What Cinematographers Can Do To Get an Agent

Is it important for cinematographers to look for representation? Industry agents answer that question and more. 

In light of CineGear Expo cancelling its Los Angeles 2020 event, show organizers are embracing virtual discussions through its CineGear On Air moniker, which brings in industry titans to discuss topics that were originally scheduled for the show.

Jay Holden, an independent producer and director, moderated a lively panel about agents and their roles working with cinematographers that included Brian Goldberg (WPA), Kristen Tolle-Billings (WPA), Julia Kole (Artistry), Dan Burnside (DDA), and Craig Mizrahi (Innovative Artists). 

Finding representation is a topic No Film School explores often, whether it's tips to finding an agent or a checklist to make sure you land the meeting. But it's 2020, an era where filmmakers are being hired through social media and building relationships through word of mouth. So how important is it to have an agent? Here are the highlights of what the suits had to say. 

Note: Article has been shortened for brevity. 

What exactly is an agent's role? 

Brian Goldberg: As agents, we mentor. We try to get our clients the body of work they want. As agents, our jobs are introductions. We introduce. We set up meetings. The goal is to find buyers and set up relationships. We don’t have a magic wand to get you the job. Things are competitive these days, too. 

When should someone start seeking representation? 

Kristen Tolle-Billings: I personally think that when the work they have been doing becomes too much to handle is probably when it’s ­the right time to start seeking help. As a new artist, learning the business is something you should try to do before finding an agent.

Dan Burnside: I think there is a little bit of variation where sometimes I'll find someone that is intriguing or the work is good. But you want to get an agent when that agent can actually help you. Not when you will sit on a roster without punching through. The joke goes, you’ll know you need an agent when agents start calling you.

Craig Mizrahi: It’s more important to ask: how does one put themselves in a position to get agents to want them? Our job as agents is to know what the buyers are looking for. We are already looking at interesting projects and screenings, and festivals. That’s part of our job. To distinguish who is special. All of us have found new clients because something they did made a splash. It’s not about hustling to find an agent. When it comes time, we will find you.

What can cinematographers do to help themselves early in their careers? 

Julie Kole: Everything is intermingled: TV, film, commercials. There is so much crossover now. It's important to cross-pollinate in some way. 

 Kristen Tolle-Billings: I agree. Making an effort to move between the mediums is important. 

What should cinematographer put on their reels? 

Julia Kole: I think the work you want to do as a career you need to start doing right away. You can do everything, but the things you want people to see should go on your reel. But not everything should go on your reel. As agents, there are moments in the beginning of your career where we are selling you. We all have relationships with producers but it's become a harder job. In the market, people are going to look for your credits. So it's important how you represent yourself in the world. It takes work, and as a young cinematographer, you have to define what it is you want to do. What films you want to make ultimately. 

Brian Goldberg: Generally, have a point of view. All of us have seen reels that have lens flares and open fields. We have all seen it. It's exhausting. When I get a reel that has a point of view, you can tell that. It's a hard thing to know about yourself early on, but less is more.

Craig Mizrahi: Less is more is the most important thing. Three amazing things that you've done is more important than 12.

Should cinematographers have a presence on social media?

 Kristen Tolle-Billings: I don’t want you to think the whole world relies on your social media, but it’s a start. It’s a chance for people to find out who you are before they meet you. If it’s done right, it can reflect your personality and the type of artist you are.

Dan Burnside: Reels are the same way. We spend a lot of time consulting the reels. If you have a website that looks good, I'm going to spend time on it. You have to make a good first impression. 

Brian Goldberg: Make sure the website or social media is an extension of you and your work. Giant bios are not really helpful. Less is more.

What's a misconception about agents? 

Brian Goldberg: It’s important to know that agents can only work with what clients have material wise. When we are pitching to producers, directors, or production executives, people are going to look for a quality of work to some extent. I understand that there are certain projects that are high end that people are interested in, but we can only work with what the client or potential client is working with as well.

Craig Mizrahi: Our job at the end of the day is to make an introduction. To market you. To spin certain things for you. We can turn something small into something bigger, but it’s a career path and a partnership. We don’t single handily get you a job. You get the job. We might make an introduction. But you have to kick butt in the meeting. And don’t rest on the laurels of the agent, you still have to hustle.

What's a good way to get an agent's attention? 

Dan Burnside: When my clients make a recommendation I feel obligated to pay attention. Go to someone who has a career and ask them to make an introduction. That's a real good way to do it.      

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