There are a few things that everyone knows an actor needs to succeed, and one of them is a talent agent. Some auditions and roles are available without one. But the better opportunities can only be accessed by actors who have an agent submitting them to casting.
So how do you get your child an agent?
The answer depends in part on where you live, and what kind of work your child wants to do.
If you live outside of the major markets of Los Angeles and New York, it can be easier to find an agent who is willing to “take a meeting” (i.e. see your child for an audition to consider signing them for representation). This is because the competition for agents is less intense. The smaller markets also generally don’t differentiate between agents who represent youth vs. adult actors, or commercial vs. theatrical (film/TV). This means you are more likely to find agents who simply represent all types of talent for all types of work.
In these smaller markets, you may well be able to secure a meeting by simply sending in your child’s headshot and resume and a cover letter. How do you even know who to reach out to?
In minor markets you are less likely to find agents whose clients have much work on IMDb, so you may need to use Google as a starting-off point.
However outside of LA and New York, you are also more likely to find agents who operate outside of, or on the edge of standard practices. This means your research should go deeper than simply looking for names of agents to reach out to. Once you have a short list of potential agents, dig deeper. Look them up with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any/many complaints. Do another Google search with their names (names of agents as well as agencies) with the word “scam” in the search to see if there are any or many entries. Anyone can have a disgruntled client (or a jealous competitor) write a bad review. But if there seems to be a pattern, steer clear.
In the major markets of LA and New York, it can be more challenging to find an agent who is willing to take the time to meet with you and your child. Sending your kid’s headshot and resume with a cover letter is much less likely to yield any results, as most of the better agencies don’t consider unsolicited submissions. The exception to this is if your child has an unusual look, as agents are always looking to broaden their portfolios with different “types.”
Agents in the major markets also specialize. If your child wants to have opportunities in TV and film, you need a Youth Theatrical Agent. If they want to do commercials and print, you need a Youth Commercial Agent. It’s much easier to sign with a commercial agent, as they will often take anyone with a “good look” regardless of training or experience. Theatrical agents have to be choosier. They typically have fewer clients than commercial agents, and if they send out actors to audition for casting directors, those actors are expected to be ready to compete professionally.
If theatrical agents in the major markets rarely take unsolicited submissions, how can you get your kid into a meeting with one?
Sometimes you can get an industry recommendation. An acting coach, or a director who has worked with your child and who can vouch for their talent and readiness can reach out to an agent and suggest they take a meeting. This can be double-edged, as the agent may simply take the meeting as a reluctant favor. And even if your kid gets the meeting, the agent may decide they aren’t ready. Even if they love them, they may simply have too many young actors of their type already.
The most common way to get representation in the larger markets is through doing a showcase of some kind. Showcases come in all types and sizes. Some are expensive, massive events, and borderline scams. These types of showcases are also sometimes called “talent conventions.” They offer thin training in exchange for a lot of money and are not well regarded by the industry. Most of the young actors who go that route don’t get signed because they simply aren’t ready to work professionally yet.
Some showcases are hosted by well-respected acting schools, and the showcase comes after a series of classes, so the actors are generally more prepared to actually work. They are truly showcasing what they have learned. Colleges, universities, and conservatory acting training programs also end their training with an industry showcase, which is a big opportunity to find an agent.
However, you don’t just want “an” agent… you want a good one!
Do your research
Before you take a meeting with an agent in the larger markets, look them up on IMDb Pro. What kind of work are their clients doing? Is it the kind your child wants to do? Is it current? How successful are their clients? It’s better to hold out for a good agent than to sign with one who doesn’t have the clout or reputation to actually get your kid in the door to coveted auditions. You can sign with a B-list or C-list (or worse!) agent and be stuck for the length of the contract with someone who just will never be able to get your child the opportunities they want.
Additionally, in California and New York, all agents must be licensed and bonded by the state. If an agent in those two states is not licensed, they are operating illegally.
You can search the state databases for licensed agencies:
Regardless of where you live and the size of your market, no agent should ever ask for upfront fees, or charge you any money whatsoever to represent your child. Talent agents only make money when your child does, and then they should only take their commission. Standard commission rates are 10% for theatrical agents on union, scripted projects. Nonunion and commercial rates fall between 10-20%. Before signing a contract with a potential agent for your child, be sure to have an attorney who specializes in entertainment law look it over.
Wherever you live, it’s worth taking your time to find someone who is not only a good, reputable agent, but one who truly believes in your child and is excited to represent them. An agent who is on the same page as you and your child for the kind of work and career they want. Sometimes taking a little more time can result in signing with a better agent, because your kid is more ready to truly compete professionally. The more prepared your child is to step into a casting room and deliver a great audition, the more likely they are to attract a great agent.
A modified version of this post was originally published in Backstage on November 11, 2019.
The complexities of getting a young actor started safely and successfully can come as a surprise to many parents (and to young actors too!) If you need help cutting through the confusion, book a consultation session with me, either online or in person in LA. One sixty or ninety minute session can save you thousands of dollars and precious years of time, and set you on the right track. No one can guarantee success (and if they do, run the other way!) but understanding how the industry really works will maximize your odds.