For those of you who’ve been reading this column for the last few weeks, you’ve already read my quips about the state of the work ethic here in Hollywood compared to our beloved slow-moving Motherland. You may have even gained an insight or two that will help you out on this long and arduous journey toward your goal of a Hollywood career, if in fact that’s why you’re reading this. Or perhaps like me, you’re just one of those people who gains tremendous satisfaction reading about the struggles and comical tragedies of others because it makes you feel better about yourself and less alone.
So let’s not waste another moment and get to it then. I thought that by now after all my Hollywood horror stories it was only appropriate to talk about how one actually gets into an audition so that they too can have the chance to embarrass themselves. And I’m sure you know what that means. Yup, it’s time for us to go out and get ourselves an agent.
Ah, the Hollywood agent. That elusive, enigmatic creature that every actor spends what seems like half of their lifetime trying to find. Harder to catch than a gazelle, more slippery than a snake (no pun intended, of course – they’re not lawyers after all) a good agent is like finding a key to the city.
In the world of television and film an agent can make you or break you. Where a theater actor may be able to submit themselves to castings and even make a reasonable working career without an agent, there is little chance to do much of anything on the screen (either big or small) without representation – especially in Hollywood where the Agent is God.
I’ve been in the game long enough to know what kind of work this entails. Trying to find an agent is like, well…let’s put it this way. There are thousands of actors in LA. I mean it too – thousands! And there are probably a couple of hundred agencies. Of those couple hundred there are around thirty or forty good agencies. And of those thirty or forty good agencies, there are about ten or fifteen really good agencies. One need not be a mathematician to see the big picture here. The odds are obviously not in our favor – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
I can still remember the day I found my own agent; he was wry, sarcastic and delightful. He was also the only agent I met with who knew every play I had performed in, who recognized the years of study I had dedicated to my art, and who wanted to push me to do more than play a pretty woman. Now however, he calls me ‘old girl’ and talks about his prostate too much – the magic has died but we are still a hilariously good team.
All this reminiscing about my early career brings me back to the time I spent working at one of the top talent agencies in Athens. By some stroke of good fortune I was lucky enough to be hired as a booker in their talent division (despite the fact that I still couldn’t even answer a phone in Greek) and it was one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had. I would encourage any performer to do the same – you will see the business from the perspective of the people who you want to be hired by and it gives you enormous insight into what they’re looking for and why.
Working there I have to say that one thing that never ceased to amaze me is the sheer nerve of people. And I mean that – people are nervy! When I began acting I trained for two years before I even dared to call myself an “actor”. To me, that was a title reserved for someone with serious talent and experience. Apparently however, you either have it or you don’t. At least that’s what one young wannabe talent told me when he swaggered into the agency one sunny spring afternoon. Really, you don’t say?
At the talent agency there was one thing the staff agreed upon 100% – that we all hated Wednesdays equally. Why? Wednesday was walk-in day; the day when any overconfident, inexperienced, nervy person could drop by the agency without an appointment to see if they had any potential to work as a model or talent. What that really meant though was that every Wednesday was usually a big, fat waste of time. Sure there was the odd exception and we did find a small handful of talented, interesting young people who went on to do good work, but more often than not it was a bust.
Why? Because those people came in arrogantly unprepared, unwilling to work hard, unable to handle rejection and without even the slightest clue of what the business was all about. I could fill a book (maybe a series of books?) with stories about all the nervy little buggers who thought because they happen to have nice hair, or their mother’s told them they were special that they were entitled to a television career. But no-one likes someone who doesn’t work hard and expects things to come easy, especially in this business. It’s one thing to have no experience if you possess the ambition to learn and grow; it’s another thing if you don’t think you need it to begin with.
At that, back we go to Hollywood – the cradle of lazy actor/musician/producer/director wannabe’s on Earth who spend all day drinking coffee at Starbucks and working on their tans. After all, you never know when Steven Spielberg may be ordering his latte next to you? Except if you stop to think that Mr. Spielberg is probably too busy actually working to be going on a java run. Obviously though, neither country has a shortage of overconfident people.
What agent’s want is to see great training, special skills (a second language, martial arts, dialects), a good resume (even if it is indie and student films it shows you’re working at it), charisma, professionalism and fearless characters. They want to find someone special just as much as you want to be found. But it takes serious persistence and a lot of envelopes before you usually get that first meeting. Most important of all however and something that took me a long time to fully understand, is that this is a Business and therefore deserves the same level of professionalism as any other career. That means a resume, a headshot, and a cover letter. That means doing your research about that agency and the agent you want to submit to. Do they only take children? Do they have a theater division? Are they doing commercials also? Ask yourself who is the best fit even if it means hours of laboring over who and where you are best suited.
And then one day in the future maybe you too will find yourself retrieving your messages, writing down details for an audition and listening to your agent lament about his prostate. This is Hollywood babe, the place where everyone has a dream.