There’s an African proverb that states that it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of an actor’s career, it takes an army of well-trained, disciplined professionals. If an award-winning actor thanked all the people involved in getting him or her to the awards podium, the acceptance speeches would last until dawn.
The leaders of this campaign—the Generals, if you will—are the actor’s talent agents. Although important contributions are made by such people as headshot photographers, acting teachers and coaches, managers, entertainment attorneys, publicists, business managers, accountants and other professionals, without the guidance of the agent, that actor might not have had the opportunity to give the lauded performance.
“You have to have an agent to get the better jobs,” declares Linda Rutledge of the BNB Talent Group. “Most of the castings come through agencies. You can get extra work or do independents on your own, but if you want to get on a film or get on the big commercials, you need an agency for that.”
Mystie Buice of Houghton Talent says that the aspiring actor needs only a few things to grab an agent’s attention: “We recommend that they start with a simple headshot from an industry photographer and some general classes. It’s pretty basic.”
Along with talent, desire and the right look, the essentials to getting started, include a simple four color headshot and an honest resume that lists the actors performances, classes, training and special talents.
According to Rona Burns of The Burns Agency, “First and foremost is talent. This agency will only look for and represent actors with more than five years’ experience in film, television or voiceovers. We don’t represent people just starting out; but we can give them references of point them in the right direction.”
A Headshot Photographer can help capture that vital first impression, providing talent with an open ticket to audition or leave you 0 of 100 on submissions, with no call backs. I have the ability to give the actor a fighting chance to be seen with a special moment captured in time forever.
The first step is to fully understand what the actor needs. Collaborate with them in creating the “look” that will sell them to the casting director for the particular part they are auditioning for. The image needs to go beyond a simple “likeness” of the talent. The photo needs to have a “soul” – an image that conjures up emotion and feeling. The idea that one look/one headshot is all an actor needs to work is a dated and false concept. Assist the actor in creating different looks for the different roles they seek. Think outside the box.
Burns suggests that the neophyte find out about the agencies in Atlanta and the areas they specialize in—voiceover, film, television, modeling etc. Then submit to those agencies to their website and learn their policies. “Submit your materials based on your resume, “Burns explains.” There are some agencies that don’t like drop-byes where people just walk in with their resume and headshot and say, ‘I need to talk to an agent.’ The market has gotten so large that most agents don’t have the time nor staff to sit down and talk with each individual person walking in. The website is a good place to find all the necessary supporting avenues into the market: coaches, trainers, managers etc.”
With the growth of the Atlanta production market thanks to Georgia’s tax incentive program for the film and entertainment industry, actors have been relocating from other states to take advantage of the abundance of work taking place in the Peach State. For the industry standard 10 percent fee, an agent will respond to breakdowns which are the roles that agents need to fill for their production clients. The agent will submit an actor they feel is right for the role. The breakdowns come in through a service called Breakdown Express. The actor will receive a text that a breakdown has arrived via Actors Access another service. “Casting directors are bicoastal,” explains Danita Florance, Director of Talent for Salt Model & Talent, “and they usually don’t have offices in Atlanta. If they do have an office here, there might be a callback. If not, they book directly off the self-tape.” “We get the breakdowns that they don’t see and we are there to submit them to get the get the roles that CSA casting directors put out only to agents which can bring their career to a whole new level,” says Florance “You can start your career in student or indie films or as an extra or stand-in, you can work your way up the ladder to the bigger roles. You need an agent for that because [the talent] is not permitted to submit on their own.”
Technology has changed much of the agent’s job description. Since the process is now electronically based, Florance estimates that 98 percent of the jobs booked for her talent is done through self-tapes.
“Actors have to do a lot of self-taping,” states Rebecca Shrager, president/owner of the agency People Store. “Instead of going into a room with a casting director, they have to get themselves on tape and upload it so that we can get it to the casting director.”
Because the self-tape is so important, Shelly Justice, owner of Salt Model & Talent says the technical aspects of the self-tape must equal the quality of the performance. “It’s a challenge to get our client to understand just how important self-tapes are because there just aren’t inperson auditions anymore,” she explains. “Each role can gather 400 to 500 submissions, so if you’re going to be presented to casting you have to stand out—or at least not fall below other tapes.”
If the actor doesn’t possess an in-house studio, Justice recommends going to a taping service that has high definition cameras. The agent will then send out the tape via Breakdown Express. She stresses that not only does the tape have to be technically excellent featuring top-quality lighting, background and sound, but in addition not have a reader who overpowers the talent because the focus is then on the reader not the person auditioning.
An acting coach is pivotal to an actor’s growth and career. It may take many teachers to develop an actor. Acting is a discipline that demands skills. An actor can act passionately and emotionally all by themselves, but when the stakes are high and the tension and self-consciousness creep in, actors need techniques to fall back on; that’s where the acting coach comes in. It’s imperative that the actor understands how to effectively use acting tools and emotional triggers to be completely in the moment while making self discoveries about themselves as actors.
