How to Get an Agent 101: Tips on the Acting Business
If you have already launched the pursuit of your acting career and started digging into the nits and grits of the acting business, then you probably know that finding an acting agent and getting that agent to sign you is not easy, not by any stretch of imagination.
Many budding actors find themselves puzzled by this catch-22 situation: I need an agent to book jobs, but I can’t get any acting jobs without an agent.
While it may seem this way in the beginning, it’s not necessary so and your situation isn’t as bad as you may think.
It’s common to call casting directors as the gates to the sweet side of the acting business and to your big break, and acting agents are known as the gate keepers – they are the ones who will get you into the room with casting directors and make your career flourish in the acting business.
It’s true – having the gatekeepers of the show business (talent agents) to sign you will be tricky. This doesn’t only apply to some of the best acting agents in London that represent actors such as Colin Firth or Judi Dench. Even smaller boutique agencies are ware of newbie actors, mostly because there’s so many of them around.
With so many actors and the acting career being as competitive as it is, how do you break through? How to get an agent to sign you and start booking bigger and better acting gigs? There’s a way, but it requires smart planning, hard work and consistency. So let’s take a look what you can do right now to improve your chances and learn how to get an agent sign you as soon as possible.
I have years of experience in this industry, both in London and Los Angeles. Below, I’ll give you some tips on how to get an agent and how to continue growing your own acting business with yourself as the best product on the market, which you are. Right?
Adjust Your Expectations
Just finding an acting agent alone can become difficult, let alone knowing how to get an agent to sign you.
Contrary to what you may think, they don’t hang around pubs, looking to give out their business cards to good looking 20-year olds. Those times are long gone (if they ever were here in the first place).
Today, acting business is very competitive. Talent agencies that specialize in actors get too many inquiries from actors to represent them every single day. If you look around, “How to get an agent” is arguably the most commonly asked question.
Most of these requests are made by amateur thespians who just started pursuing acting and have no acting resume, no acting credits, no acting training, and no good actor headshot. Often, these are the actor wannabes that believe an actor’s career is the easiest job in the world, and all you have to do is to know how to get an agent, then you’ll be rich and famous. Not true.
If you have some common sense in you, if you have genuine interest in the craft, and if you legitimately enjoy the process, then you have a much a higher chance of signing with an agent.
Why? because it all takes time. Successful actors are CONSISTENT actors.
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Signed
There are a few tricks that all actors wanting to know how to get an agent to sign them can use to slightly improve their chances:
1. Find local talent agencies
2. Reach out to current clientele
3. Get references and recommendations
4. Target specific acting agents
These five points can SIGNIFICANTLY improve your chances of a successful meeting with a talent agent. Let’s go through each one so I can better explain this to you.
Find local, smaller talent agencies.
Actors who are living in metropolitan cities like London will have an easier time finding acting agents in the area. London has tons of them. However, most of these are all very high-profile places and if you’re just starting out, it’s not worth wasting your time on these.
Assuming you’re living in London (or possibly Los Angeles, New York, or other similarly big city), I would suggest you to target local boutique agencies. These are smaller places that have an interest in young performers who are talented but haven’t made a name for themselves yet.
If you’re not in any of the big cities, you can still find at least a few talent agencies in your area. Most cities have them; you just need to really look. Google is best for this.
Alternatively, we would highly suggest moving to a city like London as soon as you can. This will truly help your career, and you’ll be able to find more ways on how to get an agent to sign you. Not only is that but being an actor in London a fun and rewarding experience.
Key message: Look for agencies in your hometown first, and make sure that you target smaller places instead of reaching too far.
Reach out to current clientele and get recommendations.
This is usually an easy thing to do, but most actors are too lazy to go through the process because it’s time consuming. Some may be even embarrassed or feel like they are intruding. These may be valid reasons for someone in a corporate world, but if you’re a struggling actor, you have to leave those feelings behind.
Most talent agencies have websites with a page where they list actors that are currently signed with them. For example. You can see actors’ names, what they do and how they look. This is extremely helpful.
