By Chris Freihofer
You’ve heard the old saying: You can’t get a job without having an agent, and you can’t get an agent without having the job. While that adage may be true in the major markets like L.A., New York, Chicago or even Dallas, it’s not necessarily the case in Oklahoma. Sure, a legitimate agent will want some kind of qualifications before accepting you into their talent pool, but getting represented in Oklahoma is not nearly the daunting task that it is in the major markets.
If you don’t have an agent and you want to go to the next level in your acting career, you need representation. There are auditions every week in Oklahoma that most actors never hear about. They are not listed on the message boards, newsgroups or email newsletters, and they are almost always for paid work. They are for television commercials, training videos, radio spots, even cable television shows and yes, feature films.
The producer of a project, be it radio commercials to major feature films, will hire a casting director to help them cast the project. This casting director will be given a list of roles needed to fill, and then will go about searching for actors to bring in to an audition. The easiest way to do that is by going through the talent lists the agents keep on file. The casting directors will surely brainstorm and think of actors they have seen in plays, in commercials and in classes, etc.-- I always consider unrepresented talent I happen to know.
But it is faster, easier and more convenient to go through the legitimate agents. If the casting director selects you for the audition, the agent will give you a call and notify you of the time. They will also almost always provide you with a copy of the audition script beforehand. You will then audition for the casting director and maybe even the producer or director. Following that, the producer will make his or her decision on which actors will appear in the project; some of those decisions are based on the casting director’s recommendations. If you are chosen, your agent will contact you with the necessary details. They will also bill the producer for you work.
Only then does the legitimate agent receive compensation. Only then. Their fee for doing this task will be a previously agreed-upon percentage of the pay you received.
Remember this: An agent is only paid a percentage of the pay you received from an audition they got you. That’s it.
You can also have more than one agent. Typically, actors in Oklahoma not only have agents in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa, but they are also represented in Dallas and even Kansas City and Little Rock. As long as you are willing to drive there for auditions, you can typically get represented. All legitimate agents, however, will require that you have only one agent per city.
Oklahoma has some very reputable talent agents. It also has some shady ones. It even has some downright scams.
Unfortunately, Oklahoma does not have state licensing for talent agents. In order for a business to operate as a licensed talent agent in other states, they must first agree to adhere to certain guidelines ensuring proper behavior for their business practices, thus protecting the clients. We don’t have that here. In Oklahoma, virtually anyone can open their doors as a talent agent, then hit the malls and advertise on radio recruiting people to spend their money on their “agency”.
Some of these ‘agents’ require you to spend hundreds, and yes even thousands of dollars in ‘professional training’—offered at their agency, of course—before they will agree to represent you. But once they do represent you, they will represent you not only in Oklahoma, but also in other major markets not only in the U.S., but also the world. Huh? Well, that’s their story at least.
One agent charges you to appear on their website—a website that (and I quote) “Steven Spielberg was using last week to find people for his new movie.” Please. Like Steven Spielberg has nothing better to do than to troll the internet trying to find someone, anyone to be in his next movie. He’s that hard up. Are they serious? Anybody that believes that is also probably waiting for Bill Gates to send money for forwarding those emails.
A good rule of thumb is this: A legitimate agent is only paid a percentage of the work they got you. Do I need to say it again? A legitimate agent is only paid a percentage of the work they got you.
The agent is required to only charge 10% commission for acting jobs covered by one of the unions: either the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). If a job is not governed by one of those unions, the agent can legally charge whatever they choose, but it will be agreed upon in the contract you sign with them. It is typical to be anywhere from 10-20%.
Check with the Oklahoma Film & Music Office for a listing of talent agents. Also check the phone books. Ask other actors you know for their recommendations.
Call these agents and tell them you are an actor seeking representation. Then listen to their sales pitch.
If it is a scam, they give you a great sales pitch. It will sound too good to be true. It might even sound hard to get accepted. But a legitimate agent will typically ask you a few questions, somewhere along the lines of:
1) Do you have any experience in front of the camera? And if not, have you taken some sort of on-camera acting class? This can either be as much as a semester-long college course or even just a one-day workshop—they just want to know if you will know what you are doing if they send you to an audition.
2) Do you have a resume put together? Doesn’t have to be perfect, or even lengthy. In fact, it might only have your contact information, physical attributes and your on-camera class. They just want you to do one so they can offer their assistance in making their recommended changes.
3) Have you gotten your headshots taken? Too many people call the agents wanting to get started but then they never ever get their headshots taken. The agents want to know if you have taken the first major step. Taking that major step weeds out a lot of the riff-raff. The headshots do not need to be mass duplicated yet. In fact, the legitimate agent will want to offer their advice on which you should get printed. They just want to know they are taken.
