A talent agent can open up doors for actors and get them auditions and reservations that the vast majority of people never hear about.
Don’t believe me?
Just ask Ethan.
Ethan was a teen celebrity who’d signed up for an on-camera acting workshop I was teaching. He had some theatrical experience but hadn’t done any on-camera acting previously. But he was very talented and enthusiastic, and after the workshop, I invited him to meet with me in the talent agency I worked at to discuss representation.
We ended up signing Ethan, and within just a few months, we got him booked on a significant supporting role in Spike TV’s The Kill Point, starring Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo.
This teen actor with almost no experience in front of a camera got booked on a major cable network TV show because he found the ideal agent.
Can you imagine the auditions and bookings you would have access to if you signed with the right agency?
It all starts with finding a excellent agent to represent you.
Where do you even find a talent agent?
And how do you know that they’re legit?
And not going to rip you off?
Among the best pieces of advice I will give to any actor starting out is to work with what’s called a union-franchised agency (or broker ).
SAG and AFTRA used to be their own separate marriages, but in 2012 the two merged to become SAG-AFTRA, one combined union to represent all celebrities for on-camera work.
There are pros and cons for celebrities who are a part of SAG-AFTRA.
The marriage guarantees that they have paid a certain minimum wage for any on-camera work they get booked . They also guarantee specific working conditions, and offer celebrities health insurance, retirement, and other benefits.
If you live in one of the many, many smaller markets around the country that doesn’t have plenty of consistent work for union actors, this could be a massive drawback.
But the question of whether or not you ought to join the union is a debate for another day.
The important thing for ANY actor to understand is how unions work with talent agencies.
SAG-AFTRA issues businesses to qualified talent agencies that meet specific requirements.
These are known as union-franchised agencies.
These agencies must employ, pay a free, and be approved by SAG-AFTRA so as to have the ability to represent union actors.
It does not follow that you will need to join the union so as to utilize these agencies.
In actuality, for most actors living outside of a significant market like LA or NYC, I usually recommend that you don’t join the union (but that’s a longer conversation for another time).
What it does mean is that these agencies are highly regulated by SAG-AFTRA, and have all agreed to certain conditions for all their actors, union members or not.
The agency must make its income almost exclusively through commissions they get when they get work for the celebrities they represent
they cannot charge a commission for getting actors auditions
the agency cannot be connected with an acting school or teach any courses or workshops within an agency
there cannot be an in-house photographer or special third party photographer that actors are required to use
they could only charge actors 10 percent commission for SAG-AFTRA tasks (they can charge higher commission for non-union jobs, generally 15-20percent )
Union-franchised agencies only get paid when they get work for their celebrities. They are generally a safe haven in the many scams out there designed to rip off unsuspecting actors.
Does this imply that non-franchised talent agencies can not be trusted? Or that you should not sign with them?
Of course not.
They work hard to find work for the celebrities they represent, and they simply have the best of intentions.
But finding out which of these non-franchised agencies are reputable and which ones are a scam is something which comes with a great deal of experience working in that industry.
And there are many that appear to be legit UNTIL you start to work together and wind up wasting your time and your money.
So that is why I always recommend that actors attempt to work with a union-franchised service when first starting out.
How to find a union-franchised talent agency
Locating a franchised agency near you is easy-go to SAG-AFTRA’s franchised agent page on their website in https://www.sagaftra.org/professionalrepresentatives and search for those services in the market closest to where you live.
Do not be afraid to expand your search beyond just your regional area-you could even check within a couple hour radius of where you live.
It may be harder to get to auditions in person, but there may be opportunities for you to self-tape your own auditions and submit them to the bureau.
It’s far better to find the franchised agency that will be the best fit for you, and then figure out the logistics of how and when you’ll audition.
There may be many non-franchised agencies which are closer to where you live.
Many of them will be completely above board, and give you access to some of the very same auditions and bookings that you would get if you’re signed to a franchised agency.