Now, what you do is look up those actors by their names on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and other platforms. Usually, it’s easy to find them.
Get in touch with these actors, but don’t be intrusive.
Be friendly and make a genuine connection. This is the foundation of great networking skills. Once you contacted them and had a chat, ask about the agency they are signed with, how they did it and how can you do that too. Majority of people usually love giving advice on how to get an agent as long as you’re polite.
Finally, to push things even further, you may even ask for a recommendation. Normally, someone who you don’t know well will not do that, but occasionally you can get lucky. Why not give it a shot? All you have to do is to ask them if it’s okay if you drop their name when you’ll reach out to agencies. They don’t have to do anything.
Some will say yes, some will say no. Others won’t respond. Take it for what it is, and move on. Alternatively, you can improve your chances of getting that recommendation if you take those people out to lunch, or something along those lines. Maybe find a way to be helpful to them. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, maybe you can offer to design something for that actor?
Key message: Connect with currently signed actors, try to be helpful to them and ask them to either recommend you to the agency, or to simply drop their name when you’re trying to get signed.
Target specific acting agents in the talent agency.
This is yet another crucial point in your quest to find a way on how to get an agent to sign you, so don’t forget about it.
When you’re finally ready to reach out to the agency and ask for representation or a meeting, NEVER address the agency. Target specific agents within that agency, and use their names in the letter that you send.
The way to do this is very easy, yet I see so many actors not doing this because they are simply lazy. Don’t let the laziness ruin your chances of getting signed by a decent talent agency – spend those extra 10 minutes to carefully craft your letter.
So how do you do this? Simply visit the agency’s website and find a page where all of their acting agents are listed. Pick either the top one, or whichever you feel you may connect with best, and go for that person. DO NOT email or mail multiple agents within the agency; this will look unprofessional.
You can see agents’ names and emails, and even a phone number. Pick whoever you want to target, and address your letter to that specific person.
Remember to write a nice looking cover letter to your agency, be brief and straight to the point. Avoid the common cover letter mistakes to make yourself look as professional as you can.
Key message: Mailing specific people within the talent agency will guarantee a better
Chance and make you look more professional.
The final step in this process of reaching out for those who want to know how to get an agent is following up with your submissions.
Here’s a little secret from my days of working at the agency as well as from talking to many talent agents: 99% of actors never follow-up. Isn’t that crazy?
A follow-up is exactly what it sounds like. By now, you have sent out letters or emails to specific agents with a nicely structured cover letter, explaining them why they need to represent you, and hopefully you also got a recommendation. After about 2-3 weeks of no response from the agency, it’s time to follow-up.
Craft another – even shorter – email, and send it out to the same person. It can be something as simple as “I just wanted to check in and see if you had a minute to take a look at my submission?” That’s it. Your goal is to ensure that your email didn’t get lost or forgotten about. This is another crucial step on how to get an agent to sign you, so do it.
Worried that you may disturb someone? Then maybe this career choice isn’t for you. You must get over that fear, because the acting business is based on how proactive you are as an actor.
Key message: Do not forget and do not be shy to follow-up your previous submission with a short reminder to increase your chances of response, and possibly getting a meeting with an agent.
How to Get in Touch with Acting Agents?
Above, we talked how important being proactive is in the acting business. If you want to know to how to get an agent to sign you and have a higher chance of success, you need to spend time planning and researching. By this point, you should have a list of talent agencies and specific acting agents to reach out to.
When you have that special list in place, prepare well before you rush into emailing them.
The way to prepare for this talent agents outreach campaign is to make up a checklist based on what is advised below. Try to think outside of the box and come up with additional ideas that haven’t been mentioned here, too.
When you’re ready, here’s what you will need in short:
Professional acting headshots (Colour, theatrical and commercial)
Professional and well structured acting resume/CV
Some good credits on that CV (graduate student films, indie films, plays, commercials)
Training. Drama school or acting classes, and point out if there’s any ongoing.
Show reel/Demo reel
Your own website (strongly recommended)
Audition speeches prepared (they may ask for it)
That’s essentially it for the actual meeting with your agent.
