HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED
First, I want to explain the difference between poor communication and an unhealthy actor-agent relationship to make sure that's not your issue, then we'll dive into communication tips.
An actor friend of mine got in touch with me a while back to tell me about a strange interaction she had with her agent.
She'd only been signed with her for a few months.
She said, "I think this is weird. I'm not sure if this is right."
When I heard and read the really negative comments being made to my friend, that I knew were not true about her, I was shocked.
I said, "Look, you need to be done with this particular agency. You need to write your 30-day written notice. This is not just an issue of poor communication. This is straight up unhealthy."
So when you have a negative feeling, or you feel like there's a red flag that goes beyond poor communication, ask other people in this business that you trust for their opinion.
You may need to make the hard decision to step away from your agency.
If you're wondering, "Should I change my acting agent?" then ask yourself, "Is this interaction good for me?"
I want you to listen to that warning if you have it because that shouldn't be the case.
Communication is one of the key components of an actor-agent relationship.
After hearing about my friend's issue, I immediately wrote my agency a quick email saying, "Hey, thanks so much for always looking for the silver lining and trying to stay positive. I really appreciate that. Here's what I just heard from another friend, and I'm glad that's not true for us."
That type of negative interaction is not anything I would ever expect my agency to do. so I let them know I was thankful.
I shot them an email instead of writing them a card (video) like I do for booked gigs.
Healthy communication can be that simple. If you're thankful for something, tell your agent! They're humans that need encouragement, too.
If you are in a good situation, and I hope you are like I am, then I want you to be proactive. We're gonna break down tips and tricks that I've personally used in this post.
Hey if you don't have an agent yet, actor friend, that's okay. You're gonna get one one day.
So stick with me because there's really a lot of trial and error in this business for figuring out what works and what doesn't.
I mean outside of learning your craft and getting coaching on your talent it's like, "Where's the manual? Someone tell me!"
So I want you to hear these tips and tricks about what the actor-agent relationship should look like in case you're asking yourself, "I have an acting agent--now what?"
HOW OFTEN TO EMAIL
Sometimes I hear actors talk about how often they contact their agents, and my stomach hurts because I always want actors to communicate from a place of confidence.
Initiating conversation from a place of confidence is a good way to keep the actor-agent relationship healthy.
I, too, have written an email that I regretted because it sounded insecure in hindsight since it was so wordy.
Communicating from a place of power is also dependent on how often you communicate. The first tip is that I want you to send out an email to your agent maybe once a quarter.
I don't even do it that often if I know I haven't provided them with what they asked for in a prior communication.
For example, I know my agent needs more film footage from me since I have a lot of commercial clips.
I sent them a couple of film clips after that request, only one of which they liked enough to use.
I also recently uploaded new headshots.
So if I were to contact them with the same question right now, what do you think they would say?
The same dang thing. They need more film footage!
Ergo, there's no need for me to ask them again if everything is up-to-date except for what they've already requested.
When you are ready to check in with them, keep it simple. Say, "Hey what do you need from me right now?"
You may get feedback you didn't realize was an issue.
What if they need a certain look or type of footage that you thought you'd already uploaded but isn't translating the way you hoped? You won't know unless you ask.
If you're not bombarding them a million times a week with emails, it's more likely you'll get a detailed response.
They see things differently on that end of the submission table, and good agents are aware of current casting trends that you may not recognize.
Be proactive. Don't wait on them to get in touch with you. This is your career. You check in with them, just don't do it too often.
Again, I don't want you to come across as desperate or needy.
You also need to be prepared to follow through on whatever notes they give you, so that might mean waiting until you're financially ready to get new headshots if you know it's time to update them.
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ASKING FOR AUDITION FEEDBACK
I've heard a lot of different opinions on this topic, so I'll share my experience.
I do not ask for audition feedback. I've never once asked my agent to contact a casting director for me, but I've had casting directors reach out to my agent about me for positive feedback.
Typically, if a casting director wants to send you notes, they're gonna contact your talent agent, then your talent agent is gonna send that to you.
I've also had a situation where I was in an actual casting office and one of the casting directors came up to me to give me feedback face-to-face about a particular client really liking me.
She didn't need to take time out of her day to tell me that, but she did.
They will tell you! The information will get to you, okay? Casting directors love giving actors good news or helping them reach the next level when they see potential.
