And thanks for reading! Do you need an agent? A manager? Both? What do they do? If these are questions you ask yourself, you’re in the right place! If you have either or both and you feel like you can now relax…you’re ALSO in the right place! This week we talk about: Agents, managers and YOU…OH MY!
Do you really NEED one?
Let’s begin with this: No. You don’t really NEED either an agent or manager to be a successful, working actor/VO artist. You can definitely find plenty of work yourself. So why do we seek out and sign with agents and managers? There are both good and bad reasons, but first…
What is the difference between and agent and a manager?
Honestly, they are similar. Both will (or should) be promoting you to Casting Directors, producers, directors – the ones who actually HIRE you. More on this later, but they are similar…just not the same. Both may find you work, and both may give you career advice, but the main difference between them is “focus” …what they are most concerned with in your career. An agent is focused on finding you work now, and a manager is more concerned with the overall trajectory of your career.
Money is what makes them similar
The reason for this overlap is simple: They both get paid when you get paid. If you don’t book work, they don’t get paid. Simple. They both want you to book work! This similarity can lead to confusion about what their role is in your career and whether or not you need one, the other or both. I can answer the question very simply here and you’ll (hopefully) understand why in a few minutes. The answer is: You don’t NEED either, but it is a good idea to have both. Simple, right!?
As I mentioned earlier, the main difference between these two is “focus” . A manager is focused on your career trajectory, and while they also get paid for work you’ve booked, their efforts are designed to KEEP you booking work over time as opposed to booking work TODAY. Yeah, they want you to book today too…but they want you to have a thriving long term career even more. Along with helping you find work, managers will advise you on things like head shots, demo reels, training, and sometimes even personal decisions such as where to live and whether or not talk to the press etc.
An agent is primarily concerned with right now. Their role is to find you work TODAY. They care about your overall career, of course, but they are mostly focused on getting you in front of, and hired by, productions going on right now. They will also sometimes give you career advice as well…as a side gig to submitting you for projects.
The lines between the two are blurry, for sure, but they are defined…if not well. There are a few important details, though, that set them apart from one another: Contracts. licensing, commission, and location.
Generally speaking an agent is empowered to negotiate contracts on your behalf. Certainly, they won’t do this without your input, but they can negotiate with the production for work dates, salary and all the other details. A manager cannot negotiate FOR you, but will likely be involved in an advisory capacity whether you are negotiating for yourself or through an agent.
By law, an agent must be licensed. Well, not always (it varies by state), but in the markets you are most interested in, they must. In general, your agent will be licensed. They may also be franchised (vetted) by the union (SAG-AFTRA), which lends them a bit more…legitimacy. Managers, on the other hand, do not have any licensing requirements (beyond state business licensing requirements) and the Union does not franchise them. That’s not to say managers are any less professional or helpful, just that the government does not regulate them the same way they do agents. So, in the case of managers it is even more “buyer beware”. We’ve all heard horror stories of managers taking advantage of talents and ripping them off…so don’t be that person.
Licensed agents typically don’t take more than a 10% commission from their talent. Now I know there are agents out there, in states that do not require licensing, who take more…just know 10% is the standard. For Union franchised agents 10% is the limit for union talent, levied by SAG-AFTRA. For non-union talent, it is a little like the wild west…just be sure to read your contract. An agent should only be entitled to a commission on jobs THEY submitted you for and that you booked.
Managers are pretty much unregulated, so they will negotiate a commission with you. Some managers take only 10% but some take 15%-20% (or even more if the talent is not good at negotiating or just doesn’t know). One huge difference is: While agents take a commission on jobs you’ve booked from them submitting you, managers take a commission on EVERYTHING you book. So, keep that in mind.
No, not geographic location…office location. Agents are required to have an office, but managers can work from anywhere! Now, that doesn’t mean your agent needs to rent a floor in a big office building, they can certainly have an office in their home, it just can’t be at their dining room table. I won’t go into details, just know that if your agent is working out of their dining room…they are probably not licensed, and you will want to be careful. Managers, however, have no restrictions whatsoever.
That’s about it…
That pretty much sums up the difference between an agent and a manager…and may help you understand which one (if not both) you want. But you don’t actually NEED either to be successful…however…there are some good things they bring to the table.
Especially when you are starting out or are relatively new to the industry, it’s likely you don’t have a lot of industry connections and as I may have mentioned a few times, the foundation of the industry is relationships. One of the biggest things agents and managers bring to the table is their industry relationships. For rookie talent, they can open doors you can’t even find…let alone open.
But there is a catch
Did you catch the fact that both agents and managers get paid based on the work you do? If not, go back and read that again. So, what motivates these people to even sign you for representation, you ask? Evidence that you can book work of course! It’s a bit of the old “Which came first, the chicken or the egg” conundrum. You have to have booked a body of work to show you are bookable before they will even consider representing you. Which brings me to…
In order to be attractive to a potential agent or manager, you’re going to have to be able to show that people will be interested in hiring you; in other words, you can act. So, how do you do that? Well, you do what you will eventually be paying them to do: market yourself! Without going into a lot of detail re: HOW to market yourself (WAY too much for this blog!) know that you need to be submitting and auditioning for work…and hopefully getting booked as well. Build a portfolio of work that you can show to entice them to work with you.
And then you can relax, right?
Once you a repped by an agent or manager, you can just relax, right? RIGHT!? HINT: NOPE. Sure, they are going to be finding and submitting you for work, but if you want to be successful you are still going to have to hustle for yourself. Just being represented doesn’t mean the work is going to be pouring in. Sure, some of the opportunities they bring you are going to be ones you couldn’t have found yourself, but having representation doesn’t automatically guarantee access to Martin Scorsese. No one is going to promote you as well or as often as you promote yourself…well, unless you are one of the “Marquis Actors” already…in which case I am flattered you are reading this!
So why even get a rep?
Honestly, that’s a very personal decision. You’ll have to weigh the caliber of work you are getting and the amount of time you spend getting it in order to decide. Just know that agents and managers have access to some folks it would take you decades to gain access to on your own. Which means they have access to the roles in the bigger projects that you want to be seen for too.
At the end of the day…
When all is said and done, you are responsible for your own career. Agents and managers are certainly a beneficial part of your team, but YOU are ultimately responsible for your success. You should be willing to work together with your rep to move your career along. Note I said you are a TEAM…so go ahead, sign with an agent or manager, it will multiply your opportunities, but don’t sit back and relax! Go out, find work, and BOOK IT!