Someone who’s been in the acting business for at least a year will have most of things on the list. If you’re completely new, it would be better for you to spend the first 6 months trying to cross things off that list (if you’re in drama school, do all of this then).
Avoid reaching out to most famous talent agents if you don’t have at least a somewhat strong acting resume and a really great headshot. It just means you’re not ready to go out and audition professionally yet. Don’t ruin that first impression, and save it for later. The right time will come.
Your Spotlight profile has to be completed well, with your headshots, show reel, credits and training clearly outline. If you’re not at this stage yet where you can create a Spotlight profile, don’t worry about it and move on.
Your website, if you have one, should also contain your acting CV/resume, show reel and contacts all clearly displayed, preferably on the first (landing) page.
Just to stress this one more time: make sure you’ve got some acting training and credits under your belt.
By now you should have plenty of monologues and dialogues learned that you could use as your audition speeches.
Equity membership is also essential, since that establishes you as someone who is serious about this career choice.
Start the mailing campaign.
When all is prepared and ready, you can start your mailing campaign. You can do it by either sending emails or actual mail, or both. The choice is yours. However, the industry is gradually moving towards keeping everything digital, but some agencies are too slow to adapt.
Actors, who choose to send their submissions by the regular post, make sure you print out plenty of headshots 10 x 8″ size, acting CV/resume copies and cover letters. All of this must be on a A4 sized paper.
Don’t forget: Staple your headshot to a resume. This makes it very easy for an agent to open your submission, take a look at the headshot and then turn it around to see your credits and training on the resume. Also, this ensures that your resume never gets separated from the headshot, which is crucial.
Your cover letter should be very brief. Quickly recap what you’ve done up to this point, where is your next production or when your next film/TV show is airing, and what exactly you want to get out of the potential meeting with your agent. I repeat – be VERY brief.
Send these three pieces (headshot, resume, and cover letter) in one regular envelope and then all you can do is pray if you wish. I would advise to forget about it for the next 2-3 weeks and focus on your acting career. Then, if no responses came in, follow-up and forget about it again.
Important: I’ve seen some actors advising to put a note on your letters and ask agents to return a headshot to you, if possible. Do NOT do this, ever. You will immediately be seen as an amateur, and it’s unlikely that the agent will be impressed with that. If you’re that poor that you can’t afford to give out a headshot, then you’re not yet ready for an acting agent to sign you yet.
When you’re trying to find ways on how to get an agent to sign you and do this effectively, you must present yourself as a professional. This is an acting business after all.
Not only that, but leaving your headshot that was hopefully stapled to your acting resume increases the chance of that agent stumbling upon it sometime in the future, and maybe giving you call 2-3 months later. As a struggling actor, you need to take every chance you can, no matter how small.
Meeting with an Acting Agent
At this point, you’ve probably done the hardest work: you did the research, you email specific agents, you delivered them the goods and you got a response from the agency to come in for a meeting. Honestly, this really was the hardest part of how to get an agent to sign you, until the actual meeting.
After you’ve been invited to meet with an acting agent from one of the talent agencies you’ve submitted to, you know you’ll have to prepare. But I’ll recap this succinctly for you to understand how to get an agent to sign you during this meeting.
You’ll probably be a nervous wreck the day before and during the meeting. It’s normal. The only thing you need to make sure is that you’re prepared for your agency meeting and you know what you’re doing.
These meetings are all very similar and very different both at the same time. It’s difficult to predict how long it will take, or how the agent will behave around you, because it all depends on the person.
Here are the questions I’ll address below:
How to dress for an agency meeting
How to talk during an agency meeting
How to behave during an agency meeting
Now let’s go through these in more details so that you know how to improve your chances and how to get an agent to sign you thanks to a successful meeting.
How to dress for an agency meeting?
This is a simple one. Dress smart casual. There are many ways you can screw up your meeting with an agent, but dressing improperly cannot be one of them. You have to be better than that.
Don’t look too formal, no tuxedos with ties/bow-ties or evening dresses. A nice looking suit is fine, but there’s no need for a tie for men or business wear for women. The point is this: do not look sloppy.
