US Talent Agents and Managers
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Author: Marion Rosenberg Manager and Producer, The Marion Rosenberg Office
The Full Panel
Marion Rosenberg – founder of The Marion Rosenberg Office, a talent management company.
Michael Peretzian – a literary agent in the Creative Artists Agency’s Literary Department in Beverly Hills.
Theresa Peters – a talent agent and Vice President in the Motion Picture Department of the William Morris Agency.
Nick Reed – a Senior Agent at International Creative Management specialising in creators of intellectual properties.
Susan Smith – runs independent talent management company, the Susan Smith Company.
The Difference Between Agents and Managers
In the US there are a number of very important distinctions between agents and managers which affect the way that they operate and represent their clients:
Agents are licensed by the State, franchised by the Writers, Actors and Directors Guilds to work on behalf of their members, and bonded to ensure that they are able to meet any financial liabilities that they incur. Their State Licence, for which they must pay an annual fee, decrees that they must have a formal office from which to work, that they may not make a living in any other way apart from their commission on their client’s earnings (which are set at a maximum of 10% by the Guilds), and cannot earn income from any other means. The main role of the agent is to find work for their clients which, over time, will help to build their career, and earning capacity.
Managers are not formally licensed, franchised or bonded but must still abide by certain rules: they may not seek employment for their clients and they may not negotiate contracts for their clients (the former being the role of the client’s agent and the latter of their lawyer if they do not have an agent). The manager’s main role is to support their client and help him/her to make the right decisions. The best managers tend to be ex-agents because this experience helps them to understand the best way to promote and develop their client’s career.
How Talent Agents and Managers Work
The ideal working situation is for the agent and manager to work closely together to find projects that are suitable for the client at the particular stage of their career. The over-riding factor at any time has to be what is best for the client and both the agent and manager should always have this at the forefront of their minds. Although there will inevitably be disagreements between agents and managers over specific opportunities or projects, the interests of their mutual client will always be paramount and will, eventually, determine what offers are accepted or rejected.
Formally, it is for the agent to seek employment for the client and the manager to advise the client on whether or not to accept specific offers on the terms available. In practice, a healthy working environment would involve regular consultation between the agent and manager about the kind of work the client is looking for, what might be available and how best to build the client’s career.
In addition to the agent and manager, many top actors and directors (and even some writers) have additional advisors including: a publicist, a lawyer/business manager, and an accountant/ financial advisor. Again, the ideal scenario is that all of these people work closely together in the best interests of the client. Occasionally, there may be potential conflicts of interest between an individual’s publicist and the film’s publicity team but generally both film and individual should be well-served by getting good stories into the media (and keeping bad stories out!).
Getting Material to US Talent
Agents receive a huge number of treatments and scripts every week and simply do not have the time to read everything (or even the majority) of what they are sent. . They have to make their minds up very quickly about material and, therefore, need to be attracted to the submission almost immediately if it is to rise above the heap of other projects vying for their attention. The aim in submitting speculative material should be to get a meeting or phone call with the agent at which point the project can be explained in more detail. The best ways to make material stand out from the crowd are:
- develop a relationship with the agent’s assistant. They are able to ensure that calls are returned and material is looked at
- provide coverage with the material – even if you have written it yourself. Agents are more likely to read material if it is complemented by good coverage, from whatever source
- make sure that the material is developed to the point where it is likely to get a positive response. Each script will only be looked at once, so there is little point submitting a draft that still needs plenty of work
- ask someone who knows the agent to look at the script and submit it on your behalf. Agents are more likely to look at material that has been recommended to them by someone they know and respect
- send material to younger agents who are still developing their client lists who may have more time to read it and be keener to attach one of their clients to the project.
Find a way to build relationships with these younger agents, for example: by keeping them informed about what is happening in the UK.
An alternative route is to submit material directly to the talent that you want to attract to the project before sending it to an agent. This can work if you already have a relationship with the actor or director – if not the material will be returned or sent straight to their agent for consideration. If one proceeds down this route, however, it is important that the agent is kept informed about the status of the project to avoid confusion or difficulties further down the line, including possible problems over the copyright of the material. Another alternative is to submit material to a producer or production company that you respect and has a good relationship with the agency, and who you think might be interested in the project. They will then be able to offer opinions and advice before it is submitted to the agent.
The bottom line is that there is always a shortage of high quality material circulating around Hollywood. Great scripts will be identified and the films will be made – the trick is getting the right people to see your great script. The corollary is that if you have shown the script to a number of people and they are not raving about then it may well not be right for the current market.
Putting Together the Talent for a Film
Whilst packaging talent is still common in the US television industry, very few feature films are packaged these days. More usually, once the director (or A-list actor) is on board he/she will determine their principal cast, attaching who they want for the major roles regardless of which agency the actors are represented by. Attracting the right talent will depend upon the quality of the script and other elements – it is not all about the money. On the other hand, if the project is purely intended to be a big budget “popcorn” movie, then the stars will expect to receive (at least) their usual package of salary, revenue or profit participation and perks.
Often quoted concepts like “pay or play” or “no-quote” deals do not really apply in the real world. In practice, pay or play deals are always subject to budget or script approval, so there is no binding agreement until the details of the project have been sorted out and the talent is definitely committed (although sometimes directors and actors will have to be paid if they have committed time to a project that has prevented them taking up other jobs). Similarly, in practice, all deals are done on the basis of some understanding of what the talent received for their previous film – whether or not they receive their full quote will depend on what kind of film is being made. If it is a brilliant script that carries a high possibility of garnering awards then the talent may well work for below their usual fee structure (and their agent and manager will support them in this as a way of building their career).
- Agents and managers have different roles, but both should be working at all times in the best long-term interests of their clients. Briefly stated, the role of agents is to find work for their clients; for managers it is to help their clients make the correct decisions about what work to take.
- When submitting material to an agent, you must think about how to make it stand out from all the other submissions they will have received that week. It is important to ensure that the material is ready to be seen before it is submitted – you’ll only get one chance.
- There is always a shortage of high quality material circulating around Hollywood. Great scripts will be identified and made – the trick is getting the right people to see your great script.
- Attracting the right talent to the project will depend upon the quality of the script and other elements – it is not all about the money