Talent agent

Talent agent

A talent agent, or booking agent, is a person who finds jobs for actors, authors, film directors, musicians, models, producers, professional athletes, writers and other people in various entertainment businesses. Having an agent is not required, but does help the artist in getting jobs. In many cases casting directors, or other businesses, go to talent agencies to find artists they are looking for. The agent is paid a percentage of the star's earnings (typically 10%). Agents sometimes will be referred to as "10 percenters." There are different regulations that govern different types of agents that are established by artist's unions and the legal jurisdiction in which the agent operates. There are also professional organizations that license talent agencies. Since the decline in viewership in theaters, from the 1950s to 1960s, this caused a monumental shift in how studios would produce films and thus reducing the cost of exclusive and expensive actors. Actors and actresses were working for the studios but were not owned by one major studio entity, they were able to work on within their time and with other studios. Because of this, agents were now seen as an option instead of a necessity. Agents now became third parties that negotiated between studios and clients, this making their services imperative between each party. Since talent agencies are working with lucrative contracts, all talent agencies must be licensed under special sections of the California Labor Code. This entail an agent/s as any “person or corporation who engages in the occupation of procuring, offering, promising, or attempting to procure employment for artist or artists.”[1]


The top talent agencies

Before 2009, Hollywood's largest talent agencies were known as the "big five"[2] or "top five".[3] In 2009 two of the agencies, Endeavor and the William Morris Agency, merged to form William Morris Endeavor (WME). The other members of the current "big four" are Creative Artists Agency (CAA), International Creative Management (ICM), and United Talent Agency (UTA).

The four agencies dominate their industry. In the 1980s new agencies were established to compete with the "Big five." In 1991 Bauer-Benedek merged with Leading Artists Agency to form what will be one of the major agencies called United Talent Agency. These agencies were Traid Artists and InterTalent. Traid Artist would eventually be sold to William Morris Agency in 1992, and InterTalent would diminish when its partners dispursed between UTA and ICM in the same year. [4] They have hundreds of agents globally, and offer representation in multiple areas (acting, below the line talent, IP rights holders, film, directing, television, publishing, commercials, sports, digital media, literary, music, theater, endorsements, corporate consulting, public speaking, producers, screen writers, voice-overs, video games,visual arts and design and intellectual property). Emerging technology companies and corporate brands in a variety of practice areas including film, television, music, digital media, intellectual property, computer and video games, commercials, voice-overs, endorsements, branding & licensing, corporate consulting and entertainment marketing.

Which stars do these top agencies represent

While these top agencies are important, the entertainers they represent are even more imperative. Below is a list of the leading agencies and the top names that they represented as of 2006:

A. WME (WMA and Endeavor): Ben Affleck, Steve Carell, Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood, Paul Giamatti, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lopez, Martin Scorsese, Kevin Spacey, Justin Timberlake, Mark Wahlberg, and Denzel Washington, and Catherine Zeta-Jones

B. CAA: Drew Barrymore, Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage, Jim Carey, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, Meg Ryan, Will Smith, Meryl Streep, Robin Williams, and Bruce Willis

C. ICM: Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Martin, Susan Sarandon, and Denzel Washington

D. UTA: Jack Black, Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, Ben Stiller, Wesley Snipes, and Owen Wilson

As the agencies began to represent a variety of different talents they began to to package their clients together to make them more appealing to the studios, and to get more work for their "less talented" artists. This is a similar structure to what the studios were doing with selling films to the theaters. CAA packaged stars Bill Murray and Harold Ramis with director Ivan Reitman. "Packaging became widely regarded as one of the clearest demonstrations of agents extending their powers by assuming a role in the development of projects which formerly would have been undertaken by the studios."[5]

Acting and modeling agents

Actors may be interested in working theatrically (stage, film or television) as well as in commercials. Some agents will handle all types of acting work while others may specialize in a particular area. There are agents who represent television, voice-overs, or just film and television. Typically, the larger the agency, the more specialized the agents.

