So you’ve contacted an agent. Maybe they’ve had a look at your showreel, your headshots, your acting CV, and now they want to meet with you. Great! But what do you need to do to prepare for that meeting? Here’s everything you need to know before you set a meeting with an agent…
[Disclaimer: We use the term “agent” but this advice can also be applied to meetings with “Managers”]
As an actor, it can very often feel like the power balance is way off, and that as you pursue your career you find yourself in a stream of situations where you are completely disempowered and waiting for someone else to make the first move. This can be very uncomfortable, and in the long term, not entirely sustainable. Perseverance is one of the most important qualities an actor can have, and very often your ability to persevere is linked to having a sense of autonomy and control over your life and work. When you’re meeting with an agent it can feel like there’s really nothing for you to do; you’re asking them to sign you, to take the risk, and if they’ve already had a look at your headshot, your showreel, your CV, it probably feels like there’s not a whole lot else you can do but rock up to the meeting and not blow it by being a total jerk. Well, that’s actually a really great point to start on…
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#1 Don’t be a jerk
Look, this might seem like redundant advice, and you may very well want to skip this, but I think it’s worth spending a moment here. I’d like to think most of us aren’t jerks; you’re an actor, after all, so you’re probably an empathetic, kind person with a healthy dose of ambition. Good. That’s the sort of person an agent is looking for. It’s all too easy in this industry, disempowered as we are regularly made to feel, to second guess ourselves and end up completely misrepresenting who we actually are. So this first piece of advice to not be a jerk, could be worded slightly differently: Be yourself. You don’t need to go in there and dial-up your confidence to an outrageous degree to ‘seal the deal’. You’re not applying for a job as an investment banker at a top firm. You’re an actor looking to create a long term, lasting relationship with someone who believes in you and believes they can work with you. If this person becomes your agent, they will be vouching for you when they send you out for auditions.
In this meeting, they’re assessing how you’re going to behave when they do that, and how that’s going to reflect on them as an agent. They’re not going to want to send out someone who may behave badly and jeopardize their relationship with a particular casting director or client. So show them the open, interesting, assertive person that I’m sure you already are. There really is no point to putting on an act for the meeting, and tricking the agent into thinking they understand your personality (your ‘vibe’) only for them to discover the real you once you’re repped. Sooner or later, who you really are will shine through, and if that doesn’t work for them, you may very well find yourself sitting on their books not being sent out for anything. There is an agent out there for actors of all personality types, and to find one that suits you, you really do need to be yourself in this meeting.
#2 Make your goals clear
If you happen to have a particular area that you want to work in or a particular trajectory in mind for your career, make that clear in this first meeting. Likewise, if you don’t have a preference, don’t make one up. This really is connected to being yourself, and it’s as much for you as it is for the agent. If you hate theatre (flat out can’t do it, won’t do it) you need to tell your potential agent this information. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I only want to work on screen”, “I want to do musical theatre”, “I’m French and I only want to go for roles where I can act in my native French accent”. And yes, it may mean that they don’t have a place for you on their books, but that’s preferable to signing with them only to be sent out for audition after audition, for work you don’t want to and probably won’t book. Don’t waste your time and theirs by not being clear now at the start of this potentially (hopefully) very long relationship.
#3 Ask Questions
This may feel like a job interview, where you are the one applying for a position, but I’m here to tell you that it’s actually a job interview working both ways. Yes, you’re applying for a place on this agent’s books, but they’re also applying for the role of your agent. So it’s really worth taking some time before the meeting to think about anything you might want to ask them.
If this is your first time signing with an agent, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the logistics of how this all works: How will they contact you about auditions? What percentage commission do they take? (more on this a little further down) What are their expectations of you? If there are multiple agents working under one agency: who will be your first point of contact?. Don’t hold back on questions because you think it may make you look like an amateur; if this is your first time signing with an agent, it’s important that they know that. A good agent will help guide you through the process.
Then there are those non-logistical questions; the ones about you, your work, your career. Remember, this person has agreed to meet with you which means they already like something about you. Maybe it’s your look, a project they’ve seen you in, or something about your performance in your showreel. It can be very helpful to know what drew them to you in the first place, so don’t be afraid to ask. Asking what about you piqued their interest will give you a good idea of how they see you as an actor. It may be that they don’t have anyone on their books with your ‘look’ or ‘vibe’. It may simply be that they think you’re a damn fine actor and they want to help guide your career. It may be that they saw you in something and were impressed by your style or range or the people you’ve worked with.
