Representation is a word that brings with it elation and agony, success and futility and auditions or obscurity.
I have had relative success with agents over my thirty years career. The only time I didn’t have an agent was for about three months when I came out to LA from New York. That was because my agent in New York told me that he was coming to LA and I should follow him shortly thereafter and he would represent me. I did come out to LA after a few months and he was nowhere to be found. So, much for loyalty.
My experiences in New York with representation was quite different from LA, I was always able to meet casting directors in their offices twice a month along with any other actor. At the time I first started my acting career, I was living in Fairfield County, Connecticut and I took the train in the morning with the regular commuters and spent the whole day in New York going to auditions, chatting with casting directors, and visiting the SAG building. I would then take the last train out of Grand Central Station and head back home. When I was in New York, I had several agents. There were no exclusivity clauses when you signed up with an agency. I just had to remember to credit the right agency when I signed in. I also self-submitted through Backstage newspaper, SAG work posts, and sometimes walking into a certain casting directors office at the most opportune time and getting asked a question like, “Are you available tomorrow at 6:00 am.” I actually booked two films that way. Ah, those were the days.
When I got to LA, things were so different that I went into a kind of show business culture shock.
LA was huge and you had to drive a car to get anywhere. In those days, we had black and white headshots that I would drive around town delivering to hard plastic bins at the oftentimes, locked doors of casting directors, production companies, and commercial houses. Using the good old United States Postal Service meant that I would have to head to Kinko’s and staple my resumes on the back of hundreds of headshots, place them in large Manila folders, place a stamp in the upper right corner and send them off to agents, casting directors, and submissions from a magazine called, “Backstage West”. Such was the endless days of an actor trying to get hired.
I got my first LA agent quite by accident.
I was in rehearsals for a play and my co-star and I decided to meet up during the day to run her errands as the characters in the play. When we got to her agent’s office, she called a time out. I followed her in and waited in the reception area while she was chatting up her agent. After a few uncomfortable moments, my friend emerged from the office with her agent in tow. My friend made the introductions and the agent asked me if I had representation. I told her I was with a couple of agencies in New York, which she knew and then offered to represent me based on my affiliations with those agents. It turned out to be a ten-year relationship. Since then I have had half a dozen agents and the one I am currently with will have been my agent for going on fifteen years. I recently had a meeting with my agent and we reminisced about all the casting directors and agents that are no longer in the business for one reason or another. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
There is a saying in this town that ‘a bad agent is better than no agent’.
There’s another one, ‘nobody is ever truly happy with their current representation’, not even big stars. My experience has been that it is always my own job to find work any way I can. Whether it is a relationship with casting directors that you read for and that keep calling you in or the self-submissions that are so much more possible these days then they ever were in the old days. The way I look at it is that your agent gets only 10% of the commission so that surely means I have to do 90% of the work. Agents negotiate contracts, I book the work. She can maybe get me in the room, but my performance in the audition gets me the callback. It is truly a partnership. In LA, agents represent many, many clients, we get one agent (sometimes two if you have a commercial agent and a separate theatrical agent). I had for a very brief time a “manager” when my career looked like it was going to take off. When it didn’t, it was my manager tat took off.
Do you really need an agent in this town? If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said yes. Now, with managers doing a lot of the work and actors being able to find auditions on their own, I’m not so sure. All I know for sure is that you are the best representation you will ever have.