FAQ: What you need to know if your child is begging you to find them an agent

Amy Hume answers your most Frequently Asked Questions about getting an agent, so that you feel prepared to discuss the possibility with your child.

1. Should my child get an agent?

Some students express interest in getting a talent agent as they want the opportunity work in film, television or theatre. Having a talent agent is the best way to hear about ongoing casting opportunities and will help ensure your child is looked after in the industry.

A talent agent will submit you for auditions with casting directors. Every now and then a casting agency will hold an “open call” audition which means they’ll see anyone for an audition, even if you don’t have an agent. It’s possible to hear about casting opportunities that way by “following” the casting agents on social media and keeping an eye out for open calls. Most of the time however a casting agent will only see someone if they have representation. So if your child is serious about getting auditions and going to castings, having an agent is a good idea.

2. What does a talent agent do?

A talent agent serves as the person between the casting director and the talent. They liaise with the casting director to put forward the most suitable talent for a role, then negotiate the contract for the talent and take a commission. They’ll organise the audition time, and contact you with the day, location and any information about what to prepare. A talent agent is your child’s official representation in the industry – a good agent will advocate for their talent but also make sure they only send you to the appropriate castings and auditions.

3. Will we have to pay for an agent?

Agents take 10% commission on any job your child books. No more, no less. You don’t need to pay an upfront fee to join the agency. However, there are a number of necessary costs for materials that you’ll need to have before agents and casting directors see you.

a) Headshots
There are a number of wonderful headshot photographers in Sydney. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to get decent headshots, but it’s important they are good quality photographs that look like you. Over-edited, airbrushed shots will not work in your favour. If a casting director brings you into the room and you don’t look like your headshot, they won’t be pleased. Popular headshot photographers in Sydney include Sally Flegg, Daniel Asher Smith and Maryna Rothe to name a few – however it’s worth doing your own research as there are an abundance of photographers out there. Stage Milk compiled a list of other popular headshot photographers in Sydney here.

You can also ask a friend with a good quality camera and an understanding of photography to take your child’s headshots. If they look natural they are probably good!

Here are Stage Milk’s Top Tips for a Great Headshot

If you have a meeting with an agent and they specify you must have headshots done with their in-house photographer, this can be a red flag. If you already have headshots or want to go with another photographer, express that in your conversation. If it’s a non-negotiable, it could be wise to look for an agent elsewhere as upfront costs are not necessary to join an agency.

b) Showreel
A showreel is a good quality scene or compilation of scenes that displays your child’s best acting. What we mean by “good quality” is clear sound, nice lighting, and a professional edit (no shaky camera shots or dodgy sound!).

You can film a strong scene from a film with a showreel videographer (this can range from $200+). Alternatively, do some short films with reputable universities such as AFTRS, Sydney Film School and JMC Academy, and ask for footage once it’s complete.

Having some credits under your belt will also help you get in the room with the agent. Your child could do some short films, a web series, and school plays! It’s also vital your child takes acting classes so their skills are polished and they can see you are taking your craft seriously.

Once you have these materials, you can send them to agents and ask for a meeting.

4. How do we get an agent?

Finding the right agent may take some time. You want to sign with someone you trust, who believes in your talent and will fight for you to get into the audition room, and who has strong connections in the industry.

Some agencies exclusively represent children, others are dedicated to voice over, but the majority represent all actors for screen and stage.

You can view a list of NSW agencies on the MEAA website. Go through the list and research the agents (most will have websites). Look at who they currently represent and the kind of work those clients do, and from this determine if your child will be a good fit.

Once you have compiled a list of agents you think would be a suitable match for your child, it’s time to start emailing them to book in a meeting. This email should consist of your child’s headshot, showreel and list of credits. Please note it’s competitive to get meetings with agents, so it’s vital that the material you send is your child’s best work.

