What’s the difference between an agent and a manager? Well, according to “Eric” on HBO’s hit series Entourage, that’s simple: “The manager is the one who cares.”Of course, that’s the joke answer. The serious answer is more complex than that. In order to get an idea of how agents and managers differ, let’s do a little overview of what Managers and Agents DO.
- are largely unregulated, but can elect to be members of the TMA or NCOPM (both of which have specific codes of conduct for its members)
- earn 15% commission on all work you book, regardless of their role in helping you get any particular audition
- ask you to sign a three-year contract, as their role is far more long-term and personal than an agent’s, and they often expect to work for you for quite some time before seeing any return on their investment in the form of commissions
- advise you on your image, headshots, resumé format and content, acting classes, demo reel, website, personal appearances, and career direction
- make sure you’re accurately listed at IMDB, Actors Access, LA Casting, Academy Players Directory, and that your membership is current with SAG, AFTRA, AEA, SAG Conservatory, The Actors’ Network, FIND, etc.
- determine your most marketable type and the projects on which your “type” is the most likely to find work
- help you target appropriate agencies when the time is right
- invest a great deal of their time and energy into your potential as a working actor long before you have a track record of booking consistently
- are state-licensed and operate under the (fractured) SAG franchise agreement or are members of the ATA
- earn 10% commission on work you book that is a direct result of their submission, pitch, or meeting with the casting director or producer
- ask you to sign a one-year contract with a 91-day performance-based out clause
- may have input on your headshots, but rarely would want to sit with you and look at all 400 digital shots from your session
- submit, pitch, and hustle to get you in the door with casting directors
- negotiate deals when you book the part, including getting you a bigger trailer, better billing, a higher rate quote, paid ads, your name in the opening credits, etc.
- work to bring you to the level of “offer only,” at which time they will read scripts on your behalf and recommend your course of action
- sign you based on your track record as a working actor and drop you when you can’t seem to get a callback on anything anymore
As you can probably see, there is plenty of room for overlap, and even more room for a partnership. Of course, partnerships can be problematic. Many agents and managers work together every day to create the best possible team-based approach to success for their mutual clients. But more than likely, you’ve heard the horror stories about the agents and managers that refuse to work together, that force the actor to choose sides in an argument, or that flat-out ignore that the other exists.
It has been my experience that most issues of disharmony between representatives stem from an actor placing the wrong level of importance on the parties involved at particular times in his or her career. So, before we get too deep into the topic of keeping the peace, let’s look at the best timing for having various levels of representation. That way, you can likely avoid such issues entirely.
When You Need a Manager… and When You Don’t
The axiom goes: “An actor needs a manager when no one wants to cast him and when everyone wants to cast him.” I’ve also heard “at the beginning of his career” and “when he’s at the top.” Same difference. Okay, but do I buy that? Somewhat, yes.
At the Beginning
There are actors who cannot get an agent to sign them no matter what. Perhaps they can’t even get in the door to meet with an agent on their own. Since agents are in the business of working with actors who already have a career, it can sometimes be far easier to get a manager to take a look at you, at the beginning of your career as a professional actor. Now, this doesn’t mean you should attempt to get a manager right out of the gate. It means that AFTER you’ve successfully built up your resumé with credits you can get on your own (through casting notices listed in Actors Access or Back Stage West) and you’ve reached the ceiling of that level of your career, perhaps a manager will sign you and help get you to the next tier.
A good manager is like that first stamp on your passport, when you travel. It shows the world that you’ve BEEN somewhere. That someone “inside” already let you “in” for a little bit. And since no one wants to be the FIRST one to take a risk on an unknown commodity, that first manager can be the key to all of your future relationships. (Treat that person very, very well. And list them in your Oscar speech, even if you haven’t been repped by them for over a decade by the time you are thanking the Academy.)
Good managers will submit the headshots of every non-agented actor they represent to agencies, suggesting that the agents consider meeting with any number of their clients. Great managers will produce industry showcases so that casting directors and talent agents can come see the WORK of their clients, and then schmooze at the catered networking function after the show. Rockstar managers will bring their entire client roster together once a month to brainstorm ideas for creative submitting, share tips on getting industry internships, review projects in development from the listings in the trades, or create staged reading groups. Are you beginning to understand why a manager earns that 15% commission on everything you book? Believe me, the good ones really work for it!
So, do you dump your manager once she gets you signed with the “hot agency” you’ve dreamed of getting? No way! You hang in there for a good year or so, as your manager can really help smooth over any kinks in the transition phase or early bumps in the road. Besides, what happens if the new agent drops you right after you’ve dropped your manager? Oops. Suddenly, the person who you’ve always turned to for help in dealing with points of transition in your career is no longer there, and you’re back to the “empty passport” stage, trying to convince anyone that you really did have a book full of stamps from all over the world (of Hollywood)!
In the Middle
Now, once you’ve moved to “working actor” status (meaning, you’ve seriously left your survival job for GOOD) and you’re not facing a transition anytime soon (meaning, you’re a middle-aged character actor who will continue to book the same type of roles for the next decade), you may indeed be ready to leave your manager. There is no longer an image to craft to the industry’s needs, as you have become a known commodity. Your training and materials are in place, as your regular workout takes place on the set, and your IMDB page just scrolls and scrolls. Your agent is fielding consistent offers with ease. Yes, now that 15% manager commission may be better used in the form of a $2000/mo. fee to a publicist .
At the Top
Once you’re at the NEXT tier (you’re a household name and you have a staff working for you: personal assistants, trainers, chefs, therapists), the type of manager you need is a Business Manager. That’s someone who makes sure your money is invested correctly and that your “people” are all getting paid. You’ll still have your publicist onboard, and that monthly fee will likely be quite higher now. Sometimes, actors at this stage choose to leave their agent in favor of an attorney, since that person can both field casting offers AND handle all of the actor’s legal affairs, including endorsement deals, spokesperson offers, licensing the use of your physical likeness, etc. Of course, if you’re with one of The Big Ten (agencies), you already have a hundred attorneys on staff for you through their offices. Still, you’ll want more than one entity invested in your empire.
It’s all about checks and balances. In the beginning, it’s you making sure your agent has enough copies of your headshot and your manager will be joining you at your headshot photo shoot. At the top, it’s your people making sure your other people aren’t making decisions that fetter the growth of your hard-earned money and misrepresent the YOU that got this far.