Youth Talent Agents Increasingly Discovering Talent Digitally

Some top agents of young talent speak about how social media has revolutionized the way they discover new talent

Actors social media

It’s no surprise when a young YouTube or other social media star with hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of followers ends up crossing over into traditional media like television and film. What agent wouldn’t jump at the chance to sign someone with such a big built-in audience? In a feature for Variety, some top agents of young talent speak about how social media has revolutionized the way they discover new talent, but also note that some aspects of the industry have not changed.

Cunningham Escott Slevin Doherty Talent Agency Senior Vice President Mitch Gossett points out that a number of the agency’s new clients were discovered online. “The social media stars that we scout don’t live in L.A. or New York. They’re in D.C., they’re in Orlando, they’re in Nebraska. They come from anywhere. In the last year alone there has been a marked increase of the amount of time we spend signing social-media players. It’s a very vibrant market and the scouting process has exploded. The business wouldn’t look the same were it not from the technological advances in the past 10 years.”

On top of that, Gossett adds that social media presence is a major boost to a young talent’s stock.“The casting process has really shifted toward making those social media metrics relevant in casting. If you have two clients up for the same part and one has 6 million followers and one has 27 (followers), they’re going to give it to the one with 6 million followers because of the direct access to promotion that will cost them nothing. So it’s not just about looking at YouTube and Vine, it’s about listening to what other people are watching and tracking these personalities as they rise and grow in popularity. At this agency we have made a commitment to educate and grow the knowledge in this area across the board. I tell my staff here, ‘Do yourselves a favor: become experts in the social media phenomenon.’”

Paradigm agent Ellen Gilbert also says that opportunities are opening for young actors all over the country. “There’s just so many more opportunities with being able to tape yourself for projects. The marketplace used to be much more L.A.-focused and now really anybody can have a chance because casting directors are so open to self-tapes. I have a client in London right now and she’s been sending self-tapes. We have clients that live in Florida, we have clients that live in Texas. One of our clients is in Turkey on vacation and has submitted three self-tapes and they’re all great.” However, Gilbert admits that the digital revolution has cut down on the human element, adding, “I miss the human communication. I miss talking to people on the phone. Now, I’m not going to lie, I don’t miss copying 20 scripts, so there are pros and cons. In this business, everybody works, all hours. It does make it easier, but it also makes it harder to shut down. I’m still one of those old-fashioned agents — 26 years after starting in this business, I still pick up the phone.”

On that note, Savage Agency partner Stella Alex remarks that there still is no better barometer for her than seeing talent in person. She says, “In the room is always better to me, because you get a sense of the person. And for me, I still love it when somebody walks in a room and you know right then before they open their mouth that this kid’s interesting.”

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