My Favorite Agent Just Left My Agency. What Happens Now?
Happy January! Let’s Do The Agency Shuffle!
You’ve been lucky enough to have an agent that has championed your career, either theatrically or commercially. This agent has diligently gotten you auditions, handled your bookings efficiently, and you’ve had many conversations about developing your career. You consider your agent to be a friend. Your other actor friends might even be jealous of your relationship with your agent, and you’re fine with that. It empowers you. You feel cool.
Then you get an unexpected email from the agency. “We regret to inform you that as of today, Mr. Jones will no longer be an agent at this company. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors, and want to assure you that other agents will continue to service your needs…blah blah.”
You ask yourself why he didn’t contact you directly to let you know. Was he fired? Did he leave the agency to go somewhere else? Where is he now? Can you go with him? Now you regret never establishing a relationship with any other agent in that office. A few days pass. Your auditions seem to have stopped. You feel alone. You are no longer cool. You’re cold.
Fear not. It’s not the end of the road. It’s just another challenge, and one that you can easily overcome if you are familiar with the way the industry works, and if you take the proper steps.
For the record, this situation happens like clockwork every January. The reasons behind this phenomenon are simple. Every year around the holidays it seems inevitable that at least one agent, at one agency, is looking for another job. He or she has covert meetings at other agencies, and receives an offer from one. The arrangement does not begin until after the paid holiday vacations are completed, and sometimes right after the annual bonuses are paid. Then, in January, the agent departs from the original agency, leaving a gap. The original agency needs to fill the gap, and may aggressively poach an agent from another agency, leaving another gap. To fill that gap the next agency solicits an agent from another agency, and so on. Until the last agency either chooses not to fill their gap, or to promote from within. Then the shuffle is over for a little while. This type of activity is frequent within the agency world, and as an actor it may seem disconcerting, but it can also be seen as a good opportunity for progressive change.
What now? The first thing to do is to find out if your original agent went to another agency, and if so, which one. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find out. Casting directors usually track those things. You’ve kept in touch with every casting director you’ve ever booked with, right? Well, you can ask them. A bit of sleuthing will turn up the right information. Keep in mind that many times an agent is contractually prohibited from soliciting their former clients, which will help explain why they didn’t call you directly. But if you track them down, it’s usually acceptable to talk about representation. Perhaps they will want to bring you with them. If you have an active contract with your original agency, breaking it may be difficult, but it depends on the terms of the deal. (I’ll delve into that touchy subject in a different article.) If you like the new agency, and if they are able to sign you, that could be a good change for you.
What if the agent can’t sign you, or if they left the business completely? What then? Well, the best first step is to try to get a meeting with an agent at your existing agency to attempt to establish a new connection with them. Perhaps they truly value you, based on the niche you fit, and the money you may have earned for the agency. Keep in mind that there may be many actors who are calling at the same time asking for a meeting, and that you’ll have to be patient and persistent. Also, there may be some other actors who are upset at one thing or another, such as how the separation was handled, and tempers may be running hot at the agency. Keep calm. Appear supportive of the agency. In this type of environment, the nice guys will get treated much better.
If you don’t feel comfortable staying with your current agency for the long run, and you can’t sign with your old agent at a new place, then you’ll have to start looking for a new home. (Quick hint – Don’t leave your current agent until you find a new agency. It’s just smarter.) Casting directors can help refer you to another agent. When you take a meeting, and are asked why you are looking for a new agency, the best answer in this case is the truth. Your favorite agent who booked you on all your jobs left the agency, and you don’t have a relationship with the remaining agents. You are looking for a new agent that “gets” you.
When you do find a new agent, be sure provide them with the names of every casting director you’ve auditioned for, which ones call you back frequently, and a list of every job you’ve booked with any of them. This will help you get back into the loop of auditioning. Don’t be surprised if there is a lack of auditions at the very beginning of a new relationship. Sometimes it takes a little time to regain momentum.
By the way, just so that you understand the rules regarding payments, the commission for work and residuals from any job that you have booked with your original agents are still obligated to go to them (with rare exceptions). Your new agent does not get a piece of anything negotiated by a prior agent.
That’s the way it’s done. And that’s the deal.
Adam Lieblein is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theatre Film and Television, and spent eight years as a producer of films, commercials and television projects until 1993 when he opened a talent agency. Adam was the president of Acme Talent & Literary for sixteen years, and together with his eighteen agents represented actors for film, television, commercials, print modeling and voiceover work, and writers for film and novels. At the end of 2008, Acme’s several divisions were sold to other agencies, and Adam returned to the business of producing and teaching at UCLA. In 2011 Adam was recruited by Casting Networks to work in Business and Product Development.