As an actor, being represented by a talent agency means that an outside entity has a vested interest in advancing your acting career. It is a win-win situation for both. An acting education and talent are the basic components agencies look for, but to be signed by an agency you also need to understand the business of "the business," be equipped with the right materials, and be prepared to compete for coveted agency spots. The more prepared you are as an actor, the better the impression you will make on an agent and his agency, and the sooner you may be signed as a working actor.
Get a degree or training from a respected theatre college or local acting school. If neither is available, find any acting training that is available in your area. Contact your community college for a catalogue of acting classes. Join a local theatre group. Volunteer for any acting position available. Agents insist on seeing past and continuous training for any actor in which they express interest.
Educate yourself on the different agency types. Agencies who cover acting talent for film, television and theatre are known as "across the board" agencies. Agents in these agencies specialize. You will rarely have the same agent for television that you have for theatre. It is important to know which facet of the industry you want representation in, and to focus your attention on that area. Never respond to an agent who asks: "What do you do best?" by replying, "I can do everything." Know your own talent and be specific.
Go to a photographer located in the market in which you want to work, and one who is experienced in taking headshots. Agents look at a headshot for five seconds before making a decision to look at the resume on the back. If you are looking for a commercial or a television agent, take a headshot that shows good teeth and a dazzling smile. Attracting a film agent means showing a face with depth of character. Projecting a story in a headshot will grab the attention of a “legit” (theatrical) agent.
Build your resume with concise and honest information. Be sure it has all your necessary contact information. Include any “extra” work you have done, but not more than five appearances. Education is vital, and continuing education is a must. Special skills are especially helpful to television agents. If you ride a horse, that may be the skill that will get you an audition for a western-themed commercial or television pilot. Be sure the resume is the same size as the headshot and is stapled to the headshot in all four corners.
Know your industry. Stay informed by reading “Backstage” (either East or West) and the “Ross Reports," which give auditioning advice and updates on who’s who in the agency business. Agents move agencies frequently and these industry publications will help keep you up-to-date. They also list casting calls.
Take your acting jobs seriously. Every acting job is another addition to your resume and an education as well. Offer your services to a local company for their advertising campaign. Maybe you won’t get paid, but it gives you training to list on your resume. Invite local agents to watch your performances and follow up with a hand-written note of thanks if they do attend.
Make a DVD of your acting appearances. Keep it short – three minutes in total. Send it to agents with a short cover letter and a headshot/resume. Do not call for follow up. Keep sending headshots every six weeks with updates on your career, or invitations to showcases.
There is no specific formula for attracting an agent. The majority of the work is done by you. Narrow your targeted list of agents to the discipline that is your strongest. Work that list weekly.
Get in front of agents. Perform in showcases and local theatre.
Headshots are vital. Use a photographer who knows the medium of taking headshots. Your face is what is important. Do not put your fingers on your face, or your hand under your chin. Do not stretch your arm over your head. Armpits are not attractive. Do not wear a turtleneck sweater in any of the above as it hides your neck and the look goes directly from your chin to your chest. An expansive look is what will attract an agent's eye and encourage him to flip the headshot over to the resume and become more acquainted with you as an actor.
Never pay a fee to an agent for his representation. He gets paid when you work.
Agents take 10% of your fee. A talent manager can attach whatever percentage you agree to. Be aware that if you have a talent manager and an agent, you are giving up a large percentage of your income. Choose one or the other until you are so successful you need someone managing your career. Then you can name your own percentage.
If an agent asks to “freelance” with you for a certain period of time, do it. This is your “dating period” and your opportunity to land jobs that will encourage him to “engage” you.
When interviewing an agent, ask how many others “like you” are on his books. If the competition is deep, find another agent. You don’t want to be a small fish in a big sea.
Don’t set your sights on the large agencies. They get their talent from the smaller agencies. Go small for the greater chance of success.