If you answer yes to these questions, the agent will set up an appointment to talk to you. Just like that. And if the interview goes well, there will be a contract offered. And you will have an agent. It’s certainly not like in L.A. or New York. It’s much easier.
The agent may require you to get a class in on-camera acting, But They Do Not Offer It!
The agent may require you to have headshots taken before they meet with you, But They Do Not Take Them!
At No Time Did They Or Will They Ask You To Write A Check! (unless it is for commission for work they got you.
Presuming now you have done your homework, made a short list of agents with whom you would like to meet, and have set up a list of appointments. Let’s talk about how an initial meeting with a talent agent in Oklahoma will go, the contracts that you can be offered, and ways to work with your agent so you can launch a happy, healthy professional career as an actor in the Sooner State.
Always keep in mind, however, that this advice and these scenarios are often exclusive to Oklahoma. Do not expect this type of treatment in major markets. That’s a whole different can of soup.
When you meet to interview with an agent, you should have with you some sort of actor resume. It doesn’t need to be perfect—they will suggest changes anyway. Just have one cobbled together on a single sheet of paper. You should also bring with you either your headshots or your contact sheets (thumbnails) of your recent headshot session. An agent is happy to help you make the choice of which pose would work best to market you.
If possible, you should also bring with you any tape of past experience. Realize that in most cases potential actors do not have this material, but if you do, and it is representative of your talent, make sure you bring it with you. The agents in Oklahoma, sadly, never really know whether or not an actor has talent until that actor begins booking work from auditions. In Oklahoma there are so few legitimate agencies that the ones that do operate appropriately are flooded with a large client list. They cannot possibly know each individual actor’s abilities, so any help in that regard would benefit you. It also sends the message that you are castable.
Remember to dress professionally. You want to put forth the image that you take yourself and your career seriously. Present yourself as professionally as you want to be regarded. Likewise, if you show up with pant legs dragging the floor, too much skin showing, a t-shirt that says “I stole your boyfriend”, well, you will be treated differently, alright. Not necessarily the way you want to be treated, mind you.
This does not mean your Sunday best is required. You don’t need a suit and tie. Ladies do not need a full dress or even a business suit. Clean, business-casual attire is all that’s needed. Don’t go overboard.
During the interview the agent will ask you some questions about yourself. Career goals, past acting experience, if any, schedule flexibility, etc. They may ask you how long you plan to remain in Oklahoma. They are getting to know you and see if you take it seriously. Some may even ask you to cold-read a short commercial or film audition script. It’s no big deal. They are just getting a preliminary evaluation of your talent.
But don’t forget this: while they are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them. The relationship between an agent and an actor should be symbiotic. Yes, you work for them and are under their ‘employ’, but they also work for you, receiving only money from you as a commission for work they got you. An actor may only be as good as the roles they land, but an agent is only as good as the auditions they get you.
Beware the agent that is too eager to sign you, especially if you are just starting out. That particular agent may see dollar signs on your hopeful, star struck forehead and may soon ask you to dip into your checking account to “invest in their company”, pay for “professional training” from them, or get headshots from their “approved photographer”: checks made out to their agency, of course.
1) You already have an amazing resume with a bunch of film and television credits--and if you do, you don’t need this article.
2) You fit some ethnic, age range or physical hole in their talent roster.
Don’t forget to ask the agent questions as well. How many people do they already represent that fit your particular ‘type’? What have been some of the recent jobs their clients have booked through their agency? (I mention ‘through their agency’ because there are those agents that hang their hat on the accomplishments of some actors in their stable that booked their impressive work through other means.) What casting directors routinely call them?
If all goes well--and most times in Oklahoma it does—the agent will offer you a contract to take home to peruse. This part of the process has the most mystery and fear attached to it. Let’s break it down.
The Exclusive contract means this agent represents you for everything. Everything. Here, Texas, California, whatever. You cannot have another agent anywhere and if you do, this parent agent receives the exact same commission whether or not they got you the gig. The Exclusive agreement is pretty much dead in Oklahoma, but there may be some people out there trying to operate with it.
The non-exclusive agreement is the one that is most popular here. It basically states that you can have any representation you want, but if this particular agency sent you to the audition, you will owe said agent a commission if you book the job. Easy enough? This means you can be represented by different agents in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Little Rock, Kansas City, wherever. The agent offering the non-exclusive agreement will ask that you do not have more than one agent in the same city, and that’s okay. But really, if they did not get you the audition, they are not owed a commission if you get the job. No matter where the job actually is performed.
