Don’t Get an Agent!
Written by David Patrick Green
Hey everyone, it’s uncle Davey, here to raise your hackles and make you question your existence (or at least make you think a little). I have a little piece of advice for all you actor types out there.
If you have an agent, fire them! And if you don’t have an agent, congratulate yourselves!
Ok, now that I have surely stirred some controversy, I can slowly slink away from the fray like my old buddy Lindsay who would start a bar brawl, and then somehow crawl out from under it and sip on his beer while it unfolded.
Now, let me be clear. I don’t mean that every represented actor out there should drop their agent, although that might not be a bad way to refresh a few agent memories about who actually employs who. What I mean is that actors without agents should not feel bad and that many actors really have no business seeking representation because it will do them more harm than good…for the time being.
Premise One – Actors with agents
When I say I’m directing this first section to actors with agents, I’m making a couple of assumptions…mainly that if you have an agent and you are reading this column, well you’re probably not a big star because I’ve created a heuristic (rule of thumb) that big stars aren’t reading actor advice columns (especially mine). They are busy planning their trips to the spa, Comicon, Australia, etc., etc., etc. So I’m speaking to the represented non-star. I’m also assuming that if you are one of these non-stars, your agent is probably not wowing you with their abilities, but trust me…it’s not your agent’s fault. The blame lies squarely at your feet.
How do I know? Well, I spent most of my career without an agent and I did just fine, thank you. While I wasn’t booking any jobs for the first few years, the reason for that wasn’t that I didn’t have an agent. The reason was I sucked! That and I had no idea what I was doing when I walked into an audition, how to audition in the first place, how to communicate with the industry and how to form relationships with people who were far more influential than agents.
So if you are not a freaking amazing actor, if your classmates are not regularly asking you, “How did you do that?” and your acting teachers are not singling out what you do as exemplary, then what the hell is an agent going to do for you?
If you are one of these wildly unsuccessful actors, you are probably treating your agent like your mother. You let them handle everything while you sit back and wait for that phone to ring. Now moms are ok with that because they expect little in return for their child-rearing investment other than hopefully one day you get married and…maybe even move out (marriage might be enough…check with mom). Agents however, while they might not explicitly tell you so, probably wouldn’t mind if you helped the chores a little. That might mean you actually learn how to act or maybe go forth and multiply…your headshots and thank you notes, etc. Of course agents will often decry your efforts to make direct contact with industry folks in that some of them are control freaks who don’t give actors credit for anything other than being able to embarrass them or result in their being blacklisted. See, that’s the problem with your agent (and again, it’s not their fault). They represent many other actors and they can’t really go out on a limb for you because they can’t jeopardize their industry relationships for the sake of one actor. You on the other hand can jeopardize your career any time you like. BTW, jeopardize is another word for taking risks. It’s something you’re taught in acting class so why wouldn’t you do it in your marketing. (I hate to be common and use the word ‘marketing’, because it sounds so corporate but until I come up with a better substitute I’m stuck with it, and you all probably get what I mean whereas if I used some homemade word like ‘hack-e-ting’ you might be confused…so…when you read ‘marketing’, think ‘hack-e-ting’).
Another problem agents have (that is still not their fault…more on what is an agents fault later) is they hold a sadly diminished role in today’s Hollywood. That is largely due to the ‘starification’ of the planet. If you aren’t recognizable for something, then media bosses don’t assign much value to you. You’re pretty much working on ‘take it or leave it…i.e. scale’ deals. For such actors, when an offer from casting is made, if the first words out of your agent’s mouth aren’t “We’ll take it”, the likely response from the casting assistant will be, “Yes or no or we’re moving on…” (I say ‘assistant’ because the casting ‘director’ is not likely to even bother with you or your agent’s sorry asses). So most agents have been reduced to emailers and order-takers. I don’t mean to sound insulting as that role is still higher in status than the humble unknown actor who is regarded slightly above a cockroach and way below a flea (fleas rank higher than actors because they are found on dogs which are casting office favorites). If you’re lucky, a flea will jump onto you from a casting office canine thus elevating your status to ‘flea host’ which is sort of like the next level of reincarnation for an actor…on one’s journey to the next level…being a dog…where at least you will be fed and loved.
For these indignities heaped on actors and agents you can thank the democratization of Hollywood and everything else. The internet has allowed anyone to leap to the forefront of our flea-like attention spans (good old fleas) far ahead of their talent or efforts. So while you have studied for “yeeahs, and yeeahs” (thank you John Gielgud), Hollywood couldn’t give a rat’s ass if no one knows who you are. So someone who is prepared to put their entire famous yet uninteresting life on display is going to get first dibs on the red carpet over some highly talented (yet closeted) actor (their acting, not the other thing). So get over the fact that you have to get your name out there any way you can…and when you get your chance you better rock the house big time or your moment of fame will be relegated to something more ‘manufac-cidental’ (i.e. reality TV).
