Why you don't need an agent...yet
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
You've just moved to LA or Atlanta to chase your dreams, and all you know is that you need an agent. You get some glamour "headshots" done. One smiling and one frowning to show range. You've printed and mailed them out to every agent in town. You've also sent an email to every agent, casting director, and manager just to cover your bases. You get called in for a meeting with an agent that has an hour available (red flag, agents are busy people) to sit down and talk about your goals as an actor. He/She tells you to get some character shots if you want to be taken seriously; nurse, prostitute, clown, etc. You have to use their photographer, and you also need to take classes with their buddy that's an actor/casting director/bartender but only on the weekends. You also need to sign a 3 year contract that day. Nope! Sound the alarms!
I've been this new actor. I've been in this meeting. I luckily have enough of a gut instinct to have known in this meeting that this guy was full of it. I've been in a few more situations like these, and my heart always sinks when I realize the opportunity isn't real.
Here's how I could have avoided ever being in these "meetings" in the first place. Don't submit to agents the minute you get in town. You're brand new. Let's start with the first thing you need to do. Find an acting class.
If you're in LA I recommend Howard Fine, Margie Haber, Lesly Kahn, or Marilyn McIntyre (Marilyn teaches at the Howard Fine studio) These are all power house teachers. They're all very costly in both money and time. 100% worth it though if you want to be the best that you can be at your craft. I like to tell people to come to LA with $10,000 saved. I know that sounds insane but acting is an investment. You need to pay for quality training and materials. You don't want to skimp on your product. You're the product by the way :) Side note, if saving $10,000 when you first move to LA is impossible, don't lose hope. You'll do just fine. But still be aware that certain aspects of your career are going to be costly. Classes in LA are expensive as hell, as are good headshots. As long as you know and prepare for that, you're good.
If you're in Atlanta I recommend Drama Inc. You should start in On Camera 1 with Jason MacDonald and Catherine Dyer. After that they will suggest you either take a technique class or move in to OC2 with Alex Collins. The school also teaches improv, on camera comedy, accent reduction, scene study, commercial technique, and numerous workshops. Atlanta is a mostly self-tape audition market. OC1 and OC2 will help you perfect the self tape while also focusing on the believability of your performance on screen.
After you've got a good class under your belt, what do you do next? Headshots? Wrong!
Watch TV, commercials, movies. Meet with a branding coach. Learn your type, get a wardrobe that matches those types. See where you fit into those categories on TV/film/commercial now that you've been studying them. What is your age range and type going out for? What are they booking? If you're in your early 20's, you probably aren't going to go out for "lawyer" or "detective". Pay attention mostly to the one liners and small roles on TV.
Oh my god why didn't I know about this 9 years ago? Do you know how many headshot sessions I've done and not known what the heck I should even be going out for? Now that you know you can schedule a headshot session.
They both do improvisational games with you while shooting to get real reactions out of you. Their work is phenomenal. They're recommended by countless agents and casting directors in Los Angeles. I've shot with both of them and they will always be my go-to.
Vanie also has a blog with unlimited tips for actors in all aspects of their careers.
Okay, you now have killer headshots, you're in acting class, you're ready to audition! It's time to start submitting! Read Bonnie Gillespie's blog to find out what a cover letter should look like. Essentially, short and sweet. You're brand new, tell them that! You're a fresh face, you have this particular training, you've met with a branding coach and you're confident in knowing your type.
Before sending out mass submissions, do research on agencies. When you're studying those TV shows, pay attention to the credits. Who was that actor that had the one line? Look them up on IMDbPro. You can find out who their agent is, look through their IMDb roster and see if they have your "type"
Don't submit to the top agencies right now, you aren't ready for them. You want an agent that will take on new talent. In LA, there are agency books that you can find this info on at a bookstore called Samuel French in Hollywood, on Sunset. This bookstore has unlimited resources for actors, writers, directors, producers, all things Hollywood.
In Atlanta, there aren't a ton of agencies here yet. Thank god. It's much easier to get an agent here. Look up the agencies on IMDb, click on the link to their website, and follow their submission instructions to a T. If you can't follow directions for a submission, then you can't be trusted to follow directions in an audition or worse, on set.
Good luck to you!