An agent has two sets of clients: the "talent" (actors, models, voice-over artists, etc.) and the "buyer". The buyer can be a casting director, advertising agency, production company, photographer, or direct client if the client has an "in-house" production staff. Agents promote talent to the buyers, submitting talent that have the appropriate age, race, sex, look, talent, etc. that the buyer is seeking for his/her project. Usually, an agent submits the actor's head shot or the model's composite card or portfolio to the buyer. After the buyer has made choices, the agent then arranges an audition (or for models, a "go-see" or open call). After the buyer has met the talent, the buyer will contact the agent if any of the talent will be hired. The agent will coordinate the details of wardrobe, directions, etc., as well as negotiate the contract or pay.

Note that the agent's job is to get the talent auditions; the talent is the only one who can get the job. For their work, agents take a 10 to 20% commission of the gross, depending on whether the job is union (such as SAG-AFTRA) or not. Union jobs are paid per negotiated guidelines, but sometimes in non-union jobs the pay is delayed.

A well established agent will have networks upon networks of contacts. Also, agents have access to professional casting services. Many of these casting resources are not available to the general public.

Although most of the successful agents are private individuals unknown to the public, some are celebrities in their own right. These notable current and former talent agents include David Begelman, Ari Emanuel, Freddie Fields, Johnny Hyde, Irving "Swifty" Lazar, Sue Mengers, Quincy Sims, Lew Wasserman, and Jadin Wong.

Top modeling agencies

In order to qualify as a top modeling agency, there are certain criteria:

1. The agency must be located in a top fashion capital for the simple reason that the most lucrative and prestigious modeling assignments are there. These cities include: New York, Milan, Paris, London, Tokyo, Sydney, Rome, Los Angeles, Prague, Toronto, São Paulo and Barcelona.

2. The agency is well-known and respected in the fashion industry and has a good reputation, insofar, as monitoring agencies or governing bodies in their respective country, like the Better Business Bureau in the US and the association of fashion designers and the group handling the city's fashion week.

3. The agency has directly provided a model with a lucrative assignment for a top fashion design house (for example Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Prada, Valentino and Giorgio Armani among others).

Some of the top modeling agencies in the world are:

  • Elite Model Management - New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, Chicago and Atlanta
  • Ford Models - New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Miami, Toronto, Chicago and Milwaukee
  • IMG Models - New York City, Paris, London, Milan, Hong Kong
  • Marilyn Agency - Paris
  • Models 1 - London
  • New York Model Management - New York City
  • NEXT Model Management - New York City and Paris
  • One Management - New York City
  • Orange Model Management - Toronto, Montreal and London
  • M Models and Talent Agency - Toronto
  • Premier Model Management - London
  • Select Model Management - London
  • Storm Model Agency - London
  • Viva Models - Paris, Barcelona and London
  • Wilhelmina Models - New York City
  • Women Model Management - New York City
  • Why Not Model Agency - Milan
  • Easymodelling - Geneva, Switzerland

Aside from "fashion" modeling, many agencies specialize in commercial advertising that do not require high fashion models. This can be located in any region where print ads are produced. They often fill calls for product packaging, catalogues, textbooks, billboards, etc. which require a more "real person" look or even a "character" look. Chicago, for example, has a large need for these types of models although little call for high fashion models.

Music agents

In the music world, booking agents are different from talent managers. Booking agents are the people that actually book shows for the artists they represent. They make all of the arrangements with the promoters of the shows. The booking agent presents the promoter or producer of the concert with a performance agreement, which stipulates the artist’s requirements. Items may include lighting, sound, meals, hotel accommodations, and transportation. For concert buyers, they work to find the right artist that will fit in the need and available budget.

Many of the major booking agencies refuse to represent clients who are not already signed to a major record label and have national distribution of their music. Because of this, artists on independent record labels often seek representation with an independent booking agency.

Bars and nightclubs that specialize in presenting live music on a regular basis often employ an individual to assemble the schedule of events. These people are the venue’s buyers, and should not be confused with the booking agent, who presents their roster of available acts to the buyer. Booking agents may also have contacts known as free-lance promoters. These are individuals that agree to produce a concert by locating a venue, providing a sound system and assembling a staff. Producing a show in this manner, at a location that is rented out for a single evening, is called “four-walling,” as it entails renting a venue and receiving no additional services or technical equipment other than the space itself. This has often been the only available option for underground musicians lacking enough popular appeal to gain access to more conventional performance venues (see: Punk rock), but is also used among the genre of raves and various DJ-related events.

