A talent agent can open up doors for actors and get them auditions and bookings that the huge majority of people never hear about.
Don’t believe me?
Just ask Ethan.
Ethan was a teen celebrity who had signed up for an on-camera acting workshop I was teaching. He had some theatrical experience but had not done any on-camera acting before. However 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 only 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 celebrity with almost no experience in front of a camera got booked on a major cable network TV show because he found the right agent.
Can you imagine the 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 begins with finding a excellent agent to represent you.
Where do you find a talent agent?
And how do you know they’re legit?
And not going to rip you off?
Among the best pieces of advice I will give to some actor starting out is to work with what is known as a union-franchised service (or agent).
There are numerous unions that you might deal with 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 to become SAG-AFTRA, one joint union to represent all celebrities for on-camera work.
There are pros and cons for actors 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 on. They also guarantee certain working conditions, and offer actors health insurance, retirement, and other benefits.
If you reside in one of the many, many smaller markets across the country that doesn’t have plenty of consistent work for union actors, this could be a huge drawback.
But the question of whether or not you should join the union is a debate for another day.
The main thing for ANY actor to understand is how unions work with talent agencies.
Benefits of working with a union-franchised agency
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 in order to be able to represent union actors.
It does NOT mean that you will need to join the union so as to utilize these agencies.
In actuality, for most actors residing outside of a significant market like LA or NYC, I usually suggest that you don’t join the union (but that is a longer conversation for another time).
What it does mean is that these agencies are highly regulated by SAG-AFTRA, and have agreed to certain conditions for all their celebrities, union members or not.
These conditions include:
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 fee for getting actors auditions
the bureau Can’t be connected with an acting school or teach any courses or workshops within an agency
there cannot be an in-house photographer or specific third party photographer that actors are required to use
they can only charge actors 10% commission for SAG-AFTRA tasks (they could charge higher commission for non-union jobs, generally 15-20percent )
Union-franchised agencies only get paid when they get work for their actors. They are usually a safe haven from the many scams out there designed to rip off unsuspecting actors.
Does this mean that non-franchised talent agencies can not be trusted? Or that you shouldn’t 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 business.
And there are many that seem to be legit UNTIL you begin to work together and end up wasting your time and your money.
So that is the reason why I always recommend that actors try to work with a union-franchised service when first starting out.
How to Discover a union-franchised talent agency
Locating a franchised agency near you is easy-go to SAG-AFTRA’s franchised agent page on their website at https://www.sagaftra.org/professionalrepresentatives and look for those services in the market closest to where you live.
Do not be afraid to expand your search past just your local area-you could even check within a few 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 auditions and submit them to the agency.
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’re audition.
There may be a number of non-franchised agencies that are closer to where you live.
Many will be totally above board, and give you access to some of the very same auditions and bookings that you’d get if you were signed to a franchised agency.