You’re an actor, so you don’t have to look like you’re applying for a corporate gig, but you also don’t want to look like you sleep at the back hallway of Selfridges. Put some thought into your dress code, just not too much. Make sure your hygiene is on point.
How to talk during an agency meeting?
During the meeting, the agent knows you’re nervous, so they will usually begin first. Usually, the meeting will take anywhere from 45 to an Hour.
The agent will ask you questions about your career, what you’ve done so far, what your plans are and what do you expect from this relationship in case they sign you and start representing you. Spend some time a day before thinking about these questions so that you are not caught off-guard.
Then it’s your turn, so make sure to ask good and appropriate questions, those that honestly interest you and things that you should know about this agent and/or agency.
You may or may not be asked to perform a short monologue for the agent. Regardless, always have at least a few pieces memorized and prepared. One modern, one classical, and one comedy monologues are usually the best type of arsenal an actor can have. Even though it’s rare, but you also may be asked to do a cold reading.
To wrap things up at the end of the meeting, the acting agent will allow you to ask questions. DO NOT refrain from this, and make sure that you do have questions to ask. This shows your professionalism and that you understand how the business works.
Understand that it’s NOT a job interview; it’s you who’s hiring them. Ask them what sort of area they are specializing in, if it’s acting business only or not, what sort of clientele they represent, and their point of view on your current situation and your plans.
Ask honestly what you’re curious about. If you don’t have anything on your mind (maybe because you’re nervous), here are some sample questions to ask:
How many clients do you represent?
What type do you see me as?
How many other actors you have that are my type?
Are you okay with me submitting to castings by myself?
Do you have any recommendations for classes or photographers?
This shows that you’re not a desperate actor who’s willing to do anything just to find a way on how to get an agent to sign them. The key is to get into a mindset that you don’t desperately need an agent (which is true, actually) and go in there thinking that way.
How to behave during an agency meeting?
Here’s a pro tip first: Do not extend to shake an agent’s hand unless offered. This is one of their biggest pet peeves, mostly because they see a lot of people every day, and shaking everyone’s hand means a lot of germs.
Other than that, the way you behave during an agency meeting is the way you behave as a normal human being. Simply be yourself. Do not try to fake anything or pretend to be who you’re not. Be honest with your answers, keep them concise and try not to babble. Again, acting agents are busy and knowing how to get an agent to sign you means avoiding taking too much of their time.
It’s very possible that an acting agent who invited you for a meeting already liked you, and you may get an offer after just 15 minutes of talking. Congratulations!
Now, if you’ve done everything as advised and you end up getting an offer to sign with that agency during the meeting, keep it together and ask for the copy of the contract to take with you, because you need to think about it. I know what you think: “Will that not hinder my chances of getting signed?”
No, it won’t. This isn’t a movie where everything has to be urgent and under pressure. Agents understand that you want to take some time to think about this, because it’s an important decision that also involves some legal paperwork.
Even though you may want to know how to get an agent to sign you right away, there are two reasons for not signing with them on the stop.
1. Reason number one. If you’ve done a bigger mailing campaign and reached out to other talent agencies, then you want to get a response from other acting agents before committing to this one. Unless, of course, this is the only talent agency you got a meeting with or the only one you want to sign up with, or it’s the absolute best choice of all.
2. Reasons number two. It’s always a good idea to get a lawyer/solicitor to look through your contact, or if you have a manager, have them take a look at it. You don’t want to get sucked into one of those scams or be stuck with an agent that doesn’t get you acting jobs for 5 years or give them more than you have to.
When you get the offer, ask the agent if it’s okay to take some time to think about it and how much time you have. Usually, just 48 hours is enough to take care of this, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll still end up signing with that agent if that is a legitimate agency. Agents know that so they will rarely have any objections.
How to avoid being scammed.
There are a lot of scam artists out there who understand that actors really want to know how to get an agent to sign them, and these young and inexperienced thespians are the main prey of scam artists. You must be aware of all that if you don’t want to get sucked into a scheme that will put you in debt.
