“You’re competing with so many people who may just look just like you or may sound just like you and you’ve got to differentiate yourself. And that means treat it like a job.” – Manager Eric Schulman
As actors, finding the best person to represent us is a huge step in establishing a successful career. We struggle to find someone who “gets us” and is willing to take us on for the long haul. But, when looking for that fit, should it be a manager or an agent?
Eric Schulman, a manager at More Medavoy Management in Los Angeles, has an answer to that question and many others that you probably have. What should you have on your demo reel? What makes a good headshot? What advice does he have? And you should definitely check out his answer on finding actors. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. For the full interview, check out the video below or on YouTube.
I know some actors don’t really understand the differences between an agent and a manager. Can you talk about what they are?
Eric Schulman: Obviously there is a ton of overlap, and some people will tell you, it’s basically the same thing. It’s not. There are small, but very significant differences.
A lot of people will say that the biggest differences is that a manager can produce while an agent legally cannot. Which means I can, if I have a literary client or a talent client, and I help attach them to a piece of material and help put the project together and package it, I can be an executive producer on it or another producer title.
But I would say that really the biggest difference in terms of what a manager should be doing versus what an agent does is that when you look at an agent’s client list versus a manager’s client list on IMDB, you’re probably going to see an agent with a minimum of 50, 75, or even 100 clients. I don’t think a manager’s client list should ever really top 30 clients.
It’s about having a smaller roster who you build and work with on a more personal intimate level, and really devote yourself to these people. You’re their manager, their career is really in your hands.
Is there anything like an agent can do that you can’t?
Eric Schulman: Technically agents are the only ones who are allowed to negotiate deals, but it still happens. Managers still negotiate too but technically managers can’t negotiate deals and agents can’t produce.
For actors who are just starting out, is there a benefit to having a manager? I was always told that you don’t really need a manager until you have a career to manage.
Eric Schulman: I think oftentimes people will have a manager before an agent just because managers tend to be more willing to take a risk on someone they believe in at an earlier stage in their careers.
Agents are sort of heat seeking missiles to a degree. I’ve worked at a major agency before and I’ve worked at management companies and there’s a lot of pressure from the top down to, especially when you’re a young agent, to be covering your overhead and to be bringing in money. So, you’re not necessarily looking for the next young star that you still need to break who hasn’t had their first major recurring role or their first guest star. What you’re looking for is someone who’s already consistently working, who ideally, you’re trying to take to the next level.
I think being a manager allows you to take a little bit more risk because… and I’m sure it’s the same for agents as well, but there’s a certain pride in taking someone from the very beginning to the top of the mountain top.
How do you find actors that you want to take on?
Eric Schulman: It’s a combination of things. Referrals from agents that I trust. Sometimes you’ll see… this is a little more rare, but you’ll see someone in a short film that you really respond to or on a TV show or a movie, and I’ll reach out to their agent or I’ll try to get in touch with them directly if they don’t have an agent yet.
And I think at least at the entry level, developmental actors, the best piece of advice that I can give is to say “Yes” to everything. If you’re not working yet professionally, and you’re trying to sort of build yourself up, get as much material for your reel and get footage. As much as you possibly can, say “Yes” to every student film and take every opportunity to put yourself on camera and get a chance to show your skills. .
One of our awesome clients, an actor by the name of Gavin Leatherwood, starred The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina opposite Kiernan Shipka and The Sex Lives of College Girls for HBO. He Steven [Belden], one of my colleagues, found him. He was acting opposite someone who had sent a raw query to Steven saying, “Hey, check out my materials.” And Gavin was in one of the scenes with the actor who had sent the material. And Stephen was like, “Holy crap, this guy’s really good and found a way to get in touch with Gavin.”
It’s crazy how stuff like that happens, but if you’re putting yourself out there and you’re doing short films and you’re working and doing everything you can, there’s always a chance that that happens. And you’re strengthening up your materials to send around and advance your position in the business.
When you watch an actor’s materials, their demo reels and clips, what do you want to see? Do you guys prefer a two-to-three-minute reel that shows their range and characters? Or individual clips of a certain character type that you can submit for whatever roles come up?
Eric Schulman: I think shorter is always better. You don’t want to send a 14-minute reel, that’s a massive time commitment…
But my 14 minute reel is awesome and brilliant. You just don’t understand!
Eric Schulman: Yeah, that’s what everyone thinks. I think it does help to show range. Honestly, I’ve asked a bunch of casting directors, other managers and agents their thoughts on what the best reel is and how to really showcase yourself and everyone gives a different answer.
Yes, it’s helpful to show off range, but within limits and know your strengths. If you’re a character actor, if you’re like a Margo Martindale know your strengths, show off great character work. Don’t show a clip from a short film that you did where you’re trying to be a Marvel superhero, you know?
I’d rather see three minutes of someone leaning into their strengths and really showing what they can do rather than one minute of comedy that they feel obliged to have in there.
I think it’s really important to know your strengths and know what you’re good at and lean into that. Ask people, ask your friends, ask your colleagues in your acting class, figure out what you’re good at and lean into that because that’s what’s going to separate you.
What about headshots? Do you want just one headshot to encompass everything or have a couple of different options?
Eric Schulman: I’m never really choosing someone based off of a headshot. Obviously, the footage is much more important, but obviously it has to catch your eye. There has to be something about that’s just sort of esoteric, something that captures your personality. It can’t be like those… I don’t know if you have kids, but those like eighth grade class picture type thing with the blue background and everyone’s making the same pose. I feel like I see a lot of headshots like that. They look good, the makeup’s done and but there’s no personality to it.
My favorite headshots of all our clients are something that you can look at it and somehow you get a better idea of who they are as a person in some slight way. And that’s not because they’re wearing scrubs pretending to be a doctor. It’s just because, I don’t know, there’s something about it that’s unique and that’s them, that’s authentic.
So, it sounds like one headshot can kind of do it?
Eric Schulman: It can. It definitely can when you’re looking for representation. I think once you start to take off a little more and you have representation and you’re starting to build yourself up. I think having two or three might be helpful. Like, here is one where they’re have tight clothing, where they look muscular and here is one where they’re just being a little goofy, you know? You definitely don’t need 10 or 15 different headshots with every different mood and character, but a couple can be helpful.
Is there any more advice you can leave us with?
Eric Schulman: I think the core of what we’ve been touching on is authenticity. Don’t try to be Christian Bale. Figure out who you are and what your strengths are and lean into that. Really, really lean into that.
Here’s something that one of our co-founders, Brian Medavoy, said today that I thought was really smart: if you’re an actor and you want this to be your job, you’ve got to treat it like a job. You’re competing with so many people who may just look just like you or may sound just like you and you’ve got to differentiate yourself. And that means treat it like a job. Two, three hours a day read and practice monologues. Find self-tapes that you can do online even if you haven’t been sent to you for an audition. Really practice your craft and devote your time to it if you want to do it for a living.