Premise Two – Actors who should not try to get an agent
Actors who have never been represented should not bother to get an agent until they know exactly what it is they can offer an agent and what an agent can offer them. I remember I was in such a rush to get headshots so I could then get an agent who was going to ‘send me out’ (whatever that means) and then I could audition for jobs (however you do that). Then I got my headshots and sent out 100’s of them with abso-nuttin on my resume and waited for that phone to ring…and waited for that phone to ring (not a typo). So zero phone calls later I was crushed and I went through the old “maybe this isn’t for me” phase or ‘maybe I don’t have a face for television’ and other suicidal tendencies (like trying to tan my Irish skin!). I went through several renditions of this same old performance like an actor who refuses to read the ‘notices’ regardless of how empty the theatre is (what is theatre, anyway?).
It took me several failed attempts at getting an agent to end up in the position of having to quit acting or try something else. Now, I have an MBA (not to be confused with “Now I have an MBA), so I figured the $100k or so I spent getting said piece of paper determined that I ought be a little persistent, so I didn’t quit right away. I realized that it’s called the entertainment industry and it has all the hallmarks of…wait for it…a business so I then just pretended I knew nothing about what I thought the acting business was and approached things the way I would have approached a consulting gig at HP or Microsoft (other than the swank hotels, free rental cars, and expense account). It was the opposite of what everyone else was doing but I was getting nowhere going to casting director workshops and sending out headshots to everyone in the free world.
The net effect of my changed approach was just as I had hoped…nothing…just kidding. It took about six months, but I actually started to develop some personal relationships with people in the business….mmm, people…who actually signed paychecks and had hiring and firing privileges (scary I now knew people who could fire me). I still had no agent, but within the space of a few months, I booked mutiple network television roles, whereas weeks earlier the only things on my resume were either student films or student films I made up (glib, I’m being glib).
Ironically all I did with my new found resume was try even harder to get an agent! It was a sickness I tell you. I was booking roles and all I could think of was trying to get an agent so I could stop doing all this hard work (seriously, hanging around your trailer on the Warner Bros. lot followed by a scene where you’re licking with Taraji P Henson’s toes…thanks ‘T’…is a bitch). Even more surprising was the fact that I couldn’t get any agents that interested me interested in me (not a typo). I now thought of myself as a bit of a ‘playa!’, but they didn’t see it that way. I went to meeting after meeting with agents and managers and I found myself thinking I was further ahead in my career than they were in theirs…so what would be the point? I’ve always said I would never join a club that would have me as a member.
At that point I realized that I not only didn’t need an agent…I didn’t want one. By not having one, I was the only one in charge of my career. I took over the CEO spot, rather than hiring a CEO who was already the CEO of several competing companies (read ‘other actors’).
The feeling was incredible. I could actually see and feel the results of everything I did for DPG Unincorporated. I was interacting on a regular basis with producers, casting directors, (even agents, even if they didn’t want to rep me) and that feedback was invaluable in helping me realize what worked and what didn’t. If I was just relying on my agent to do all that interacting for me, I would have no idea of either what they were doing or what worked. Agents are like hookers…they can’t afford to fall in love with one client. Actors should realize that an agent/hooker is always thinking about their next job (that explains the glassy look in their eyes) and that unless you are the Elliot Spitzer of actors, you’re not going to get much attention, honey. I’m not suggesting you become Elliot Spitzer either…look what happened to him. You want to be Elliot Spitzer before he got fired from CNN…wait…no…even before that….before he was brought down by a right-wing conspiracy enabled by his own weakness for $10,000 a semester…I mean $10,000 a night…college girls. He was an independent, fair-minded supporter of the little guy who fought hard and vociferously for his constituents….be that guy and skip the hookers.
I know that was a round-about way to tell you that you really don’t need an agent and for most of you the agent you could get is not going to help you that much, but it was pretty fun to write, so hopefully you can indulge me in my metaphor-fest (simile?) and see the point…the point being that you are and should remain in charge of everything and you should recognize exactly where you are in terms of the acting spectrum…are you bookable, can you audition like a pro, do you know your way around a set, can you talk to people from the grip to the head of the network, do you have something to say, can you empathize with people who lived 200 years before you, and can you/do you read? If you don’t answer in the affirmative (or think that affirmative has something to do with cavemen), then skip the agent mailings and take stock in where you’re at and do something about it.
And that’s all they’ll let me say on the subject.
David Patrick Green is a red-haired, left-handed, only child and ideologue who also happens to be a professional actor, not to mention running the universe’s only acting-career-management program at Hackhollywood.com. It is there that he inspires other actors to be ruthlessly creative in their approach to the art and business of acting and life in general. Mr. Green has an MBA from the University of Southern California and was an international management consultant and advertising executive before noticing that Platinum frequent-flyer status has few rewards other than bedbugs, beer and boredom. Among other places David has lived and worked in Warsaw, Poland and is still kicking himself for leaving the French Alps where he taught skiing and drank wine with European royalty. He has spent the last 10 years acting in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto and coaches/consults to actors and businesses who want to get on the short path to success while maintaining a sense of humor.