When you do get that golden, rare in-person audition now-a-days, I want you to pay attention to what they're saying to you while you're in the room. That's feedback!
You may notice that casting directors are giving you the same note over-and-over again. That's feedback.
You may notice that they consistently ask you to try again without moving too much. That's feedback.
The best time for you to ask casting for feedback directly is while you're in the room. You already have them as a captive audience, but make it quick and specific.
Weak Question: Do you think I'm a good actor?
Strong Question: Do you feel like I took the note you gave me, or should I go further next time?
Weak Question: Are my auditions good?
Strong Question: Are my objectives being clearly communicated?
Weak Question: Why am I not getting more callbacks?
Strong Question: How's my energy when I walk into the room?
I think this is best done when you're in a solo audition on a low-key audition day. Avoid days when the lobby is packed. Never ask for feedback at a callback in front of a client.
Notes will go through the right channels if you need it, that channel being your talent agent, if not to you directly in the room. There's no need to email your talent agent in my experience.
Go with your gut on this, but my two cents is that I haven't asked for it, and I've gotten it.
CELEBRATE YOUR ANNIVERSARY
Are you happy that you have a talent agent? Have you heard all of the actors that don't have talent agents talk about how hard it is to get one?
Actor friend, send a gift to your agent at least once per year, okay?!
If they don't celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, but you know their birthday, send something for their birthday.
I think the strongest, best option is to send something on the anniversary of your contract signing.
Do you know when that is? You should still have your contract somewhere so that you can look at it.
I kept thinking mine was in July, and for the longest time I would intro my social media videos saying, "I signed with my agent in July of 2016." It was actually in May.
And I thought, "You know what? I need to go check my contract and see."
You should know where you put that contract. You should have a date on that contract.
Find that date so that for every additional year they say yes to you, you can say thank you to them by sending a gift.
Get comfortable expressing gratitude. Your gift does not need to be super expensive.
It just needs to be thoughtful.
I have an entire bonus section on gift giving for every price range (including free) in my Actor Boss Thank You Cards download.
CONFIRM OR DECLINE EVERYTHING
I'm always surprised at how often I see audition emails or postings that need to highlight a request to confirm or decline an audition.
This is a very standard practice for our industry.
Confirm or decline every single audition no matter what.
It's super quick and simple to shoot them back an email.
Sometimes you'll be instructed to decline through the system (i.e. Actors Access), but I say send your agent an email as well letting them know you did.
I declined through the system once, and my agent didn't see it, so they reached out to me a couple of days later reminding me to submit the audition.
So play it safe if you're declining through a casting system, and email your agent letting them know you declined.
Hey Actor Boss, you do not need to give a lot of detail about why you're declining. Some of the best advice I've ever gotten was to simply put "not available." Your agent will reach out to you if they're curious as to why, but even then, keep it short and sweet.
Speaking of short and sweet, keep all of your emails to the point. If your email is a paragraph, ask yourself how you can compress it down to two sentences max.
I like to add details to my confirmation emails just to make sure we're on the same page.
So I will say, "Confirmed Tues 11/12 at (Casting Office Name) 1:00pm Thanks," because sometimes the date and times don't match so they may catch that and clarify.
Also, I made a mistake once of writing a huge long email to my talent agent without giving them a heads up it was coming.
It was in reference to information security, so I should've sent them a short email asking them if I could send them more info about the topic first.
BOOKING OUT AND REMINDERS
I recently booked out for vacation, and when I got back, there was an audition email in my inbox for a SAG commercial that I hadn't responded to!
So I'm now implementing a new system.
Spurgeon's 3-Step Booking Out Process:
First, please book out and let your agent know if you won't be available to audition, even via self-tape.
If you can't go to an in-person audition, but you can self-tape, then don't book out.
I would still send them an email letting them know that you can't do any in-person auditions, but will have access to self-taping. If they forget, just request a self-tape in lieu of the in-person.
But I personally book out when I can't attend an in-person or film a self-tape.
I let them know that I'm on vacation, and I'm not working or self-taping.
Let's park here for a second. Are you okay fully booking out and stepping away from auditions for a few days? You really need that freedom to clear your mind and get away sometimes.
Are you planning your weeks and months in advance?
Because if you're not, it's gonna be hard for you to know when those book out dates are coming up in your schedule.
I try to book out at the beginning of the month by saying, "Hey here are all of my book out dates for April."
