A talent agent can open up doors for actors and get them auditions and bookings that the huge majority of people never even hear about.
Do not believe me?
Just ask Ethan.
Ethan was a teen actor who’d signed up for an on-camera acting workshop I was teaching. He had some theatrical experience but hadn’t done any on-camera acting previously. However he was very talented and enthusiastic, and after the workshop, I invited him to meet with me at the talent agency I worked at to discuss representation.
We ended up signing Ethan, and within only a couple of months, we got him booked on a significant supporting role in Spike TV’s The Kill Point, starring Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo.
This teen celebrity with hardly any experience in front of a camera got booked on a major cable network TV show because he found the right agent.
Can you imagine the auditions and bookings you’d have access to if you signed with the right agency?
How different would your career (and your life) be?
It all starts with finding a excellent agent to represent you.
Where do you even find a talent agent?
And how do you know they’re legit?
And not likely to rip you off?
One of the best pieces of advice I will give to some actor starting out is to work with what’s called a union-franchised agency (or agent).
SAG and AFTRA was their own separate unions, but in 2012 the two merged to become SAG-AFTRA, one combined union to represent all celebrities for on-camera work.
There are pros and cons for actors who are part of SAG-AFTRA.
The marriage guarantees that they get paid a certain minimum wage for any on-camera work they get booked . They also guarantee certain working conditions, and supply actors health insurance, retirement, and other benefits.
However, as soon as you join you can ONLY do union work on camera. If you reside in one of those many, many smaller markets around the country that does not have plenty of consistent work for union actors, this could be a massive drawback.
However, the question of whether or not you ought to join the union is a debate for another day.
The main thing for virtually any actor to know is how unions work with talent agencies.
SAG-AFTRA issues franchises to qualified talent agencies that meet specific requirements.
These are called union-franchised agencies.
These agencies must employ, pay a complimentary, and be accepted by SAG-AFTRA so as to have the ability to represent union actors.
It does not follow that you will need to join the union in order to work with these agencies.
In actuality, for most actors living outside of a significant market like LA or NYC, I usually recommend that you don’t join the union (but that’s a longer conversation for another time).
What it does mean is that these agencies are highly regulated by SAG-AFTRA, and have all agreed to certain conditions for ALL of their celebrities, union members or not.
These conditions include:
The agency must make its income almost exclusively through commissions they get when they get work for the actors they represent
they cannot charge a fee for getting actors auditions
the agency cannot be connected with an acting school or teach any courses or workshops within an agency
there cannot be an in-house photographer or special third party photographer that actors are required to utilize
they can only charge actors 10% commission for SAG-AFTRA tasks (they can charge higher commission for non-union jobs, generally 15-20percent )
Union-franchised agencies only get paid when they get work for their celebrities. They are generally a safe haven from the many scams out there designed to rip off unsuspecting celebrities.
Does this mean that non-franchised talent agencies can’t be trusted? Or that you shouldn’t sign with them?
There are a lot of very reputable non-franchised agencies out there that follow the same guidelines as the franchised agencies. They work hard to get work for the celebrities they represent, and they simply have the best of intentions.
But finding out which of these non-franchised agencies are reputable and which ones are a scam is something which comes with a lot of experience working in that industry.
And there are many that appear to be legit UNTIL you start to work together and wind up wasting your time and your money.
So that is the reason why I always recommend that actors try to work with a union-franchised agency when first starting out.
How to Discover a union-franchised talent agency
Locating a franchised agency close to you is easy-go to SAG-AFTRA’s franchised agent page on their site at https://www.sagaftra.org/professionalrepresentatives and search for the services in the market closest to where you live.
Don’t be afraid to expand your search past just your local area-you could even check within a couple hour radius of where you live.
It may be harder to get to auditions in person, but there may be opportunities for you to self-tape your auditions and submit them to the bureau.
It’s far better to get the franchised agency that will be the best fit for you, and then work out the logistics of how and when you’ll audition.
There may be a number of non-franchised agencies that are closer to where you live.
Many of them will be completely above board, and provide you access to some of the very same auditions and bookings that you’d get if you’re signed to a franchised agency.