What is a Talent Agent
and How Do I Get One?

What is a Talent Agent and How Do I Get One?
By Sue Basko

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A TALENT AGENT IS a person that represents an actor in finding work. A casting agent is a person that works for a production to help find the right actors for the roles. A talent agent works closely with casting agents to try to match their clients with the roles available. A good agent will know what shows are being cast, what the casting agent wants to see, and will be able to get an audition for an appropriate candidate. Talent agents make their money by taking a percentage of the money paid to the actors they represent for the work they arranged for them.

TALENT AGENTS ARE LICENSED BY THE STATE in California, Illinois, New York, and many other states! The states keep lists, some of which are online. If a person is not on the list, they are not an agent.

A TALENT AGENT WILL NOT: charge you money upfront, sell you photos, charge you for classes. A manager (different from an agent) often will suggest to you what you need in order to be represented, and will very likely have a good list of photographers or demo reel makers to choose from. However, if the manager is legit, they will never try to sell you any such items, and will never sell you a prepaid package of classes and photos, for example.

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WHO IS NOT AN AGENT: Companies that hold open auditions are almost never real agents. Companies that hold showcases. Companies that try to sell you classes. Companies that try to sell you anything. Companies that charge you registration fees or fees upfront are rarely real agents. IN CALIFORNIA, ILLINOIS, NEW YORK, AND MANY other states, anyone that is not licensed as an agent is NOT an agent!

HOW CAN I QUALIFY TO GET A REAL AGENT? You will be considered a serious candidate if you have these things :

1) serious and high-quality education and training in acting;

2) acting experience;

3) a proper acting resume;

4) photos of yourself;

5) an actor demo reel;

6) time to commit to acting and the ability to show up;

7) a track record of being reliable, responsible and easy to work with;

8) good health;

9) a wardrobe of clothes suited to a variety of typical role types (Many actors shop thrift stores to build a wardrobe of different looks. Having different eyeglass frames, hats, and bags suited to different character types is also good);

10) a look that is in demand;

11) live/ work in Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago;

12) SAG membership is a good plus, if you have been able to get it.

Some typical male role types include: father, businessman, blue collar worker, teacher, policeman, doctor, street gangster, henchman type, "funny" type, grandfather, hip young type, nerd, street person, various ethnic types.

Some typical female role types include: mother, businesswoman, teacher or librarian, hip young woman, sexy lawyer or doctor type, "chubby" types, "funny" types, grandmother, street person, elegant older lady, various ethnic types.

CHICAGO: In Chicago, talent agents are considered by the State to be employment agencies. Therefore, they are required to accept resumes and head shots from everyone and anyone. Most of those entries are never going to result in any work. It takes much more effort than this to actually have the attention of an agent.

Many people in Chicago will talk about their agents or about being with several agencies. In many cases, this simply means they have dropped off their materials at an agency. If you are a serious actor, you will be working with one agent exclusively. You can probably get this by having all the qualifications listed above and bringing this to the attention of the different agents.

Chicago agencies deal mainly with work on commercials. There is not much of this work right now due to the economy. Hollywood movies that are shot in Chicago are cast through Los Angeles agencies, although they may have very minor roles and extras cast through Chicago agencies. If you want an actual acting role, you must have a Los Angeles agent.

LOS ANGELES: In Los Angeles, agents are licensed by the State, but it is recognized that they must be selective. NEVER deal with an agent that is not licensed. You can check this database to see if they are licensed: California Talent Agency License Database. You should have all the items listed above. You must also move to Los Angeles so that you can audition. It is not a bad plan to contact agents before you move to Los Angeles, to try to interest someone in your career.


Update August 2019 CALIFORNIA:  You can look up any person who tells you they are a California talent agent on this database.  If they are not on the database, they are NOT a talent agent!

There used to be a wonderful little book called "The Agencies," put out by Larry Parke, but Mr. Parke died and the book ceased publication. There is a somewhat comparable book, called "Agency Guide," now put out by Breakdown Services. You can purchase it for under $10 at this link by scrolling to the bottom book and ordering online.

Many Los Angeles agencies will say they are not accepting new applicants. However, your lawyer or manager may be able to get you in to be seen. The famous agencies tend to represent established, well-known actors. Smaller agencies in Los Angeles tend to have one or more specialties. For example, an agency may specialize in children, different ethnic groups, chubby people, alternative looks (piercings and tattoos) and other niche types.

Update July 2019 ILLINOIS:  https://suebasko.blogspot.com/2019/01/illinois-talent-agencies.html

IF YOU ARE OFFERED A CONTRACT: If you are offered a contract, have it checked out by a lawyer. If the agent is in California, check on the link above to be sure the agent is licensed. If an agent is licensed, they are regulated by the state and must follow certain laws. This is a very good thing that provides the actor with a lot of solid protection.

WHAT ARE TYPICAL BEGINNER ROLES: In Chicago, you will be hoping for commercials or print ads. As a beginner, your starting point will probably be in "extra" roles, sometimes also called "background." Speaking or directed roles usually go to SAG members. You can also get good experience by being in movies made by film students or in smaller independent films.

In Los Angeles, actors hope for roles on television shows and in movies. Beginners usually have three types of things offered to them: 1) extras or background in television, movies, or music videos; 2) game show audience members; 3) attending parties.

Are people really paid to attend parties? You betcha! The parties are usually openings for a product, service, recording, or production of some type. Fragrances and clothing lines are typical. In most cases, these are cast with young, good-looking people who are at least 21, if alcohol is to be served. The casting agent instructs them in what to wear, and they are forbidden from discussing their paid status, or anything controversial or of substance. So, if you are ever at a Hollywood party, and there are lots of good-looking young people who are dressed very similarly, don't seem to know anyone there, and seem very friendly and yet won't discuss anything -- you can bet they are paid party-goers.

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