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Careers Clinic: Is it too late for me to get an agent?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I finished the final showcase for my drama course a few weeks ago. It went very well and I got good feedback. Even better, I was invited to a couple of meetings with agents.

The meetings were friendly and positive too, but unfortunately neither of them ended in the agents representing me. In one case, they sent an email to say they consider a lot of graduates every year, and regretted that ‘despite my obvious talent and ability’ they can’t take things further at this time.

The other phoned me and was very apologetic, but said that on reflection I was a little too similar to actors already on their books. They did say they would get back to me if this changed, but at least one of those actors was on my course last year, and seems very happy with the agent, so I’m not holding my breath.

I won’t deny feeling a bit deflated seeing classmates tweeting about their new reps, but I’m going to plough on regardless. What would be your top advice for making the best start and has the agent ship now sailed for me?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE: Having sat on both sides of the agent meeting table, the reasons you have been given for being turned down this time around, though disappointing, sound fairly common. I say “this time around” because even an actor who does sign with an agent on graduation may not remain with them throughout their career.

Although it may be easier to start your professional career under an agent’s wing, self-representing in the meantime can give you a clearer idea of what you are looking for when it comes to your next round of agent applications.

The elements you will need to have in place when you approach new agents are the same basic ones you will need to get work while you are being your own agent in the meantime. Agents will sometimes take on graduates without all of these things in place but without them, they won’t necessarily be able to get them a lot of work. You may not be losing as much time as you think, especially if you make it your business to get those boxes ticked.

Depending on the course you did, you may already be eligible for Spotlight listing. If so, optimise your page with every skill and attribute that might win you a casting. If you are not there yet, getting enough credits to get listed is a priority.

On or off Spotlight, don’t take a scattergun approach: only submit for parts you are suitable for. ‘Unknown actor’ is far better branding than ‘time-waster’. Have good headshots that suit the roles you go for. If you can’t afford a full showreel, at least get one scene as soon as you can that shows you at your most castable. Explore the showcase and scratch-night scene, find the ones that agents and casting people attend most often and enter them.

In particular, don’t feel that because you haven’t currently got an agent you can’t ask other actors how they got theirs. I can’t guarantee everyone you ask will tell you, but, as long as you ask politely and don’t push, dealing with the occasional ‘no’ is good preparation for the many other noes that are part of our business. You will definitely get some positive answers too. It can only take one to point you in the direction of new agent possibilities.

Don’t exclude the agents who didn’t take you on the first time from those possibilities. In this business, a ‘no’ now is not always a ‘no’ forever. The more work you do on yourself in the meantime, the more balance of power you shift to your own choice to say ‘yes’ when agents are approaching you rather than the other way around.

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