5. My child wins eisteddfods and gets excellent grades in drama, so we’ll definitely get an agent… Right?

Wrong. A talent agent won’t take much notice of eisteddfod results – at the end of the day, they don’t know the standard of the competition, how it was marked or who the adjudicator was. Don’t push this information onto the agent. They’ll ask the questions they need to ask and source the appropriate information.

6. Is it easy to get an agent?

Not necessarily. An agent will only want one or two people who look similar and are in a particular age group on their books – otherwise they’re taking on more people than they’ll be able to find work for. Ultimately, being selective and taking fewer people is a good thing as it means the agent is giving their time to focusing on their current clients.

7. Once we get an agent, will my child start auditioning straight away?

Not necessarily. It can take time to start auditioning as casting directors, producers and directors need to know about you and become exposed to your work.

Don’t expect huge results. The most important thing to learn about the arts industry is that work is inconsistent and never permanent. A child could be lucky to go to a number of castings in one year and then not go to any at all the following year… It depends what’s being cast and what the casting directors, writers, and creatives are looking for.

8. We found an agent and my child has an audition… Now what?

i) Be prepared to memorise a script – quickly! You may receive an audition the night before, or even the morning of, so ensure your memorising skills are up to scratch.

ii) Memorise your lines.

iii) If you are lucky enough to have also been sent the full script, read it to discover clues about the character, the setting and other relevant information that will influence how you act.

iv) Dress to suggest the character. If the film or play is set in the 16th century there is no need to hire a Victorian costume. On the other hand, it would be inappropriate to rock up wearing shorts and sneakers. Find a happy medium, in this case a long, plain skirt, or for the gentleman some trousers and long sleeved shirt.

v) Auditioning for screen is very different to auditioning for stage. In screen they are looking for you to be natural: “it’s all in the eyes!”. As the casting director is within close proximity you don’t need to use your stage skills of projection, big facial expression or large movements. Keep it simple.

vi) The casting room will consist of a camera, some lighting and the reader (which is sometimes the casting director themself). If you have any questions about movement, where you should stand or if you can sit, don’t hesitate to ask.

vii) The casting director wants you to do well – they are looking for a solution to their casting problem so bring in something unique – yourself! Go in, do your best, then leave and forget about it.

9. What should we do in the meantime?

It’s vital that your child consistently takes class so they keep learning and their skills are fresh. Otherwise, your child will get an audition and they will be rusty in their voice, memorisation and technique. By working on different scripts in class your child learns new techniques, works on different characters, and unlocks discoveries about their ability, for example emotional range. Professional actors still attend class and hire professional acting, voice and movement coaches. Bradley Cooper is a prime example, who worked with a voice coach for four months to prepare for his role in “A Star is Born”.

Read plays and acting books
The best way to learn about different roles, story structure and characterisation is by reading plays. Ancient Greek theatre and Shakespeare influenced how stories are told, and you’ll find that similar character archetypes are found in almost every text today. By reading plays your child will develop an understanding of these factors which will influence their character choices when they receive an audition.

Acting books are also a helpful way to continue learning about the craft and freshening skills.

Build your repertoire
You never know when an audition will pop up so it’s vital your child has some pieces up their sleeve ready to perform. If your child was to land an audition, they might have to go in with a one-minute monologue ready to go. Teenagers are encouraged to always have a comedic and dramatic monologue (1 – 2 minutes) they could perform if required. Your child should work on a piece continually so they are performance ready.

Remember, you never receive too much notice before an audition date – usually just a couple of days, and sometimes the script has to be memorised in that time.

Working in the arts industry can be challenging with sporadic work, high expectations and competition. However, if your child is eager to work in film, television and theatre getting an agent is the best way to move forward.

Finding an agent is an important step for performers wanting to work in the arts industry. However, there’s no “right age” to get an agent, and it’s not something you want to rush. Not all speech and drama students will want to become actors, and many will have no interest in an agent whatsoever. It’s important to consider your child’s individual circumstances and make an informed decision about seeking an agent together.