Sometimes things will happen a little closer to the date, and I'll need to book out last minute. That's ok! Just be sure to do it.
It's so crucial to let your agent know because they need to go into your casting profile to mark those dates.
That's something only they can do, at least on Breakdown Services, that actors don't have access to on Actors Access yet.
Your agent needs to fill that audition spot with different talent if you're unavailable, which makes the casting director's life easier as well.
Include a reason for booking out if you want, but keep that short, too.
USE THE BEST WORDS
Lastly, let's talk about the words you use with your agent.
We need to be generous and affirming in our conversations.
I try to say things to my agent like, "Hey here are these five new headshot options. Which ones are your favorite? I trust your opinion."
Tell them you trust their opinion. Do you trust their opinion? Because if you don't, you might need another talent agent.
I know that my agents have been in this business a lot longer than I have, and they know what's going on over on their side of the table a lot more than I do.
Sometimes, trust in your agent will get tested, like with any relationship.
I had a piece of footage rejected and that was hard for me. I thought it was a great piece of footage but they said, "Hey this isn't right, for this reason," and they explained why to me.
I said, "Okay, I trust you with that."
Your agent should take the time to provide you with explanations or feedback if they reject your materials so that you know what to do next time.
If they do reject something, don't take it too hard. Walk it off for maybe thirty minutes, then realize they have your best interest in mind because that's also their best interest.
The more your acting income increases, the more their revenue and exposure increases. Their success is dependent on yours, so they want you to succeed.
Say nice things. Affirm them. They're humans, too.
Has this helped you better understand the secret of a happy actor-agent relationship?
Comment to let me know which points caught your attention.
I'd also love to hear any additional advice you have about interacting with your agent.
If you know any actors that need to see this post, feel free to share it on social.
Do you currently have a talent agent? How long have you been with them?
The next post will be all about the one thing that is no longer a best marketing practice for actors and what you should do instead.
I'll explain why and give you lots of really good tips and tricks that you can start applying ASAP.
I'm gonna bet it's something you're not doing yet, but it will make a huge difference in your working relationships if you do.
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HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED
I was on set recently chatting with another actor and we had this rare opportunity where the director was hanging out with us.
They're usually really busy on a shoot.
Instead of utilizing this moment, guess what happened?
I noticed she was shifting her weight and looking around as if she needed someone else to talk to. Yikes.
We weren't including her in the conversation! We were just talking about actor things.
What most actors do (and we're all guilty of it) is we somehow shift the conversation to talking about ourselves and all of our booked gigs.
There's a reason our brains move in that direction.
We're validating that we're actors, that we've booked, and we almost need to hear ourselves say our bookings out loud to remind ourselves of this truth.
Instead, I want you to be an actor that asks questions.
This is the first step in becoming an actor everyone loves on set.
Good news! Asking thoughtful questions has nothing to do with how talented you are.
Talent and professionalism are an expectation: we show up, know our lines, make strong choices, and are able to swap those choices out when asked.
I'm gonna give you three questions to help you kickstart conversations in this post and explain why they're important.
You can ask these questions regardless of who you're interacting with on set to get a conversation rolling.
WHY ASK QUESTIONS?
If you think constantly self-promoting is the answer, think again.
I was so excited to work with an actor on a shoot this year that I have admired from afar for some time now.
We were on set all day together.
He was fantastic at just asking people questions.
I'm talking all day. I'm talking a 12 hour plus a day. It was crazy.
And he has a very established resume with TV shows that I know you watch that are very popular shows.
Still, he was great at being interested and not just trying to be interesting.
He books, and I'm telling you there's a correlation.
Let's look at another reason you should ask questions.
Sometimes it just so happens that you do end up interacting with the director when you're on a break.
I was on lunch break once, and the director came and sat at my table. Oh snap.
If that happens to you, I want you to be prepared to ask normal questions that take the focus away from you and put it onto the other person.
Hey, that sounds just like a scene! See? You're already good at this.
Let's start with an easy icebreaker question.
First ask, "Are you from here?" If it's obvious they're not then ask, "Hey where are you from?"
You're gonna get some backstory about how they ended up there or if they're from the area.
Why does this matter?
You never know if you guys share a similar story, city, or acquaintance. There's nothing that bonds people more than commonality in my opinion.