The biggest acting agent’s related scam out there is “pretend agents” who establish a legitimately looking office and will even have a website with some talent on there. What they do is sign whoever they can get into the office, and they charge them cash for being signed.
That is not how a legitimate agency operates. No talent agent will ever charge you ANY fees for being signed, period. There are no ifs or maybes. The minute you are asked to pay some upfront fees before signing with an agency is the minute you stand up; thank them for a meeting and leave to never come back.
Just to repeat this one more time: no legitimate agency charges any upfront fees for signing actors, ever.
The same goes for anything related to your acting career: headshots, retouching, resume, workshops, classes, demo reels, and any other service.
Whenever you hear an “agent” tell you that you have to take “this class” or go to “this photographer” in order to be represented, know that something is fishy. Run away.
The acting business is full of these scams, sadly. It’s even possible that there are more of them than legitimate agencies.
Now, don’t confuse recommendations with obligatory classes. Occasionally, an agent may recommend you a specific acting teacher or a great photographer, if you need one. These recommendations are coming from their years of experience in the field, so you can take them but you don’t have to.
What’s next After Signing with an Agent?
By now, you’ve have your meeting and probably signed with your first acting agent. Happy days! But the process isn’t over yet, and you need to work more in order to ensure a productive acting career that’s ahead of you.
Now I’ll talk about one of the major mistakes a lot of actors in London, Los Angeles and New York – all over the acting business anywhere in the world – I’ve often seen make.
The biggest mistake is letting go of the momentum of your hard work the minute you sign with an agent, thinking that from now on, it’s the agency that will do all the work. Not so.
Figuring out a way how to get an agent to sign you and actually getting that contract is a major step in your acting career, and it will most likely help you in the long run.
However, it may not have any impact at all in the first 6-12 months after signing. Your big break is still as far away as it was before you put down a signature on that contract.
Actors need to keep this in mind: signing with an agent doesn’t solve all of your “problems.” It’s just a small stepping stone, but you must continue to work hard and push forward.
So what changes after you get an agent?
After you get an acting agent to represent you, the only thing that changes in your life is that you have to put their number in your phone contact list and onto your resume as your representation. You also have to pay those 10% - 20% from every paid gig you booked.
Remember that as soon as you start working with your new talent agent and auditioning regularly, you should not be putting down your personal contacts onto your resume at all. Everything has to go through your agent.
From this point on, that’s their job and that’s what they are there for in this acting business: to negotiate for you. Put their contact details instead anywhere that you used to put yours.
That’s about the only thing that has changed in your career after you signed.
After your initial dopamine release and happiness levels wear off after figuring out how to get an agent to sign you, it’s time to land back to Earth and continue the struggle as an actor that you were before you went into that room to meet with your future agent.
What do you do after you sign?
Honestly, this shouldn’t even be a question. What you do after signing with an agent is exactly what you did before – struggle.
Continue searching for acting jobs, doing student films and indie projects, looking for commercials opportunities, and applying for bigger auditions. Always discuss with your agent beforehand what projects can you and should you do as they need to be aware of your schedule at all times.
Your acting business career becomes a two-man team, and you’re tackling this cruel entertainment industry from both sides. So you do get some help from your agent, and this do get a little easier when you have an experience professional in your corner, but it doesn’t mean that you can sit back and wait to become a movie star.
What you do is finding smaller projects through casting websites that are available to you while your acting agent is going into the dark depths of the acting business to fish for bigger things. But again, do not stop looking for work on your own just because you have an agent. Many actors do, and they often get dropped by the same agent.
Communicate with your agent.
Communication is key in this business. Just as your networking skills, it’s important to stay in touch with people who are in charge of your career or who can help you advance it. We’ve previously written about maintaining relationships with your agents but let me quickly recap this for you.
Always let your acting agent know your availability in advance, and update them if anything changes. Because now they are representing you, they have to know about you as much as you know about yourself.