Other than being a happy little confidence boost (it’s nice to hear nice things about your work), their answer can really help you to understand if this person is on the same page as you in terms of your career goals. They may tell you that you have a look they think is quite in demand within the local TV industry, and they’ve received a tonne of briefs that would suit you. Which is great, unless you have your heart set on working in theatre…
Questions about them
This is the most important area of inquiry for an actor in an agent meeting; asking them about their history and experience as an agent. This is where you find out whether they’ve been working as an agent for 20+ years, or if they started last week. You may find that they were an actor themselves first, or a casting director, or that they’ve previously worked at really established agencies that you admire. Asking an agent about their own history and how they’ve come to be running or working for an agency will really help you to understand who you’re dealing with. There’s no perfect answer here, but if you’re just starting out, and you don’t really have many credits or connections to the industry yet, it’s probably worth seeking out an experienced agent. Now, every agent is going to tell you that they are well connected (and they probably are, it’s their job to be), but this will give you a clearer picture of what that really means.
Don’t agree to anything, or sign anything, in this meeting
Okay, so this is a super practical tip, but you should absolutely feel comfortable saying to this person that it was lovely to meet them, and that you need to have a bit of a think and call them within the next few days. Any agent that isn’t happy with that arrangement, or puts any pressure on you to agree to or sign something there and then, should make you a touch suspicious. A respectable agent is well aware that this probably isn’t the only agency meeting you’ve lined up, and that there’s nothing wrong with that (you’re certainly not the only actor they’re meeting with this week or month).
If you get to the end of your meeting, and it feels like this person is the perfect fit for you, you got on like a house on fire, and you’re absolutely sure, there’s still nothing wrong with sleeping on it and calling them back. Think about it: if you call them back and they’ve changed their mind about you by tomorrow, or the day after, how suitable were they for you in the first place? Respect yourself, and your work, enough to give yourself time to make this decision; it’s one of the most significant ones you will make in your first few years as an actor, and you probably don’t want to be going through all of this again in a few months because you’re unhappy with a rash choice you made. You can also use this time, if you haven’t done this already, to reach out to other actors on this agent’s books and ask how they’re finding the experience of working with this particular agent. If you didn’t do this when you first made a list of agents you wanted to reach out to, this is a good time to do so.
Having said all of this, there is nothing wrong with letting them know that you’re keen and interested in (if you are) being repped by them. They’re human too, and they’re probably very excited to start working with you. “I’m really interested, and I think this could be a great fit. I’m going to have a think about it and give you a call in the next few days” is a really positive way to end this first meeting.
A final note on commissions (and ‘fees’):
This is a tough one because the standards around this really vary from state to state, and country to country. Before meeting with an agent, make sure you are familiar with what is standard, (and importantly, what is legal) where you’re living and working. Speaking in broad terms, an agent should never request an upfront or annual ‘fee’ to represent you; an agent gets paid a set percentage of the money you make when you work (and only when you work). This percentage is almost always 10%. There are guidelines about this for where you are in the world, and you should definitely put the time into researching this before agreeing to, or signing, anything an agent puts in front of you.
In the United States, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists advises that “no franchised agent may charge a rate of commission higher than 10%” and that “agents may not charge up-front fees of any kind”.
In Australia, the terms of representation for actors is regulated by the state government. If you live and work in Sydney, Fair Trading NSW dictates that live performers (theatre) “can be charges to 10% for the first 5 weeks of a performance and 5% for any period thereafter” and “in all other cases (including film, television or electronic media), a performer can be charged a maximum of 10%”. This agreement does not require you to sign any contracts with your agent, however, some agencies will ask you to sign a contract so that they may charge a higher commission. According to Fair Trading NSW: “a performer representative can only charge additional fees if they are providing additional services and have entered into an entertainment industry managerial agreement.” If you are living and working in NSW, and you are asked to sign a contract by your agent, and especially if that contract involves commissions above 10%, you are entitled to ask what they are for.
Remember, a contract with an agent won’t guarantee that they’ll get you work, or even send you on auditions, but it may lock you into a fixed period of time where you can’t change representation; there’s nothing about that situation that benefits you as an actor.
If you live and work somewhere else, check in with your union to make sure you know what your legal rights are, and the expectations to have heading into your meeting.
There you have it – everything you need to know when you’re heading into a meeting with an agent or manager. Remember signing with a great agent can take time, and even if you have a bunch of great meetings you may still not sign. You didn’t screw it up, it’s just hard to sign with a really great agent. Keep going and don’t stop working towards your goal.