The one congruent element between all working actors is that they constantly strive to improve, demanding excellence and truth in their work. As a coach and working actor myself, my job is to help my students find that tilt that places them in the given circumstances of the character and explore as many possibilities for behavior and choices, so they can feel as free as possible in the audition or on set to respond to the moment at hand, work quickly, honoring the character, and their director. Confidence is key, and that comes through intentional training and finding new limits.
“We try to have that personal relationship with the casting director to promote the talent we feel is best for this role,” says Justice on the agent’s role in the brave new world of electronic submission. With so many submissions, sometimes casting directors don’t want to talk to the agents that much. All they want is an electronic submission and they’ll go through the tapes. As an agent, we try to showcase our talent and show [the casting directors] why they should take the time to look over the tape because the actor would fit the role perfectly. Some of it is to have that direct communication to casting and to have them be open to take the time to view a certain actors self-tape.”
Even with digital submission becoming the industry standard, most agents recommend that an actor still deal with such old school methods of getting seen as appearing in stage productions, workshops and hone their skills with classes and coaches. Says Justice: “Acting coaches and teachers are important parts of helping get an actor’s career moving.”
Adds Shrager: “Most casting directors and most agents prefer people with theater backgrounds. If they are first starting out and don’t have much experience, but they may have been cast in a good role in a good production, many agents will go see the talent perform in a theater.”
For a fortunate few who see their careers grow, there may a time to increase the number of people supporting the actor’s career with advice and counsel. Where an agent might have once been all that was necessary, there is an army of support people. But, when and who should be called upon for their knowledge and insight?
Entertainment Attorney, Kates and Associates
You are excited. It’s finally happening. Your career is beginning to look promising. You have your agent, you have your manager, you’re getting the work – now protect it! Employing an entertainment attorney will be one of the most important decisions you will ever make in your career. It is advisable that you consult with an attorney early on to avoid costly decisions. Your entertainment attorney can assist with tasks such as drafting agreements, negotiating contracts, structuring better deals and even identifying bad ones. Don’t sign anything without first consulting with an attorney. It costs a lot less to protect your rights now than to fight for them later!
Acuity Entertainment Management
As in any business it often takes a strong support system to build a successful company. The same thing is true of an Actors career. A Talent Manager helps talent bust down doors, keeps talent top of mind with their agents, helps the talent focus on their goals and put them into motion. Managers work closely with Talent Agents, build relationships with casting directors, create opportunities for the actor, build the team; attorney, publicist, assistants, and much more. It takes a team of support from the manager, agent, casting director, producer, director, network, and studio… to go from audition to booking. A good team will help shape the direction an actor goes.
“It depends upon how quickly the actor’s career is growing,” says Joy Pervis of J Pervis Talent Agency. “When they first get going, an agent is probably all you need. As you continue to grow—or are fortunate enough to actually book a series regular or a lead in a movie—then it’s time to add people to the team such as a manager or entertainment attorney. We’ve had that happen several times in our agency where local talent booked a lead in a film or a series regular. At that point, you add to the team.”
Although agents traditionally submitted actors for the roles, increasingly managers are doing that as well. In fact, the lines between the roles are getting blurred. Where the manager once exclusively looked after the client’s “big picture” career prospects, many are also taking the agent’s role of submitting the actor for parts.
“The manager historically handled an actor’s promotional side,“ Shrager explains. “They contact casting and promote the talent individually. As agents, we also promote talent, but in Georgia, not everyone has a manager so it’s not the same as in L.A. or New York.”
Perhaps the acrimony between the advisers comes from the rules governing the behaviors and payments of managers and agents. Whereas managers can charge 15 to 20 percent of the talent’s income, an agent is bound by covenants regarding their relations with actors set forth by the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG/AFTRA), the labor union representing talent. Under the union rules, the agency will be paid 10 percent, which does not come out of the talent’s paycheck, but rather paid by the producers. Managers are under no restrictions regarding their relationship with the acting client.
Others who may join the performer’s inner circle of advisers could include a business manager who looks after the talent’s finances; an attorney, preferably one well-versed in the nuances of entertainment law; and perhaps a Certified Public Accountant who might advise on tax questions. Some actors might forego a manager in lieu of an attorney to negotiate bigger deals.
“Unlike managers, entertainment attorneys can negotiate contracts,” says Pervis.” Some of our clients opt for an attorney rather than a manager. There are various roles that we feel an entertainment attorney should negotiate due to certain terms and points that they may be able to get more than an agent.
Alan S. Clarke
Entertainment Attorney, Alan S. Clarke & Associates, LLC
In my twenty-two years as an entertainment attorney, I often have been asked by talent why they need an attorney when they have an agent and/ or manager. Many of those are the same people who come to me to ask me to explain to them their contracts with their agent/ manager, and to assist them in enforcing these agreements or in getting out of these deals when they are dissatisfied.
