When I worked as an agent and spoke with people who had never worked with one, it became quite clear that most people have no idea what an agent does or why they should have one. The Dictionary.com definition of a talent agent is simply, “one who represents performers.” This is pretty vague and doesn’t say a lot. If you look up the definition of agent, the first entry is “a person or business authorized to act on another’s behalf.” This comes much closer to describing what an agent actually does. A talent agent has two main functions-to negotiate contracts, and to solicit clients on your behalf.
Agents really have two separate customers: the talent they represent (models and actors) and the clients who are booking the talent (producers, directors, art directors, etc.). The agent’s job is to meet the casting needs of the clients by filling roles with as many the talent they rep as possible. Agents often walk a fine line trying to please both groups of people. Because agents only get paid a commission off of the total amount of money that the talent make, it’s in their best interest to get their talent as much money as possible. Sometimes that means getting a lower rate to get five actors cast in a project instead of getting one actor paid pretty well.
This is often why you’ll see agencies that represent a huge amount and variety of actors and models. They want to cover as many bases as possible in order to get the most amount of people cast. True, there are many specialty agencies, or agents who rep only a few big name actors, but in general many agencies make money by representing talent from newborn up to 80’s, in all types, skill levels, and ethnicities.
Figure out the math and it makes sense:
If I’m an agent and I’m submitting for a VISA commercial, I may figure out that each actor should get $1200 based on what markets the commercial is running in, and for how long. If I make 20% commission off of the job, that comes to $240. Now, if it happens that VISA is actually looking to cast 20 people for that commercial, I may give a sliding scale based on the number of people they book from me. For instance, if they book less than 5 people than the rate is $1200 per person, but if they book 5-12 people the rate may be $850 per person. If they cast 12 people that makes the total $10,200 for the job, or $2040 in commission to me. If the client agrees to book 13 or more people that rate may go down to $675 per person. That’s almost half of what the original rate was, but as an agent I’m billing them for a total of $1350 for 20 people, or $2700 in commission.
Casting agents always want the best people available, but EVERYONE is still working on a budget. So if they can get all 20 people from me for 30% less than another agency, they’re most likely going to try to book everyone through me. The clients are happy because they got the talent they wanted for less money, and the 20 people I booked are happy because they’re all working. Unless of course, the talent figure they should have been making the $1200, in which case they’re irritated because they’re only getting half of that to do a VISA commercial.
Is this right to work this way? I don’t know, but it is commonplace. No matter how close you are to your agent, he’s always going to do what he needs to get the highest commission possible, and if that means everyone makes less money to get more people booked, that’s most likely what’s going to happen.