The next cloud of mystery is the duration of this contract. People feel that once they sign a contract, they hear the prison doors close and lock, never to return to artistic freedom again. Chill out. Most contracts are for a year. Some are not. An agent may slide you a 3-year contract. It’s no big deal. You can always get out of it. Always.
If you are unhappy with how an agent treats you, you can always end your relationship with them, as long as you do so in writing. Don’t worry, they won’t sue you. Unless you owe them money. But if you owe them money, it is because they got you work, so why do you want to get rid of them?
The contract is mainly a gesture, especially for people starting out. It’s just a piece of paper that says both parties agree to behave like professionals. It also protects the agent in case you decide you don’t owe them money. It’s not prison. It’s just what professionals beginning a business agreement do.
Okay, sometimes the relationship just doesn’t work out and you may feel it’s time to move on. Feel free to do so. Just send your agent a letter advising them of just that. Just put it in writing. Always put it in writing.
Likewise, an agent can ‘fire’ you. Oh, you may be on contract with them, and they may not call you and say “you’re fired”, but they will fire you. How? They will just stop calling you for auditions. That’s it. And then your contract will expire, and you’ll never hear from them again.
What would cause that? It would take a lot. If you simply cannot book a single job no matter how often you audition, that would be one of the ways. If you behaved inappropriately on a set or at an audition, that might as well. (Remember, you are a reflection of that agency.) If you change your phone number without telling anyone, that is a sure sign. If you move away, that is another.
And now the twelve months have expired, and just like all those holdout TV actors, your contract is up for renewal. Time to renegotiate? No. You’ll never hear another word. Once you sign, you are signed until you or they go away. I signed a one-year contract with one of my agents in…I think it was 1998. I have never seen another contract. It has never come up in conversation again. They still call me for auditions. I still pay them when I book a job. The world still turns.
REMEMBER: IT DOES NOT WORK THIS WAY IN LOS ANGELES OR NEW YORK OR VIRTUALLY ANYWHERE ELSE.
And now you have an agent. Congratulate yourself. You have accomplished what most actors in Oklahoma have not. You have taken the bull by the horns and not only TALKED about starting your career, you have taken necessary steps to actually do it. Go out to eat. Order dessert. You are soon on your way to being a pro.
Time to sit back and wait for that phone to ring.
So many actors think that once they list with an agent, it’s time to sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Not so. In fact, that’s when the real work begins.
In Oklahoma, it is relatively easy to get an agent. The legitimate agents in our state will accept an actor to their roster provided they have a resume culled together, some sort of industry experience or camera training and professional headshots at least taken, if not yet mass produced. That’s the easy part.
The difference between the working actor and the non-working actor is that the working actor probably worked to get the job. That is, they spent their time marketing themselves. A very common mistake even professional actors make is complacency; or better defined, a relaxed attitude with their career, waiting for their agent, manager, even acting teacher to get them work.
Actors need to be their own director of marketing. Each actor needs to search where potential jobs might be, make themselves readily available and be easy to help. Submit yourself to open casting calls. Take classes from industry professionals. Attend film festivals and industry events. Send out cards that announce your role in a play, short film screening, or latest job. And remind your agent you are still out there.
Agents, especially in Oklahoma, sometimes have huge rosters of talent in their stables. It is very easy for an actor to fall through the cracks. Remind them you are there and are taking your career seriously. Be proactive. Check in with them at least once a month. There are several ways to check in, by the way, to cleverly mask the overtly obvious real purpose—to tell them you’re still there and waiting for a call.
And do the same for your local Casting Directors.
A little squeak can go a long way. Everything is good in moderation. Be very careful not to be an annoyance and overstay your welcome.
We mentioned above the notion of being easy to help. Do not confuse that with being needy for help. How do you know the difference?
Are you going overboard in nagging the agent or casting director about upcoming work? Are you checking in too often? Are you calling them at home or on weekends?
Don’t forget to respect their time both personally and professionally. Do not call after business hours or on weekends. Do not track them down at home. Do not make demands on their time to call you back. If you need a question answered, make sure the question is short and requires a short answer. The longer the answer, the longer it may take for them to get back to you. Respect that they are busy individuals and that every actor is asking the same of them.
More simply, look at it this way: who do you like to help and why? Do they make demands on your time? Are they constantly in need of your help and unable to perform work on their own? Do they ask you to perform beyond the call of duty? Do they offer no help in return? I bet the answer is no.
Be available, be courteous, be professional, follow the rules and be likable. And like any good party guest, leave them wanting more.
(reprinted from the "Tips for the Aspiring Actor" column from the StarCaster Go e-newsletter)