Yale cites a study by Avner Ben-Ner and Amit Kramer entitled Do We Prefer People Who Are Similar to Us? Experimental Evidence on Giving and Work Behaviors (pdf link) completed at the University of Minnesota:
"Our findings indicate that people are more willing to give to, share an office with, commute with, and work on a critical project critical to their advancement with individuals who are similar to themselves (Self) along a particular identity dimension than with individuals who are dissimilar (Other). However, the magnitudes of these differences depend on the particular identity category."
I think this means we're constantly searching for some basis of commonality to relate to in other people, however small.
I want to interject here that I'm all for diversity and hanging out with people that don't look, think, sound, or believe the same as me. It challenges my thinking and forces me to grow as a person.
Even still, human nature compels us to find something in common with people that are seemingly different than us so we can find an avenue to understand each other better.
Think about your own behaviors.
Don't you get excited when you find out you're from the same city as someone else? What about the same suburb?
Your voice changes in the very next sentence, typically going higher while you smile saying, "Oh yeah?!"
You know what I'm talking about, actor friend.
What if you had that type of connection with a more established actor, director, or producer on set?
You won't--unless you break the ice.
Asking questions requires you to be curious.
Everyone has a reason for being in this crazy business instead of "getting real jobs" like most people tell us to do.
Hmph. At least until someone becomes a celebrity and makes millions. What do you think they were doing before that payday?! I digress.
Doesn't that make you curious as to why the people you're working with decided to take the crazy route like you?
Maybe it's the same reason you did (commonality and bonding to ensue!) or maybe it's random, which will prompt you to ask more questions.
Now that the ice is broken, your second question is, "So what got you interested in (fill-in-the-blank)?"...acting, directing, producing, just depending on who you're talking to.
Again, you're gonna get backstory and insight into that person's goals, dreams, and aspirations.
I also think that hearing how different everyone's story is will remind you that there's no one way to make it in this business.
You'll not only help build that person's confidence by allowing them to practice self-expression, you'll also benefit from being an active listener.
Listening to their story may spark an idea in you about how to pursue your career in a way you haven't thought of yet.
Check out these tips from The Law of Attraction on how to be an active listener (see Tip 4!):
Being an active listener will have a number of benefits for you as an actor since you need to network to survive.
Read this Inc.com article on five benefits of listening well at work, or in our case, on set:
Let's look to the future.
Follow up with a third question, "Okay then what is your ultimate dream job, or are you already doing it?"
You'll get more insight and understanding about their goals.
That's really gonna help you in your future interactions with them so you can follow up on those answers.
Maybe they're doing a lot of commercials jobs right now, but they want to get into the indie circuit.
The next time you see them you can ask, "Hey, have you been able to work on any indie flicks?"
Being supportive of others' dreams is a great way to stand out from the crowd because so many people are only focused on their own success.
I mean how do you feel when someone remembers something important to you from a random conversation you had?
I, for one, have never seen anyone get upset with me over this--only impressed that I remembered.
So that means you need to remember what it was that you guys talked about.
If you need to take notes to remember, do it.
You should have a spreadsheet for your booked gigs anyway.
In the notes section, put who you chatted with and what you guys chatted about so you can follow up on that information the next time you work with them.
That is gonna make you look like an Actor Boss for sure.
By asking this third question, you're giving someone the freedom and opportunity to share their goals (if they want to), which gives you the chance to encourage them.
This NCBI study concludes that encouragement does actually have an impact on the brain (pdf link).
All of this leads to you being someone who is interested in others, supports their ambitions, and makes their brains feel positive emotions.
WHY ASKING QUESTIONS WORKS
People like to talk about themselves. A lot.
Time Magazine discusses a Harvard Study that led to this conclusion while watching people's brains: "humans get a biochemical buzz from self-disclosure."
Why not be the source of that buzz?
This means you need to be ok with the fact that you may not get asked questions about yourself.
However, if you're genuinely interested in other people's stories and how you can learn from them, you won't have any hard feelings when you walk away from the conversation.
We can't discuss this topic without citing author Dale Carnegie who said, "Talk to someone about themselves and they'll listen for hours."
HubSpot did an amazing job of summarizing Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People. The original page has an easier to read graphic.
If you continue to ignore the business and marketing side of acting, it won't just go away. Your personal brand is more important than ever in a world where producers, brands, and fans demand transparency and consistency. Start building your personal brand package today. Get your free Actor Boss Branding download here.