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Talent agents are the people who get work for actors. Actors may say that agents often can be abrupt or seem uninterested in them. This is simply because they are very busy people doing a lot of things at once. Talent agents work with casting directors, actors, and, in the case of commercials, advertising agencies and sponsors. It is up to the talent agent to go through the massive files in his or her office and choose the résumés and photographs of actors that he or she believes would suit the client's needs. For example, the client may be doing a commercial for a new car. He is looking for a young woman to talk about why this car is the best and most exciting new car out there. The talent agent must choose head shots carefully, finding young women who look like they would be driving this type of fun, new car. She must choose women within a certain age range and with a certain look, as specified by the client. Then the agent calls all of the actors and books them for the upcoming audition. She may or may not sit in on the audition process, assisting the client or casting director in making a decision regarding whom to hire.
Basically, then, it is the talent agent's job to represent actors and recommend them for roles. As a talent agent, you will need to have a good memory for names and faces. You will have to remember details about the actors you represent. When an actor calls to check in and ask if you have any work for him, you will need to have an idea who this actor is, what his age range is, and what he looks like. This is a career for someone who works well under pressure. You often will have a very short period of time in which to choose the actors you wish to send out on an audition.
A good talent agent works hard for his or her actors, getting them frequent auditions for interesting and well-paying roles. Legitimate talent agents do not ask for money from actors up front. No legitimate agent makes his or her money by taking it from an actor before getting the actor work. Agents make their money by taking a 10 to 20 percent agent fee off the top of any paychecks that their actors receive.
Different talent agencies represent different types of actors. For example, in Chicago there are about twenty-six talent agencies—twenty represent union members (that is, actors who are members of SAG or AFTRA), and five or six agencies represent nonunion actors. These are actors who are either new to the business or who have not yet done enough work to become eligible for union membership. Within a given talent agency, you may have any number of agents who specialize in different areas of radio, film, television, and live performance. A larger talent agency may have individual agents who represent children, teens, men, or women. One agent may specialize in on-camera performers, whereas another may specialize in print models or voice-over talent. There may be one agent who handles all the new actors just getting started in the business.
Most talent agencies set aside one day each week when new talent can come by and register. The actor brings his or her résumé and head shot. As a talent agent, it will be your responsibility to assess each actor and decide if you want to represent that person. You cannot survive for very long as a talent agent if you send out actors who are not very good. Evaluating actors is a skill that comes with experience. You can gain experience by attending auditions organized by producers and casting agents or occasionally other talent agents. You also will attend the theater quite a bit, studying performances and looking out for talented actors who are not yet represented.
As you gain experience, you will find yourself becoming more and more of an intimate advisor and perhaps even a parent figure to some of the actors you represent. You will find yourself telling actors what to wear to auditions, how to restyle their hair or makeup, or how to present themselves. Working as a talent agent can be a very rewarding career. It is also a lot of work, and you must be willing to go that extra mile for your clients. You will have to learn how to negotiate contracts for actors, and how to get the most money and best terms. You will be responsible for following up and ensuring that your clients get paid.
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