Is your agent an arsehole? I only ask because, according to the acclaimed television producer Ash Atalla (the man behind shows such as The Office and Trollied), all of them are.
Speaking at this year’s television festival in Edinburgh, he made delegates laugh by labelling all agents as such, before adding: “I mean it”, just in case anyone thought he was saying it purely for comic effect. The message being: Atalla really does have beef with agents.
His issue, it appears, is that they may have too much control, adding that people have to be “careful agents don’t have too much leverage”.
They need their performers in good shows. You have to remember you are doing something for them as well.
I wonder if Atalla had attended an earlier session at this year’s festival, called Speak to my Agent, which was all about how agents work with producers and broadcasters to find vehicles for their talent.
It was a revealing hour, and gave us an insight into the mindset of some of the UK’s top agents – namely Hannah Chambers, Anita Land and Richard Allen-Turner.
Chambers represents the likes of Sarah Millican, and seemed to be pretty clear when asked if she would work with a TV producer who came to her with an idea for a show using one of her clients.
My talent is developed enough to know what they want and it’s a waste of time for a producer to come to me as it [the idea] will not be accepted. We have our own ideas and strategies.
She admitted that there are only a small number of “very good” producers in each genre she would go to, and that it is her job to “know who they are”. (One of these, she said, was So Television, and its co-founder Graham Stuart just happened to be on the panel with her).
On the one hand, you have to respect Chambers for her honesty. But on the other, you can’t help wondering if this approach closes her and her talent off to some potentially good ideas and producers. If she always thinks like this, surely she and her talent are going to miss out on working with new and exciting people?
You can’t help wondering if this approach closes her and her talent off to some potentially good ideas and producers
Her fellow agents were a bit more open to the idea of working with producers who approached them with ideas.
Anita Land said some of the series her client John Sergeant had made had come from producers she would not have thought of working with herself. Allen-Turner, meanwhile, said it was a “myth” that his company Avalon, which both represents talent and produces its own content, doesn’t work with other TV producers.
“The door is open here,” he said, adding that, when it comes to talent, there are two types: creative and uncreative. The first, he said, refers to talent who have their own ideas and who devise and write their shows – and these are the ones he said he prefers to work with.
They spend a lot of time learning their craft and want to see their vision on screen.
In this day and age, Allen-Turner has a point. More and more I hear of actors creating projects for themselves, rather than waiting for ones to come their way. Of course it helps if those performers have a production company they can work with to make their ideas a reality.
But, whether talent is creative or uncreative, what performers really need are good agents with their best interests at heart – and personally I think that means, within reason, agents being open to all ideas and suggestions. So, bearing that in mind, let me ask you again: is your agent an arsehole? I hope the answer’s no.