Is an Acting Career Right for You?

Does Your School Get Me an Agent?

Written by Graeme Petrie

Understanding How Getting an Agent Really Works

We get many questions throughout the year about our school and acting training we provide and naturally, some are more well thought out than others. However of all the questions we receive, the most common has to be “Do you get me an agent when I finish my course?”

It seems like a natural question since many people who take up acting aspire to one day work as a professional actor. However keep in mind that, at this point, the admissions person you’ve just asked this question knows nothing about you, your actual acting ability (if you have any) and may not even know what you look like (if you are calling in).

As a result, asking such a question at this early stage should be deemed as premature. Any school that suggests getting an agent is a sure thing is a) doing you a disservice b) only telling you what you want to hear or c) plans to sign you up with an agency of little or no repute who takes anyone on board…and is that really the kind of agency you want to represent you?

When an Agent is Looking to Sign Someone

Agents take a number of things into account when considering a prospective client:

Your Look: Physical attributes of age, ethnicity, height, weight, eye colour, hair colour and physical fitness are just some of the key considerations. Ideally they need to determine whether they already have someone like you on their roster. And, while an actor may have “the look” that a production is after, the agent needs to have confidence if their actor books the audition, that they will have the chops to carry out the role once on set. If they don’t, the production will simply re-cast the role.

Your Training: If you are a stage theatre actor with zero on-camera training, you may find it hard to gain interest from agencies. The simple reason being that they can’t send an actor who is not trained to work on camera to an on-camera audition. It would reflect very poorly on the professionalism of the agency and may even result in jeopardizing their relationship with casting to the point where they may not be interested in looking at other actors the agency sends over.

An agent wants to see that prospective actors who approach them already have on-camera training from a reputable program (part time or full time). This allows the agent to have confidence that the actor will have a solid foundation established of how to work with camera, breakdown a script, build a scene, develop a character, auditioning techniques and how the audition process works; enough at least to get started.

“As a basic rule of thumb, if it is a photograph of you that you’d put on your mother’s piano, it is not an actor headshot.”

It would be great if all it took to become an actor was to simply sign up for a one-day acting workshop or first level intro to acting class, be given an agent, then get rich and famous (cue the dancing girls, attending Oscars and after-parties). However, just as one would not expect a person to say they are a ballerina after having taken just one workshop or initial classes, an agent wants to see commitment on your part to becoming a professional actor. Acting, like any other performing art, takes a combination of natural talent, technical training, endless preparation and practice to become really good at it. Even with a combination of all those things, there are still no guarantees that a particular agency will be interested in signing you.

Your Personality: As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This also holds true when it comes to meeting with an agent. Your personality and character will go a long way in determining their level of interest in working with you. The way you treat people says a lot about yourself and, if you come across too pushy or demanding, you are sure to raise some red flags. Nobody wants to represent a diva or jerk and end up constantly finding themselves having to apologize for their client’s behaviour at auditions or on set.

Upcoming Productions: All agents in the city get a list of the upcoming productions and a breakdown of roles that casting will be looking to fill. They will then check their rosters to see if they have actors who may be suitable candidates for any roles. When they find they don’t have anyone fitting a particular character, they may go in search of someone to help fill that “hole” in their roster. Actors come in all shapes, ages and sizes.

Your Professional Package

Before you approach an agent for consideration, you will need to put together your professional actors package. This will include a cover letter actor resume, headshots and demo clips.

Cover letter: Some things to avoid would be not trying to sell yourself or repeat what the agent can see in your resume. It should be similar to a bio; help peak the agent’s interest about the real you (where you were born, why you love acting, and why do you want to be represented by that particular agency) and make sure to get the name of the agent correct. Referrals are often given priority, so if you met one of their actors on set, include who referred you. Lastly, don’t make it too long or they won’t read it, make it brief and interesting, like a skirt – short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover the subject.

Actor Resume: This will include your name and contact info, height, weight, eye colour and hair colour. It should have separate categories for TV, Film and Theatre work you have done and list the name of any productions, roles you played (Lead, Supporting, Actor) and production type (student film, feature film, Independent, short film). It should also list Training you have completed (course name, school name and instructor) and include a separate category for Specialty Skills and your ability with each (beginner, intermediate, advance) as well as any languages and level you speak them.

“Make it brief and interesting, like a skirt – short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover the subject.” – Brenda Wong, MVM Agency

Headshots: These should be actor headshots NOT portraits, and if you don’t know the difference, check out Getting the Perfect Headshot before spending hundreds of dollars. Many professional portrait photographers are unaware of the difference, so if you don’t see an actor headshots link on a photographer’s website, it is highly likely they do not understand what casting is looking for. As a basic rule of thumb, if it is a photograph of you that you’d put on your mother’s piano, it is not an actor headshot. You can also go to Vancouver Photographers for a listing of professional photographers who do actor headshots. Search their websites and find one who shoots your “type” well.

Demo Clips: Your demo clips should consist of two contrasting scenes to show your acting range (e.g. one dramatic and one more lighted-hearted) and be of a high production quality. This can be achieved using a video recorder or a cell phone. They should be no more than about a minute to a minute in a half in length. Agents will not have the time (nor the will) to watch much longer than that. And, if you have created a demo reel from a collection of scene clips you’ve been in, make sure to put the strongest work at the front. 

Here’s the Deal

The idea that a school would contact an agency and tell them to sign one of their actors is not how the industry works and would be deemed inappropriate by the agency. While it is true that schools such as VADA have relationships with agencies and makes efforts to broaden awareness of their newest actors (which can be helpful in garnering agency interest), agents themselves are professionals skilled at being able to sift through a large amount of people and identify any unique qualities, talent and marketability they may offer. They would not take kindly on being told what to do or who to sign.

The reality is a lot of your success in getting an agent is going to come down to you; your type, what you have to offer and your persistence to not give up. The most important role a school can perform in that process is to ensure you are adequately trained, have an understanding of how to put together a professional actor package, and that you are ready to meet with an agent (and not before), because if an agency decides to pass on you, they will rarely be willing to take a second look.

Thank you to Brenda Wong of MVM Agency for providing her insight in assisting us with research for his article.

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