We’ve all seen the movies where a hot-shot agent does whatever it takes to land their client the deal.
Sadly, expectations don’t often align with reality. If you've ever wondered why, this article is for you.
After working in the industry for over 14 years, running a directors' agency, and constantly managing expectations about what directors can and cannot expect from a representative, I felt compelled to shed some light on the subject. I’m going to be brutally honest with you about things that others might never have the courage to tell you.
Let's get started.
Myth: Getting an agent will bring me much more work.
Truth: Or it won’t.
As much as agents would love to give themselves that much credit, they are not magicians. In fact, nobody is. The bitter truth is you’ll only get as much work as your talent and current expertise level allow.
What a lot of directors, actors, and other creative professionals don’t understand is that it’s not an agent’s job to lock a gig for them—an agent’s job is to connect the dots and to make sure that they are a part of a conversation. This means that your agent simply knows when, where, and what gig is happening, and, if you seem like a nice fit for a gig, they make sure to put your name up for it.
Now, whether or not you’ll get it depends on you. In particular, it depends on how good you are at your job, how suitable your reel is, how flexible you are with your rate, and lastly, how lovable your personality is (yes, people like to work with people they like).
Myth: Everything you just said is not true—I saw on TV that agents do whatever it takes to get their clients a gig. That’s the type of agent I need.
Truth: I saw it on TV, too, and that’s precisely where many misconceptions about the world have started.
What you see on TV is a dramatization of reality, and it’s regularly illegal or professionally irresponsible. Respectful industry professionals won’t risk their lives and careers—they will push as much as it’s appropriate to put a light on your work/portfolio/reel/etc. But they also know when to stop pushing in order to keep their reputation intact.
Myth: I don’t need an agent, then—I can be my own agent.
Truth: You surely can. As long as you have a lot of contacts with production companies, producers, agencies, and brands that reach out to you on a regular basis with new gigs.
You’ll also need to have all the time in the world to go back-and-forth with them in regards to every single detail, be capable of negotiating your terms and conditions based on what you deserve and what you're worth, present yourself in the best light, review and understand your contracts, and successfully and diplomatically deal with any issues that arise...all while doing the actual job that you’re being hired for.
If that’s all you, you might as well open your own agency and switch your career because you won’t have time for anything else.
Myth: This sounds like a lot of work. I thought all agents do is sit around and collect money.
Truth: This is another misconception that was introduced to us by the media. There is much more work happening in the background that you never see.
If you’re not a well-established professional, your agent will spend plenty of time showing your work to their contacts and singing high-praised songs to them—it can take months to years to get you up to speed, and, as we all know, there is no such thing as an overnight success.
The rest of the agent's time is normally being taken by the never-ending back-and-forth that I’ve mentioned above, as there are always more questions and issues that constantly arise from the clients’ side.
Myth: Months to years is a lot of time. What am I supposed to do in the meantime?
Truth: In the meantime, you need to continue doing more work to constantly update your portfolio, master your craft, and increase your chances of being noticed.
Your best bet is to negotiate what work will be covered by your agent and what work can still be managed by you. This can be achieved by dividing territories where clients come from (countries, regions, states), and by figuring out what type of projects you need more help with (commercials, branded films, short films, feature films, tv series, etc.).
You can also ask to keep some of your current direct clients off the contract if that makes more sense to you. The bottom line is don’t assign everything to one person right away—this can be overwhelming for both of you.
Myth: All right... but I want my agent to present me and my work the way I want. It’s my career and I want to be in charge.
Truth: What you’re practically saying is that you want to tell your agent how to do their job, and that’s not really what you want to go for. Here’s why. Part of an agent’s job is also PR, which means that they need to figure out what is the most beneficial way to present you to a potential client, and that often depends on a gig you’re up for.
For example, your portfolio needs to be customized based on the gig’s brief, script, or any additional requirements. Your bio and background can be adjusted based on what the producers are looking for and what’s needed for the story. These are all regular things that your agent decides on every time they put you up for a job.
Adjusting the narrative is extremely important, and knowing how to adjust it comes with many years of experience. Unlike you, your agent is not emotionally attached to your work, so they are capable of making objective decisions as well as asking for things that you might not be comfortable requesting.