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New York City Agent Q & A

Equity Members and Equity Membership Candidates (EMCs) filled the Actors' Equity Association Council Room in New York for a Q & A Panel Discussion with Equity Franchised Agents on November 4th, 2010.

By setting workplace standards, creating fair compensation and protection from discrimination, Actors' Equity, over the course of 100 years, has made a profound difference for actors and stage managers. As a benefit of membership, Equity presents free educational workshops and seminars for Members and Membership Candidates. The event was sponsored jointly by the Eastern Region Membership Education Committee (Mark Aldrich, Chair) and the Agency Committee (Judy Rice, Chair). Panelists were: Liz Rosier, Hartig Hilepo Agency; Mark Schlegel, Cornerstone Agency; and Ken Melamed, Bret Adams Agency. The moderator was Councillor Judy Rice.

Ms. Rice told attendees that the purpose of the session was "to demystify the relationship" between actors and agents and "remind all of us that it is a relationship and a partnership that you create when you work together." What emerged from the discussion was that there are no absolutes in the process, no definitive answers or rules; the system is subjective and much depends on the situation and the people involved. Nevertheless, the agents continue to seek out new talent and are as happy as the actors when the actors get the job.

Here are some highlights:

Equity has established franchising regulations that permit talent agents to represent members for theatrical employment. To become a franchised agent, one must apply to the Equity Agency Department and fulfill a number of requirements. Those requirements include having a commercial office space, financial information, letters of recommendation, State incorporation documentation, State license, professional resumés, Agency office inspection, etc. Then the application is reviewed and a recommendation is made to the appropriate Regional Board. "Don't put your name on any piece of paper that involves an agency without checking with Equity, especially if you have any doubts as to whether or not they hold an Equity Franchise.," stressed John Fasulo, Equity's National Director of Membership. "Never pay anyone unless they have gotten you work. When in doubt, call Equity!" For more information on agents and a list of Equity Franchised agents visit the Agency link within the Members Only section of the Equity website.

Regarding personal managers, Equity staff cautioned that the Union does not have jurisdiction over personal managers. If you choose to sign with a manager and you are dissatisfied, please understand that, because Equity has no authority over managers, Franchise protections and rules do not apply.

What is the best way to find an agent? "I don't know the best way. You can do your mailings and your photos and other actors can refer you. I don't know if there's one set way," said one agent. Call Sheet (formerly Ross Reports) is one way to go "so you're not sending yourself to the wrong people." Also, the agents said it was important for actors to do their homework-to address the agent by name when writing and to know what kind of clients the agent does or does not represent.

How do you handle submissions for representation? "I open and look at my own mail" said one agent, "and have brought people in based on submissions. And personally, I prefer mail to email." Another agent said, "I look at submissions, specifically the referrals. I'm looking for reasons why a particular one should be pulled out of the pile. I tend to go through email submissions faster than mailed submissions."

What does an agent look for in a new client? The answers emphasized that an actor should, "Just be yourself. Do what you love and keep working on projects. The best scenario is that someone is going to see your work and they're going to feel passionately about you and you'll connect. Can you clearly and concisely convey who you are and what roles you are right for?" One agent specified: "Don't try to second-guess what an agent wants, because I probably don't know precisely what that is."

What types are you currently looking for? First agent: "We don't search out a specific type or category. You just never know when someone's going to hit you and it's really going to work. If there is someone we are interested in we'll try and find a way to make it work." Second agent: "I am less mindful of what you look like than the texture of your work. We all are always looking for great actors - somebody who is exciting." Third agent: "Client relationships are built on much more than broad stroke types e.g. age, sex, ethnicity, and look. Choosing to work with an actor is not a clinical exercise, or an exact science. It's not about specific attributes; it really is a texture thing. Much of how we do what we do is based on instinct. Funny enough, we're never looking for new clients, but we're always looking for new clients. It's a strange dichotomy -- there's not room for one more but all of a sudden, miraculously, there is, when you find that one. While we can't allow ourselves to get oversubscribed, as it's not fair to existing clients or to the new person coming in, every once in a while you will say, 'oh what the heck, let's take the leap.' "

What do you want in a cover letter for a headshot and resumé? One agent summed it up, "You personalize it; it needs to reflect you in an interesting and personalized way. Also, referrals should be emphasized in the cover letter."

