Dear Kristin: I have been in the business for a few years, and started styling commercials recently. I am considering looking for an agent in order to be able to branch out with work, at least with commercials (though of course I’d rather do movies). What are your thoughts? Would it help me? I have heard from various people that their agents take anywhere from 10-30% (approx. 30% was from a makeup artist friend who also does a lot of print/fashion work). What do your agents take? Do you think it would be worth it for me?
Dear E: A legitimate agent will only ever take 10% of your gross pay. Any more than that, and it’s not ethical. A manager (for actors, etc) sometimes takes 15%, but not for us “below-the-line” people. I would be highly suspicious of someone taking 30%. That’s criminal, in my opinion. Steer very clear of anyone like that. Think about it – the government takes about 30 – 40% in taxes, so if your “agent” took another 30%, you’d only be left with 30 – 40% of your gross pay! That’s not fair in any circumstance when you are the one actually performing the labor.
I think agents are great, but at this early stage in your career, all of the work that you do will still probably come to you through people you know. Until you have a credit that people really respond to (a small film that gets traction at a festival, for example) an agent has a harder time “selling” you and your work. You can certainly get an agent, but remember that they will take 10% of your pay, no matter who found the job.
I got my first agent after I joined the union. I think I had like 12 film credits at that point, and one of them was Carnosaur, which was getting some attention as a low-budget camp/horror film. The agent I signed with didn’t do much for me, and really alienated the people who were hiring me – my friends – by making demands that they could never accommodate. After one of these films started to be organized by the union and there was a big strike – it was really ugly – I left my agent. I had been giving him 10% of my small pay, and he never once even got me a job interview.
My second agent was great – he was a former agent at a bigger place, so he had a lot of contacts and sat down with me to discuss what I really wanted to do with my career. I had done around 20 – 25 films at this point, and many of them had garnered some modicum of attention by this point. This second agent got me in the door with the people making The Cooler, and that film was really helpful to me in taking it to a new level. When he moved to a bigger agency (one that didn’t rep costume designers), he recommended me to the agency where I am now.
The relationship between agent and artist is very important. It’s not enough just to have any old agent – you have to think of an agent as a representative for you as an artist, and for you as a person. If you get a jackass agent, productions will be annoyed at having to deal with him/her. If you get someone who really understands you as a person and takes an active interest and role in helping you to achieve your objectives, KEEP THEM.
I hope that helps, E — Good luck and keep me posted!!