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A lot of people wonder why some actors aren't in the press as much as others. This leads to questions regarding what an agent does, and where the heck is the publicist when you need him?
What does an agent do?
The agent works on the actor's behalf to get him employment. They'll contact film and TV productions and give them a pitch as to why they should hire the actor. An agent's sole purpose is to get the actor a job.
Some actors may have more than one agent when working abroad. So while someone is based in London, but does a lot of work in the US, for example, they will likely hire an agent in Los Angeles or New York to look for US work, while keeping the one they have London for roles in the UK. Also, some actors might have more than one agent who is a specialist in a different part of the industry. For example, an actor who also does voiceovers might have a separate agent who specializes in just that. Or maybe one is a singer as well, or has a band. So they will have someone who has expertise in booking concerts.
If a producer likes an actor enough, can't he be an agent and get him work?
Unlike the music industry where an agent or manager can be anyone who has the knack for booking gigs or lining up appearances, agents in the TV/film industry are licensed professionals who adhere to strict government laws. Agents are also unionized. So no one can just become an agent out of the blue. They carry a reputation. This is why you'll hear about actors leaving one agency for another. It's a big deal for the actor and the agency.
As for the producer, he is like a CEO of a company. His job is to make films and TV shows. It's not in his best interest to spend time promoting an actor unless it's for his own project. If anything, the final product - his film - is advertisement enough from him to the actor and back. It's win-win situation when you combine a great talent in acting with a maestro producer. If he really likes an actor, then - like Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio - the producer will just keep casting the actor in his own films.
What's the difference between an agent and a manager?
In the music industry, very little. However, in the film industry there's a big difference. Managers cannot find work for actors. They serve mainly as advisors. If they do have contacts in the industry, they could make an effort to convince them to hire the actor, but the agent is the one who has to seal the deal.
Unlike agents, anyone can be a manager. There are no laws regulating managers at this time.
Not all actors have managers. It's their choice as to whether they want one or not. Some may have business managers, which handle the financial end. Some managers might also take on the task of a personal assistant, keeping the actor's schedules and making sure the actor is on time for appointments or on set on time, etc.
What about casting directors?
Casting directors are hired by the production company to work solely on filling the roles needed for the film or TV show. Agents will send the casting director a photograph (head-shot) with a resume of the actor. They may also send the casting director a demo or showreel. If the actor appears to match what the production is seeking, the casting director will contact the agent to request that the actor to come in to read (audition) for the part.
Let's talk about auditions for a minute. What's the difference between a screen test and an audition?
Sometimes there isn't one. An audition can involve standing in front of one person or a group of people and performing a monologue or a few lines from a script. Sometimes you might even try out with someone already cast in the show.
A screen test is an audition that is filmed. You perform in front of a camera and they film your work to see how you'd look on screen. They may also take the recordings to the producers so that they can have a look at it as well and make the final decisions.
If they like you, there will be at least two or three call backs. They will contact you (through your agent) and ask you to return for another audition, this time in front of the producers. Then they may call you back again to audition for the network or production company who has the final say as to whether you'd fit in the part or not.
Once you've got work, what about getting press coverage? Doesn't the agent or manager do that as well?
That's the publicist's job. As the name suggests they are involved in publicity. They send out press releases to newspapers, schedule interviews with magazines and schedule appearances on talk shows. They can also be involved with public appearances as well.
Most publicity, if not captured by tabloids or paparazzi photos, usually surrounds the release of a film or TV show. No matter how famous they are, most actors rarely grant interviews unless they're promoting a film or TV show that's being released in the near future. If the actor does not have any films or TV shows coming up, they may not be in the limelight as much. All this is coordinated by the publicist who works for the film/TV project and not the actor. When the actor signs a contract to work on a film/TV series, they also are signing an agreement to do publicity for it. And this is all arranged by someone employed by the production company.
Some actors who aren't promoting a project can keep out of the limelight quite easily, while others might choose to stay in it even if they're not involved in a project. This is intentional in some cases not for their own vanity, but to keep themselves on the radar for a future project. The more press they get during their downtime, the more appealing a casting director will find them for an upcoming film.
When it comes to their own personal publicity, it's up to the actor to decide if they wish to go that route or not. If they choose to self-promote, then they would hire their own personal publicist. This can be costly, and in many cases, some actors decide it's not worth it to go this route, opting instead to have their work speak for itself.
Publicists not only schedule appearances and interviews, but they also advise the interviewers as to what they can and cannot ask as far as personal questions are concerned. They also might give the interviewer some topics to address. If the actor is promoting a film, the topics will be relevant to that, but they can also list any interesting anecdotes in general that the actor would be happy to chat about in the interview.
Aside from the paparazzi camping out at certain venues, how does the press find out about an actor's appearance somewhere?
It depends. If they're alerted ahead of time, usually the publicist, manager or someone else close to the actor is the one making the call. If they just happen to be "spotted" somewhere, it could be by anyone these days. And with camera phones anyone can be a paparazzo for the day, although I don't encourage that. It's better to ask the actor if it's okay to take a photo of them. We have to remember that they're human like us and they're just as entitled to have they're not so glamorous days just like the rest of us.
Don't managers handle the guest appearances and publicity?
Anyone can call themselves a manager. There's really no way to know who is official and who isn't, though there are some who have garnered a good reputation as managers of successful people, and as a result they may have the connections. Not all managers have that clout, however, and sometimes it's best to adhere oneself to a publicity firm that does have the connections and the reputation. Again, hiring a manager is an option and not a necessity. Performers may hire them to be the voice of reason in a situation that may involve financial and/or legal issues. In some respects the manager is much closer to the actor because they only manage a few people as opposed to agents and publicists who work hundreds of clients.
Say I want try out at some auditions. Where do I start?
There are a few ways to find out about auditions. One way is via ads in trade publications like Backstage. This paper specializes in audition listings for film, TV and the stage.
You can also check on websites that list casting calls and auditions. Beware of sites asking you to pay for this information. They may not be as reputable. Also be wary of ads in the classified sections of local papers. If there was a true casting call, they'd put a ad in the body of the paper, not in small print in the classified section with just a phone number.
Another way is hire an agent. If you have any performances on video that are worth showing to an agent, it wouldn't hurt to make a brief demo of your best work or hire someone to make it for you.
Word of mouth is also a good way to find out about auditions, but it's not the best or easiest way.
Before you try any of these avenues, get some photographs taken of you. Head shots (close-ups of your face) are preferred. It's wise to use a professional photographer (Backstage lists several) who has experience with headshots. And be prepared to be charged a hefty price.
How do I find an agent?
There are a few publications that have listings. Again, stick with the trade papers and not an ad in the local classifieds. Backstage and Ross Reports are good places to start. You can probably check the website for The Hollywood Reporter for leads and links as well.
Most of all you need to be able to take rejection and have resilience. Good luck.
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