Next up in our back-to-basics series, a question I hear so often. What are the jobs of an agent or a manager? How do they differ? Do I need both? When do I get them?
The topic of reps can be confusing and actually getting them has been a point of contention so strong, it has been the cause of several acting career deaths. They are considered the great gatekeepers between actors and auditions (or at least some auditions, make sure you read this point on casting websites!) and therefore the pressure to get and keep them can feel insurmountable. But first, let’s get super basic and talk about what these (incredibly patient) folks actually do.
My analogy: I often say managers are like parents and agents are like teachers. They both have the same goal of their client [child] succeeding. However managers [parents] tend to do more of the day to day tasks, like help pick your headshot photographers if you’re stuck, advise you on next career moves, and make sure you eat breakfast before big auditions…just kidding, but wouldn’t that be cute. Agents [teachers] have a much smaller scope of focus, they want to get you auditions so you can get jobs. They are often not “hand holders” in the sense that they expect actors to do their work and they will do theirs. There is a lot less of advisement that happens. And just like parent and teachers, they often come together to help their child [you, their client] achieve success [so you can both pay your rents], be it via phone/email/or meetings.
Are you sick of my simile yet?
WAIT. Important Caveat: I have met agents who act like managers and vice versa. I know lots of managers who really just get auditions for their clients but hardly answer their emails. And I also know several agents who have gone so far as to set up their clients’s self tape times and pick their wardrobe. Nothing is set in stone whatsoever. These are generalizations. Most importantly: these are my generalizations. And as I am neither an agent or a manager, take this with the usual amount of salt.
I was told when I first moved to LA that getting a manager was the best first move. Why? Because they are usually more helpful in getting actors on their feet and more likely to take on developmental actors (meaning actors with little to no credit/experience in the business). Known to be more hands on with things like headshots, managers are often a good starting place for new actors as they are more likely to offer career guidance at every step. My first ever rep was a manager, whom I was referred to by a small market Casting Director I auditioned many times for in college.
However, some people disagree with managers being the best move out of the gate. Their argument is they have nothing to “manage” when actors are new or don’t require career advisement just yet. As managers are often the go-between for actors to agents/lawyers/producers/PR…if you don’t have any of these, they may not have a lot to work on. Although they will usually actively send their clients out for auditions, if all you need is auditions, then an agent may be more your speed. But a big job of managers is often times helping you get an…
Yes there are several kinds of agents, for example I have Print, Voice Over, Commercial, and Theatrical agents (all separate women in my case, love my strong female team). But for the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on theatrical (aka film and television, also called legit agents in other markets). Often times the struggle to get a theatrical agent, especially in large markets like LA, is truly difficult. An agent’s job is to get you auditions and it is your job to book the work. Most do a hell of a lot more of course (negotiating contracts, pitching clients nonstop) but keeping this in mind gives you a great distinction from the expectations of an agent vs. a manager.
Why is it so much harder to get an agent than a manager? Firstly SAG-AFTRA specifically franchises agents and they get licensed by their individual state, unlike managers who do not have to be employed by a larger licensed company (although many are). Secondly, agents also pitch clients (us actors) all damn day, meaning taking on clients that aren’t easily pitch-able to casting would be a big time/energy suck. Not that any of you reading this aren’t incredibly talented and hard working, but that doesn’t mean you are ready to be pitched to casting tomorrow (we can talk more about that later).
As you can tell, the difference between the two is often razor thin. I know several accomplished actors who have one, both, or none of these reps at any given time in their career. Twenty years ago there was much more of a distinction, but as the industry progresses, so do our tiers of reps. What you need may change as grow with your career, so the most important things to focus on is your work/craft, keeping yourself relevant and cast-able in your market, and maintaining a sense of patience. Trust me, I know in my soul how easy it is to get caught up in the rep-chasing game…it can feel like a full time job. But I promise you if you have all of these on lock, eventually it will work its way out.