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As long as there have been actors, I’m sure there have been agents and managers. But as the industry has gotten more and more specialized over the years, the role of agents and managers has changed. If you’re a new actor just starting out in the business, this can be really confusing.
What exactly does an agent do? And what about a manager?
While the roles are similar, there are some big differences as well as some crossover. But before we jump into specifics, please know that while there are overall similarities, the way agents and managers operate changes somewhat in different markets – meaning states, provinces and countries. This holds true in any area of the industry, (even the style of headshots! For more on that read What is An Actor’s Headshot and What To Wear for Headshots ) and it’s important to research and understand the market you plan to work in.
So let’s jump into differences between talent agents and managers for actors and models.
What does a talent agent do?
A talent agent is someone who represents professional actors, models, writers, musicians, artists, athletes and other performers. Talent agents work on behalf of their clients (you!) to promote and represent their best interests. They typically handle the majority, if not all of the interactions between you and the employer.
Simply put, an agent is someone who handles pitching actors for jobs and handles the financials once a job has been booked. This means negotiating the contracts, making sure payment is made in the correct amount and on time, that all appropriate bonuses or “bumps” have been added and deductions for union and taxes have been made. And then after deducting their commission for all of this hard work, cuts a check to the actor for the amount the actor is owed.
While agents use to spend most of their day making phone calls or contacting potential employers and maybe even potential clients, today the majority of this is done online through professional casting sites. As the business has gotten more crowded, more competitive and with shrinking margins for both actors and agents, you’ll find only the top, top tier of agents will actually get on the phone – most simply just don’t have the time.
Enter… The Talent Manager
Managers are much more hands on. They generally rep a much smaller group of actors and have far more leeway to oversee and coordinate all aspects of a performer’s career.
A good manager not only focuses on getting work for their clients, but also trying to up-level your career overall. Managers may help you with things like branding, fine tuning your promotional materials, advising you on what type of classes you need to take or headshots you need to get. And they tend to have a fairly keen eye for the overall picture. For example, if you’re trying to get on a particular TV series, your manager is probably going to be on the lookout not just for roles on that series, but similar and maybe even smaller roles that could lead up to that series win.
With smaller rosters and a more hands on approach, managers actually do have the time to get on the phone or send direct pitches to casting – and they will. They also tend to know their clients on a much more personal level, knowing your quirks, hidden-super-powers, special skills, relationship status, where you grew up, birthday etc. With agents you’re kind of hoping they remember that you’re on the roster.
Key Differences Between an Agent and a Manager
Agents work for talent agencies, or have their own agencies, that are licensed by the state. This gives them the legal right and ability to solicit employment for their clients and negotiate contracts. They also submit you for work through the major casting sites that not all managers may have access to.
Managers are not required to be licensed so their operating parameters are much more fluid. Plus, anyone can call themselves a manager so it’s buyer beware. Managers most often work on their own. Legally, they are not able to solicit work for their clients, set up auditions or negotiate contracts. Having said that, a good manager works with your agent, often has relationships with key casting directors in town and will pitch you directly. They also provide career guidance and direction, that agents rarely have the time or inclination to do.
- Talent agents commission structure is 10 percent for the union roles that talent books and 20 percent for non-union bookings
- Agents receive payment directly from production companies or talent payroll services. They subtract their 10 to 20 percent commission, and then cut the actor a check for the remaining balance the actor has earned
- Commission structure is set by the unions and state licensing board and may not exceed this
- Talent agents must be licensed and bonded within the state in which they are operating. Licensed agents are subject to state regulation
- Agents have access to the casting breakdown services and directly submit actors for roles. Managers may or may not have access to the same services.
- Only agents and attorneys can legally handle and negotiate talent contracts for actors
- Talent agents are often franchised by SAG-AFTRA and are required to use SAG-AFTRA union contracts for union talent
- Agents may also be a member of ATA – Association of Talent Agents and use a general service agreement contract for non-union talent
- Agents and agencies tend to be specialized and represent actors in one or two categories only: commercial, theatrical (film & television), voiceover, modeling, print, etc.
- Managers commission structure is typically 15 percent across the board – for EVERYTHING you book in addition to the 10 percent you are paying your agent. If you are represented by both an agent and manager, 25 percent of your gross income goes to representation. Having said that, without them, you may book significantly less and 100% of nothing is still nothing!
- Managers focus on developing strong relationships for you across the industry, as well as planning and optimizing the actor’s career path. They then help you put the steps in place to get where you want to go
- Your manager works with your agent, but takes a far more personalized approach to your acting career and helps you to make choices that make you highly marketable in your region and sector
- Managers may not act like agents. They are also not publicists, attorneys, or accountants, but can help an actor find the best people to bring onto their team
- Managers may not legally book work for talent, or handle or negotiate contracts on the actors behalf. Only state licensed agents may do this.
- Managers tend to have extremely beneficial connections across the industry. They may include agents, casting directors, directors and producers.
- It is not uncommon for managers to sign and unrepresented actor, work with them to develop their brand, and then place the actor with a particular agent or agency
- Managers can be very helpful for actors who have been experiencing difficulty in securing talent agency representation and / or booking jobs
- Managers may be members of the Talent Managers Association or the National Conference of Personal Managers but it is not required for managers to join these organizations. Having said that, some of the top managers in the industry have chosen not to join these organizations. Managers who are members have agreed to abide by the organization’s codes of ethics
So why have both?
The big LEGAL difference between agents and managers, at least in most states, is that agents have to be licensed and bonded, whereas anyone can set-up shop tomorrow as a manager. Because of the licensing, managers are not legally allowed to negotiate contracts for you – but they will absolutely push your agent to get you the best deal!
Managers also tend to have a good eye for diamonds in the rough, and they are much more likely to take on new and less experienced talent. It’s not uncommon in the U.S. for actors to sign with a manager first, and then for the manager to set up agent meetings.
The most important thing here is for you to do your due diligence. Know how the system works legally in whatever location your in, and then to look for agents and managers that would be a good fit for YOU.
Are you looking for an agent or manager?
What are your biggest challenges? Or do you have any tips or advice for other actors? Head to the comments and tell me about it, then tweet it, post it, pin it and share this post if it helped you!
* Please Note: I am not an agent, manager, or casting director. I do not procure work for actors. All information, workshops and coaching are for educational purposes only and are not a guarantee or promise of employment. Thank you for being here!