Do You Need a College Degree?
Skilled talent agents don't just recognize talent; they also know what will put their clients at the top of the list of their particular trades. In movies, we call it the A-list.
Being a talent agent is a demanding job for any newbie to film. This field requires knowledge of marketing, law, promotions, and public relations.
You need a college degree—at least an AA in marketing. Most successful talent agents hold a degree in business law.
A talent agent may work for various people that have specific talents. The most common, of course, are actors, but others who work with talent agents include models, singers, musicians, directors, screenwriters, authors, and professional athletes.
Being a star is an agent's dream, not an actor's.
— Robert Duvall
How Does an Agency Work?
Talent agents usually pick a talent to work with and stick with that type throughout their careers. Many choose to work exclusively with children, professional athletes, or authors. Some work with television series actors, commercial actors or film actors, or high-profile celebrities.
The larger agencies create package deals with studios where they include the actor, screenwriter, and director clients in the same movie production deal.
The larger talent agencies provide training programs, called internships, for individuals interested in a career as a talent agent. At first, the agency requires the intern to do errands and paperwork; there's very little to do with working directly with talent.
I wish to be cremated. One-tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract.
— Groucho Marx
Is It Like Ari Gold in Entourage?
Whether or not being a talent agent is like Ari Gold in Entourage, it is crucial to know that the entertainment business is all about the "business."
If you want to be a talent agent, you need to be dedicated and willing to work hard and be a part of the business of making movies, taking in sports, or reading a lot of scripts. Whatever niche you pick, make sure you love it to death and are willing to support your clients for blood.
Learn the Rules
When you join a talent agency, it is very wise to learn the rules of the land. You need to find out the dos and don’ts of the group. You do not want to step on anyone’s toes or make a blunder that could cost the agency in money and reputation.
When an agency hires you, you begin as an assistant. The agency assigns you to an experienced agent, and you help them with their clients. How long you are in that position depends on how hard you work and how well you get along with other people in the agency. If you have a speciality like law or public relations, you can move up relatively soon, within a year or two.
What Does a Talent Agent Do?
Here are everyday tasks an agency does:
- Meet with current or potential clients to find out what type of talent they need for their upcoming projects and make talent suggestions.
- Promoting talent to different clients through networking and public relations is primary in setting up auditions and jobs.
- Schedule or book appointments to attract work for talent. Regulations and appropriate working hours and regulations need to adhere to by the agent and agency.
- Market the talent agency itself to obtain more talent. Procuring talent is a very competitive aspect of an industry town. So, keep your wits about you.
- Collect fees due upon booking of auditions or obtaining employment of talent. Billing requires a 30-day cycle.
- Arrange classes and workshops, such as voice, acting, and specialized training, so that the talent can advance in their craft.
Agencies Keep Track of Residuals
A friend of mine heard a commercial she starred in went regional, which should have meant more pay (residuals) for her as an actor. Without an agent, it would have been trying for her to prove the increase in residuals.
She contacted her agent and explained to him what had happened. He immediately called the company responsible and got her residuals plus penalty fees. The agent earned his 10% fee, as well.
An agency's job is to keep track of its clients' residuals. Clients should receive residuals each time a commercial, TV, or movie airs on a network, cable, or streaming outlet.
Every time I try to retire or even think of retiring from acting, my agent comes up with a script.
— Anthony Hopkins
Differences Between "Union" and "Non-Union" Towns
In "union towns," union agencies are registered with the unions and follow the rules according to what the organization states. Working for a union agency is the ideal way to go because everyone in the business is on the same page. Study the union rules on your own: the right way is the union way.
Non-union agencies are not regulated, so they operate under different rules than union agencies. They can throw you a curve and present you with unexpected situations.
Your options are limited when looking for work as a talent agent in a non-union or non-industry town. Try locating and listing the agencies within a 100-mile radius. Meet with each owner or manager and see if there is any way you can help the agency. Ask to intern for three months and then be considered for a permanent position.
Is Being a Talent Agent for You?
I don't think being an agent is a cushy job. It takes hard work and dedication to work with the talent you support to the core. It's also a people-person job that requires handholding and knowing when to offer sound advice to your client.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2007 Kenna McHugh
Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on June 27, 2019:
J.K., I agree with you that some agencies and agents get a bad rap. It's a tough business.
