Breaking into the entertainment industry is notoriously difficult, especially for those without professional connections or established reputations for giving quality performances. It can also be difficult for struggling actors to learn about auditions or meet the right people in the industry, such as casting agents, producers and directors. Because of these challenges, many actors turn to professional managers know as talent agents.
Talent agents act primarily as professional middlemen between their clients and potential employers. They may work independently or as part of a larger talent agency. A talent agent's main concern is finding suitable work for a roster of clients who have successfully demonstrated their talents and abilities. Many would-be entertainers may seek representation by reputable talent agents, but a large number of applicants are turned down for a of reasons, including poor work ethics or a discernible lack of training or talent.
Many production companies approach talent agents first to find out which clients are available for work and suited for the roles. If a Broadway musical production needs a specific type of performer for a role, a talent agent may be able to suggest a few names for auditions and then contact those clients directly for more details. Most talent agents are not part of the direct hiring process, but they do have a financial interest in seeing a client get the role, since agents can legally collect a percentage of the talent's earnings.
Life without an acting or talent agent can be very difficult for unestablished performers, so the contractual obligations to talent agents often seem equitable compared to unemployment. Some unscrupulous talent agents may collect far more than their fair share of a client's earnings, but tougher entertainment laws have made this practice less common in recent years. Most talent agents, especially those who work for high-profile agencies, work towards building up an impressive roster of talented clients, which in turn translates into higher earnings and more interest from production companies.
A talent agent can also act as a booking agent, working out the financial, logistical and other details of a client's scheduled performances. If a nightclub wants to hire a popular stand-up comedian, for example, the owner may need to contact the performer's talent agent first. Performance fees and other requirements are generally negotiated with an agent before the performer can agree to a specific performance time and venue.
Talent agents may appear to make their livings off the efforts of their clients, but in reality they often work even harder to book their clients into lucrative performing gigs or help them connect with high-profile producers and directors who can help them grow in their careers. A good talent agent is a business partner, a cheerleader and a true believer all at the same time.