If you recently have been in an accident and you now having a dark eye, they have to know about it. If you’re growing a beard, they have to know about it. If you cut your long beautiful hair short for some reason they have to know about it. Same goes for your survival jobs aside from acting.
Speaking of which: avoid drastic changes to your looks unless advised by an agent. As an actor, you want to maintain consistency in the way you look so that if you come in for an audition, a casting director must see the same person they saw on the headshot.
Don’t forget to stay in touch with your agent. You might be working together for 5, 10 or maybe even 20 years, so begin developing this relationship. Talk on the phone rather than over emails, unless they are uncomfortable with that.
Be on top of this if your agent isn’t, but that doesn’t mean phoning in every day asking what they are up to.
It’s also absolutely fine to develop a friendly relationship, also known as a friendship, with your acting agent and hang out together if you’re both comfortable with it.
Many actors have asked me if that would be unprofessional, but in the acting business, there’s really nothing unprofessional about it since now you’re a team. Wouldn’t you hang out with your basketball or soccer club team mates?
Once a month or once every two months the two of you can meet for lunch to discuss your progress and upcoming opportunities. This will only help your personal and professional
How Much Do Acting Agents Get Paid?
Every actor wanting to know how to get an agent will also want to know how much they’re going to have to pay them after signing that contract. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about these types of questions, since this is your money and you need to keep a good track of it.
As mentioned above, in the United Kingdom, your acting agent will usually get 20% of your pay. In the US, every talent agent receives 10% which is a number set by SAG-AFTRA and it cannot be altered.
This percentage will be in your contract, so make sure you check this before signing anything.
Your agent gets a cut from EVERYTHING you do.
This is where a lot of actors get confused and go into panic mode when they notice that their agent takes a cut from something they didn’t expect.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you got an acting job on your own. The rule is that your agent still gets the same 10-20% from that acting gig, and this is usually mentioned in the contract.
The reason being is that your acting agent negotiates for you and deals with all the bureaucracy that you as an artist do not want to deal with. Even if you get an acting job by yourself, you can send all future paperwork and negotiations to your agent and only show up for filming.
Every query about the project you’re working on goes through your agent first as well, which saves you the trouble of constantly being on the phone or trying to email people all the time. This is your agent’s job, and it’s a difficult one, so that’s what they are getting paid for it.
On the other hand, if your new acting agent is never getting you any acting jobs and for the whole year you’ve been finding work on your own, it might be worth reconsidering your business together and probably leaving that particular acting agency.
How do you get paid?
How you will be getting paid depends on your employer who gives you the acting job.
Sometimes they will pay directly to you, and sometimes to your agent. The standard in the acting business when you already have your feet wet is that only the agent gets paid, then they deduct their fee and pay the rest to you.
If you got paid personally, you must send what you owe to your talent agent %+VAT if your agent is VAT registered so it’s best that you let your agent invoice and collect the money on your behalf. That’s how this acting business works. Never try to hide any pay checks, because you never know when your agent may find out and sue you. This happens every
day in this business.
Summary on How to Get an Agent
This was a long post for anybody wanting to know how to get an agent to sing them, but there’s still plenty more to cover. I really hope this information was helpful to you, as it took me a while to write it out.
So let’s summarise. Here are the key points on how to get an agent:
Keep your expectations real about the acting business and what your goals are. Research and plan well so that you’re prepared for what’s to come.
To improve your chances of getting signed, target specific agents, ask for recommendations from current clients and don’t forget to follow-up.
Maintain a professional status in the way you communicate and present yourself to agents. After researching, get in touch with agents through mailings.
Prepare well for an agency meeting by dressing appropriately, listening and asking the right questions. Do not sign with the agency on the spot and take time to consider the offer.
Avoid scams. Remember that no agency will ever ask you to pay for representing you nor should they require you to use specific photographer or acting class.
Don’t get passive after you sign with an agent. Continue to look for acting jobs yourself, and remember that your agent still gets a cut from any work you find.
Communicate with your agent and stay in touch consistently. Develop a pleasant relationship and go over your acting career progress and planning together.
This Introduction on how to find an Agent 101 in London was compiled from the website Acting London 2017