How detailed should information be on a resumé? "It should be very easy to read and neat. If I start to get lost looking at a resumé, I will stop reading it." Another agent added "…and uniform -- a uniform layout makes it much easier to read."

Are there particular acting schools that you like seeing on a resumé? "I just want to see a great actor. Perhaps a particular school may help when one is just starting out, but a great actor is a great actor." "It's a short-lived piece of information and great actors can come out of any program."

College credits on a resumé - when do you take them off? "You eliminate credits as you build up credits. Everyone starts with a blank slate and slowly adds and subtracts."

What about photos? Two agents offered this advice: "It's got to be a picture that grabs you, it's your calling card, it's what gets you in the door and gets us to turn it over to look at your credits. Whether it's a head shot or three-quarter shot, it must be something that's going to interest us to the point of going to the next step." Head shots and three-quarter shots are more popular in New York, whereas full body shots are more popular in Los Angeles. And, "the picture must look like you today; that's a big thing." One agent was a proponent of just the head shot, "I feel the three-quarter shot diminishes your power, providing less impact to your face."

What about out-of-town work? The agents agreed that it is important and one agent said: "Regional theatre is fantastic. You meet playwrights and upcoming directors; it's where you establish a lot of relationships. I think it can be a great experience."

The agents also agreed that it is important that actors work- even at low paying jobs, showcases or short films. "Work is work. Work is good." And, "Work begets work and you're more confident auditioning."

How much of getting the part is based on knowing someone vs. sheer talent? The agents all agreed, "We don't know - we wish we did." It was agreed that knowing someone has tremendous value, but you have to have the talent to back it up.

How should an actor respectfully inform his/her agent of roles for which he/she is hoping to be submitted? An agent responded: "Know who you are and what roles you can really play; be discriminating and polite."

What about "paying" to meet casting directors and agents? The agents recommended that you research both the organization presenting the "meeting" and all of its participants, then weigh the cost against the potential value.

How long do you traditionally freelance with an Actor? One agent responded "A freelance relationship equates somewhat like a 'dating period'. Ultimately it depends on each party. We might freelance for a very short or very long time or forever. It depends on who the actor is and what's going on in the business." Another agent said, "It's difficult to give an exact answer; it really varies from person to person. Some people want to freelance. It just depends on the individual."

After an audition or callback is it appropriate to ask your agent for feedback from the artistic team? One agent remarked, "One of my colleagues says that, 'Your feedback is the callback or the job'. Casting Directors are often so busy, it's sometimes difficult to get feedback." Another agent weighed in saying, "Ask, but sometimes it's just not possible. It's important in the beginning to get feedback but it becomes less important as you learn to read the room. Your own radar can become pretty acute. But when it's that job, and you want to know you kicked it out of the park - I want to know that, too!"

The final question was: What are you most proud of as an agent?

Liz Rosier: "I'm in love with actors. I've never wanted to be an actor. I've just always admired actors and think you guys are really brave people and I'm in awe of you. I'm really proud to be an agent, to advocate for people who I believe in and believe in art, and to have good relationships with my clients."

Mark Schlegel: "I'm proud because recently I celebrated my 20th anniversary with four clients. I can't believe they've stayed with me and they still listen to me and they still talk to me. I don't do anything but sell people's skills. And, when people out in the world ask, 'How do you make a living? When do you make money?,' I say, 'When they get the job.' So, I'm proud that I've stuck it out for 28 years in this crazy business."

Ken Melamed: "More than proud, I would say what excites me is when my instincts are right about you and when you get that job, whether it's your first Broadway show, or whether it's an Off-Broadway show, or a big movie or something else that's fantastic. I'm also proud of my relationship with my clients. I love actors. I can't believe that you do what you do. I don't know how you do it."

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