J.K. on June 27, 2019:
I read some of the comments and your article. I am impressed with your information. Sometimes, agents get a bad rap, and it isn't fair. Your article and answers to the comments are good and accurate. I've known some outstanding agencies and agents. Most of them are semi-retired or passed away. God bless them!
Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on December 04, 2018:
Wendi, I haven't heard anything about a sequel to the original Entourage. That doesn't mean one isn't in pre-production.
Wendi on December 04, 2018:
This article has a lot of good information about becoming an agent. Do you know if Entourage is ever coming back to television or are they making another movie?
Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on November 09, 2015:
Thank you InsasiaSic. Do you work in film? Please visit again.
InsasiaSic on November 09, 2015:
Maintain the awesome work !! Lovin' it!
Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on November 13, 2014:
Read this article and let me know if it helps.
Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on June 29, 2014:
Here is a link to ATA. This should be helpful.
Oliver on June 28, 2014:
Hi Kenna, my brother is both and actor and fighter, and I would like to support him as a manager and possibly agent in the future. I want to educate myself in the field. Are there any license requirements or specific exams I need to take to be labeled as an agent or manager besides having a law degree. Thanks
Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on March 10, 2014:
You need to network. You need to go to places where you can meet agents and talk with them. Spanish is an important qualification in the industry. You need to find ways of networking through associations. My book, Breaking into Film, talks about the importance of networking. This business is based on relationships.
PLBH on March 06, 2014:
By the way, I have another question. Let's say I want to move to NY or LA this next summer. Would I be able to land a job, internship or trainning program there? remember I'm spanish and I do not have relevant work experience in this industry. I've seen big agencies have training programmes but is it easy to get in there? and more being from outside of the US?
PLBH on March 06, 2014:
I'd like to explain my situation and hopefully someone can light up my way a little bit as I'm feeling a bit down lately. I want to become a talent agent someday. I'm from Spain and I moved to London in an efford to get in touch with the creative industry. In the future I want to move to NY and LA to continue my career because I think those are the places to be even though there is a lot of competition. I haven't got much luck in London, maybe I was doing it wrong. I don't have any relevant work experience in the industry and I was trying to apply to an assistant position, entry-level position and internship but apparently there are lots of people like me! So it's been very complicated. All I've been doing is searching for agencies and emailing them persistenly my cv and covering letter. I dont know what else to do. Some of them advertise positions on their sites too. Do you think the fact that I'm spanish and my degrees were done there may be a problem? I've studied law and communications, plus I've done lots of courses about entertainment, music and talent management.
I'm very worried! I want to get some work experience so bad and learn how a talent agency works and get familiar with it but I'm not sure if I'm doing it right.
Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on October 08, 2013:
I would apply now.
Natalie on October 08, 2013:
Hi Kenna! This article/your replies have been really helpful. I'm 22, just graduated with a business degree and am interning at a PR firm in Denver now. I am thinking of moving to LA at the beginning of next year (Jan/Feb) to try and get into the agent training program at WME or one of the other big agencies, but I was wondering when the best time to send out my resume/cover letters would be. I don't want to send them out too early in case I get contacted and am still living in Denver, but I also don't want to wait too long and get to LA without any interviews set up. It seems like these programs are on an ongoing basis without a deadline, but do you have any advice on when might be the right time to apply?
Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on August 30, 2013:
Having money woes is not the best way to try to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Although working toward a career part-time might prove a way to supplement your income. Thus, pay off your debt sooner.
Many major cities in the US have a strong entertainment community. Local commercials, industrial and State films and Community Theater are prevalent. If you live in a major city, I would research and find the most successful theater group and take a class. Find out about your local entertainment industry. Who is legit? Which company has the most working actors? Casting directors? Agents?
Make sure whoever you hook up with they have an honest track record.
Hook up with a community theater, audition or help backstage – learn the ropes.
You can even take a class at a community college.
The options are endless.
Now, I am shamelessly plugging my book, Breaking into Film. There is a whole chapter on how to promote your talent to the industry. I mention cold calling. Pick up the phone call, find out what is out there in your community.
Another interesting thing to keep in mind, John Travolta once said that if he hadn’t become a super, mega star, he would have done Community Theater because he loves the industry. I think, Travolta said that because his purpose was not to make a lot of money, that’s a by-product, it’s because he loves the theater – the business.