, but they want to be better. Often they are actors who make work, or who are constantly learning.
#2 Have their toolkit in order
I hear from actors every day trying to get agents, and so I ask to see their showreel and… nothing. They have nothing to show. Or at best they have a basic cut of some average student films they’ve been working on for the last few years. The only way you will land an agent is if you can literally blow them away. They have to flick open an email and watch 30 seconds of your work and be reaching for the phone. If your work isn’t doing that then don’t even bother sending them an email.
Is your headshot natural but captivating? Is your showreel simple, professional and revealing? Can the agent clearly get a sense of the kind of actor you are and feel excited by the work?
More on How to get an acting agent.
#3 Have momentum
This is the point that is only just beginning to become clear. You could be a motivated, hardworking and talented actor, gosh you could even be gorgeous and still not get any traction with top agents. This is because you have no momentum.
Momentum, or hype, come in different forms. And there are different ways to create it.
One simple solution is getting a recommendation from an industry professional like a casting director or an established actor. Immediately you stand out from the pack because so-and-so says you’re one to look out for.
Another way is to contact agents whilst your working on a project. If you can get them along to a show, or get them to see your latest episode, you will immediately have some heat. They see you in your element and want to be apart of what is already happening. If an agent feels like they have to do all the work, you are less likely to be taken on. They want to know that you already have traction and can piggyback off your contacts as well as theirs.
Momentum is the hardest thing to fake when starting out, so don’t try. If you’re not in a show, or have no experience, never lie about where you’re at. So go get in a show, write it yourself if you have to, build that experience and watch the momentum contagion begin. Or at the very least, you’re having fun, meeting people and practicing your craft.
#4 Be Patient
So yes, getting an top acting agent, let alone any acting agent, is difficult. But, such is life. I truly believe that instead of focusing on what you don’t have, or haven’t achieved, you should focus on the work. If you persevere you will eventually land an acting agent that works for you. What would you like to dedicate the next 3 months of your life to? Wallowing around, waiting for a response from an email or for the phone to ring? Or is it getting new headshots, reading 8 plays a week, recording a self-tape every month, doing some acting classes and writing a short film? Work hard, and then be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day.