The cost factor of having a booking agent has to be weighed against what they can do for clients and buyers alike. Some agents represent several different types of artists, while others represent artists in one main area/genre.

Cruise ship industry

Booking agents are also used for the cruise ship industry where several different categories of entertainers are needed. These can include individual musicians to be part of the ship's orchestra, small bands and ensembles as well as variety entertainers such as singers, instrumentalists, magicians, comedians and acrobats. Artists looking to work on cruise ships will sign an employment contract with the cruise line and a separate commission contract with the booking agent.

Scam agents

Some people in the entertainment industry try to take advantage of newcomers. Always have other people present at the audition and it should be at a public place. New talent is advised to research and find established agencies. No reputable agency charges for representation, but the agent may recommend steps that will cost money, especially when talent is starting out. An agency may suggest new photos or training, and may have good contacts for new talent. An advantage of having an agent is that agents will help choose the best photographers or shots to make into headshots, etc. When signing with an agency who also offer photography and workshops, talent is advised to see proof of past bookings, such as client lists and current models tearsheets from booked work. If an agency covers upfront costs, it is reimbursed for all expenses after the talent begins work.

Music managers

A music manager (or band manager) handles many career issues for bands and singers and, on occasion, even DJs. A music manager is hired by a musician or band to help with determining decisions related to career moves, bookings, promotions, business deals, recording contracts, etc. The role of music managers is extensive and may include similar duties to that of a press agent, promoter, booking agent, business manager (who are usually certified public accountants), tour managers, and sometimes even a personal assistant. Responsibilities of a business manager are often divided among many who manage various aspects of a musical career. With an unsigned act, music managers have to assume multiple roles: booking agent, graphic designer, publicist, promoter, and accountant.[6] As an artist's career develops, responsibilities grow. A music manager becomes important to managing the many different pieces that make up a career in music. The manager can assist singers, songwriters, and instrumentalists in molding a career, finding music producers, and developing relationships with record companies, publishers, agents, and the music-loving public. The duties of an active music manager will focus on a developing a reputation for the musician(s) and building a fan base, which may include mastering and launching a demo CD, developing and releasing press kits, planning promotional activities, and booking shows. A music manager will gain access to a recording studio, photographers, and promotions. He or she will see that CD labels, posters, and promotional materials appropriately represent the band or artist, and that press kits are released in a timely manner to appropriate media. Launching a CD with complementary venues and dates is also a music manager’s responsibility.

Difference between agents and managers

  • Agents have the authority to make deals for their clients. Managers establish connections with producers and studios, labels and publishers. They also guide the artist's career.

See also

Entertainment unions


  1. ^ McDonald,Paul.(2008) "Hollywood Film Industry". Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p.167-168
  2. ^ "Though suits are still the standard at the Big Five agencies (C.A.A., William Morris, I.C.M., U.T.A. and Endeavor)" Laporte, Nicole. "Let's Dress It Down, Ari." New York Observer, 25 September 2005.
  3. ^ "Skirmishes among [Hollywood]'s top five agencies are escalating." Horn, John. "Summer battle royale for agents." Los Angeles Times, 3 July 2008.
  4. ^ McDonald, Paul(2008). The Star System: The Production of Hollywood Stardom in the Post-Studio Era, p. 168-171. Blackwell Publishing,Inc., MA. ISBN 978-1-4051-3388-3.
  5. ^ McDonald, Paul(2008). The Star System: The Production of Hollywood Stardom in the Post-Studio Era, p. 168-171. Blackwell Publishing,Inc., MA. ISBN 978-1-4051-3388-3.
  6. ^ When Does My Band Need A Manager? Getsigned.com July 16, 2003

Further reading

  • Passman, Donald S. All You Need To Know About the Music Business: 6th Edition
  • Kerr, Judy, Acting Is Everything: An Actor's Guidebook for a Successful Career in Los Angeles
  • Callen, K. The Los Angeles Agent Book

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