A talent agent can open doors for actors and get them auditions and bookings that the vast majority of people never hear about.
Do not you believe me?
Just ask Ethan.
Ethan was a teenage actor who signed up for an on-camera acting workshop I taught. He had some theatrical experience, but had never acted on camera before. But he was very talented and enthusiastic, and after the workshop I invited him to meet with me at the talent agency where I worked to discuss representation.
We eventually signed Ethan, and within just a few months we had him booked for a major supporting role in Spike TV’s The Kill Point, starring Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo.
This teen actor with almost no camera experience was booked for a major cable TV show because he found the right agent.
Can you imagine what auditions and bookings you would have access to if you signed with the right agency?
How different would your career (and your life) be?
It all starts with finding a great agent to represent you.
Where can you even find a talent agent?
And how do you know they are legit?
And aren’t you going to drop off?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ll give any budding actor is to work with what’s called a union franchise agency (or agent).
There are several unions you may encounter as an actor: SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) are the most common when it comes to working on camera. SAG and AFTRA used to be their own separate unions, but in 2012 the two merged into SAG-AFTRA, one combined union to represent all actors for on-camera work.
There are pros and cons for actors being part of SAG-AFTRA.
The union guarantees that they will receive a certain minimum wage for all the camera work they are hired to do. They also guarantee certain working conditions and provide actors with health insurance, pension and other benefits.
However, once you are a member you can ONLY do union work on camera. If you live in one of the many, many smaller markets in the country that don’t have a lot of consistent work for union actors, this can be a huge disadvantage.
But the question of whether or not you should join the union is a debate for another day.
The most important thing for ANY actor to know is how unions work with talent agencies.
Benefits of working with a union franchised agency
SAG-AFTRA issues franchises to qualified talent agencies that meet specific requirements.
These are called union franchised agencies.
These agencies must apply, pay for free and be approved by SAG-AFTRA to represent union actors.
It does NOT mean you have to be a union member to work with these agencies.
For most actors who live outside of a major market like LA or NYC, I usually advise against joining the union (but that’s a longer talk for another time).
What it does mean is that these agencies are heavily regulated by SAG-AFTRA, and have all agreed to certain terms and conditions for ALL of their actors, unionized or not.
These conditions include:
- the agency has to earn its income almost exclusively from commissions they receive when they get work for the actors they represent
- they cannot charge a fee for getting auditions for actors
- the agency cannot be affiliated with an acting school or give lessons or workshops as an agency
- there should be no in-house photographer or specific outside photographer for actors to use
- they can charge actors as little as 10% commission for SAG-AFTRA jobs (they can charge higher commission for non-union jobs, generally 15-20%)
Union-franchised agencies only get paid if they get work for their actors. They are generally a safe haven from the many scams designed to rip off unsuspecting actors.
Does this mean that non-franchise talent agencies cannot be trusted? Or that you shouldn’t sign with them?
Of course not.
There are many very reputable non-franchise agencies that follow the same guidelines as the franchising agencies. They work hard to get work for the actors they represent, and they have only the best of intentions.
But figuring out which of those non-franchise agencies are reputable and which are scams is something that comes with a lot of experience in that industry.
And there are many that seem legit UNTIL you start working with them and end up wasting your time and money.
That’s why I always recommend actors try to work with a union-franchised agency when they first start out.
How to Find a Union Franchised Talent Agency
To find a Franchise Agency near you simply visit the SAG-AFTRA Franchise Agents page on their website at https://www.sagaftra.org/professionalrepresentatives and search for the agencies in the market closest to where you live is.
Don’t be afraid to expand your search beyond just your local area – you can even look around your hometown within a few hours.
It may be more difficult to go to auditions in person, but there may be opportunities to record and submit your own auditions to the agency.
It’s much better to find the franchise agency that’s best for you, then figure out how and when you’re going to audition.
There may be many non-franchise agencies closer to where you live.
Many of them will be completely honest and give you access to some of the same auditions and bookings you would if you were signed up with a franchise agency.
And there are those who lie to you, treat you badly, and cheat you out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
In time, you will be able to spot these bogus agencies and scam artists a mile away.
But until then, and especially if you’re just starting out in your career, I almost always recommend signing with a union-franchised agency.