In addition to negotiating talent’s agreements with their agent/ manager, on the transactional (nonlitigation) side of our practice, we work with the agent/ manager to negotiate third party agreements on talent’s behalf – and to assist talent in enforcing or getting out of those agreements if things don’t go well.
A big part of our job is education. Talent comes to our offices with lengthy contracts and asks us to explain the “legalese” in plain English. We ensure that talent understands their rights and what they are agreeing to when they sign legal documents, and inform them what is standard in the industry.
”If an actor really hits the big time, they might seek out a publicist. In addition to the usual television and print media; the publicist should also know the ins and outs of social media and be prepared to help guide the actor to any appearances requiring strolling the red carpet.
“When you start to make a name for yourself, a publicist is a good thing to have,” says Rutledge. “They’ll make sure that you’re being seen and they’ll get you a little more noticed.”
With the growth of the Atlanta market, there’s been an influx of actors from other parts of the country, some resettling here. In some cases, actors who work a lot in the Southeast might consider having two agents, their original agent in their home base and one who represents them in the Southeast. According to Shrager, People Store has developed relationships with agencies in New York and Los Angeles to handle such situations.
“If someone has us and another agent,” says Shrager, “we try to coordinate and copy each other just like we would with a manager. They might submit them for a project outside this region. But, if someone doesn’t have other representation, we submit them everywhere.”
The production boom resulting from the film industry’s tax incentive has had a positive impact on most of Atlanta, and talent agents have been no exception. They all tell of busy days that often become busy nights. The once sleepy city now runs 24/7, and celebrity sightings are becoming commonplace. However, no one talks of resting upon their laurels, seeing the triumphs of yesterday as a prelude for better days ahead.
“It’s impacted the way we look at talent,” Florance says. “We know the roles and shows we get produced here. We know the type of look these shows go for, so it makes us take another look at the talent we’re taking in. We realize as well that it’s more competitive now. Ten or 20 years ago, we could take in inexperienced actors with only a credit or two and give them a shot. You can’t do that now unless they have a specific look.”
“We’ve been slammed, but we love that,” declares Rutledge. “We’ve had to bring in more and more people because castings are multiplying. The work days are growing longer; it feels like its 24/7 because things come in at any time. Certain clients need us to be on call, to be ready to jump in and do casting and get our talent where they need to be. It’s intensified our role. We really need to be on target. We have to make sure our actors are trained and available for the work coming in.”
Publicist, Atl Lifestyle Entertainment Firm
It takes a strong team of support for an actor. My role as a publicist for an actor is to increase their viability. Also to increase their awareness on social media thru different campaigns and events that makes the brand stand out. I work hand in hand with the agents and managers to put the client and their brand in the right places at the right time. Putting them in situations that enhance their brand.
Chuck M. Douglas
Entertainment Attorney, Wakhist-Douglas, LLC
A good entertainment attorney is like a quarterback. He makes the calls, and all plays go through him. Whether you’re an actor, screenwriter or producer, he’s a critical and integral part of your team. The ideal attorney has a knowledge of the industry, an extensive network, and a broad command of applicable law (including contracts, securities, tax, finance, intellectual property and litigation). Ensuring you get the best deal, the most money and the proper credit.
Pervis agrees with that assessment of shrinking time. “We’re so much busier than we used to be 10 or 15 years ago,” she says.” We had more time to do hand-holding and guiding people in their career, and almost acted as an agent/ manager. Now, with the growth of the Atlanta market we are really at a comparable level to the New York and Los Angeles agents. There are much more jobs, breakdowns and castings we’re submitting on and pitching and promoting talent that we don’t have as much time.”
In addition to the incredible shrinking day, Pervis says the roles for her clients are moving up as well. “We get a lot of day player roles in our market looking for Southeast talent. But the breakouts we’ve been getting we’re seeing more guests star and more large supporting leads, series regular roles. If you’re good and you have a solid reel and a solid resume, you do have those opportunities that you didn’t have a few years ago. The biggest challenge for Southeast talent is that they really have to raise the bar and work on their craft, because now, they’re competing with actors from Los Angeles who have gotten representation here in the Southeast and can be considered local hire or who are actually moving here. We have several clients on our roster who have officially made the move to Atlanta just to take advantage of this market and get more work.”
Georgia has been the flavor of the month in terms of production in the past, with such luminaries as Burt Reynolds leading the charge. But, this time, it looks and feels different. Serious money and talent now live here, and the infrastructure necessary for long-term success is rising.
The market’s talent agents are not only finding work for their clients, but also fueling the enthusiasm. Says Pervis: “I think it’s going to last, there are so many big movie studios that have already planted themselves here, and I don’t think they would have made the large investment in our market if they had not anticipated it to be a long-term venture.”