The start of a new year is traditionally a time to welcome transition and change.
What was your resolution or visualization for 2017? One of mine was to get better at having difficult conversations – to look things straight in the eye, tell the truth and not shy away from conflict when something is clearly up. I knew I wanted to get better at being able to clearly and concisely discuss my concerns and stand my ground, and not over-nurturing or forcing a resolution too quickly.
I’m not a gal who traditionally did well with conflict in real life. In my acting work? Sure, I’ll go hell for leather, stick to my point of view and fight for the cause. But in everyday life it’s occasionally been a challenge to feel like I can steer my way through the hard angles of a potential confrontation. Nowhere has this proved more true than in my industry and in dealing with representation. It being such a people business, it’s easy to feel professional and personal lines blurring - it can feel tricky to negotiate business with people we care about and we feel a duty to be ‘liked’ by.
I’d like to dedicate this post to those times in life when we feel it’s time to confront concerns we’re having with our representation relationships. Maybe it’s because of lack of communication, going up for auditions we don’t feel are the right fit, no auditions, etc. As with any relationship, most of us have been in a situation where we feel stuck and uncertain about whether we should continue working with the people on our acting team.
So if you’re inspired to make some changes, see this as an opportunity to take a bold and objective look at what’s going on in your professional life - often a refection of what’s going on in your personal life.
1. A leader must tell the truth – to their team and to themself First and foremost take a look inwards and get very clear about where you are and what you’re personally responsible for in getting to this point. What have been your habits? What have you excelled at, learned and contributed to yourself, your team and your industry? And what have been your negative tendencies and behaviours? As an actor you must be an effective leader for yourself and your team. And as in any business, you won’t be able to manage that team and nurture your progress if you’re not willing to own and take responsibility for your part. Being aware of what you’re bringing to the table and how that serves your agents or manager is an important first step. You’ll then have a wider perspective of the situation and the emotional intelligence to know how you’ve impacted this relationship, and how you want to contribute to a new professional dynamic.
2. “Can we still make this work?” Back to those difficult conversations. Chances are, if you’re not completely satisfied with how things are going your current manager or agent won’t be either. Every relationship requires understanding, and a shared vision is particularly important when times get a rocky. Consider having a calm ‘state of the union’ or fireside chat to get your concerns and interests on the table. Get curious, listen intently and remain patient as you renew the conversation around any and all of it - auditions you’d like, the work-flow you’re producing independently and what synergy there is between your respective business relationships. Listen until you understand their viewpoint and be clear enough so they may do the same. Do you want to re-brand? Set some new goals as a team? Try not to let yourself get swayed by good intentions and generic language - being as clear and specific with your goal posts and decisions will allow you to hold yourself and others accountable in future, if and when you need to re-assess again. If you’ve covered the internal work in Step 1 you’ll have the self-knowledge to speak from a place of integrity and professional courtesy.
3. Ask around Before meeting new representation, speak with anyone and everyone you know who could help shed some light. Email and talk with your actor friends, casting directors, coaches and so on. Determine what sort of work the agency or management company is known for, what their track record is of late and how they have handled new clients over the past 12 months. What is their professional conduct like and how do they represent their company’s values in the wider world? Are they interested in the bottom line above all? How do they support actors outside of being an agency or management company, and how do they give back in the industry? Try to determine whether this might be the agency you want to align yourself with, and if so - ask for a meeting!
4. Are we a fit? When you do sit down with a new agent or manager, talk confidently and cheerfully about your background, work and find the common ground. Try to gauge how they talk about their actors and how they might be your voice in the industry. Would you feel good about them literally representing you and your interests in the industry? And don't forget to get the skinny on how they like to work day to day. Come up with a potential game plan for check-ins, response times and email / phone preference, submission calls, etc.
5. What are the legals? Don't forget to check your contract and any restrictions - get 100% clear on whether you're free to move on from a legal standpoint. Some agents may pass on taking on someone new while they are still signed with their current agent, often out of professional respect, and they may also not like to share money or get into legal issues down the road. Others may be happy to start working with you if it's an exciting fit. Either way, if you're in a position to shop around be courteous and have a good answer to the question "Why are you leaving?" (also to avoid rousing suspicion that you have been fired!) Management contracts can tend to be a little more grey and nuanced, there might be more room for maneuver . Whatever the case, if you're looking to terminate an agreement early be prepared to get legal counsel and get clear how on you can extricate yourself from a contract. Remember that at the end of the day every agreement is a written reflection of a human relationship, so be open to having that difficult conversation with your current rep. When you inform them of your decision to leave, more often than not you'll both be able to make a reasonable exit from contract, perhaps with a revised agreement around financial compensation.
Ask yourself how willing you are to find out for real whether this new company is a fit. Consider whether the risk is worth leaving your current manager or agent, where you already know what to expect. Rather than making a list of regular pros and cons, it's about choosing a different set of risks - write down what you stand to gain by signing with the new company and what you stand to gain by staying where you are.
7. Be someone people honestly want to work with Someone once told me “the industry is always watching.” Whilst that may sound creepy (!) it’s true that things have a funny way of coming around and you never know who may be taking note of your conduct - positive or otherwise. Agents and managers will quickly pick up on how well you carry yourself professionally, how engaging and proactive you are, how you speak of your previous reps and any industry complaints, and whether you treat their assistants as courteously as you do them. Water seeks its own level - when you’re cheerful, smart and engaging you're an attractive actor to work with, and you’ll attract the same qualities in your peers and more likely to stay the course!
8. Who is in my network? Agents, schmagents! Relationships rule our business and many casting directors and producers will freely admit they’d often prefer to go straight to an actor with meetings and work offers. You may even choose to concentrate on your other relationships and remain unrepresented for the time being, particularly if it allows you to gain independence and strength from the self-knowledge you'll develop. With or without a representative, spend a significant amount of your working week developing and nurturing your own actor's network – reaching out to people you admire, setting up meetings and attending classes, interacting with them on social media and contributing to the community where you can.
9. Separate the personal and professional This is a particularly personal business - actors are prone to taking feedback very personally and fear being judged on a deep level. In turn that can make us apprehensive of being straightforward and constructively honest with others, and to avoid offending we may treat the people we work with with kid gloves. This serves no one in the end. If you're coming from the place of self-knowledge and mutual respect we've talked about, you can be clear about your professional decisions and need not fear your agent's or manager's reaction to these. They may not respond the way you’d like them to but give them the space to work it out, and honor the process. Above all remind them this is strictly professional and no reflection of the personal relationship which you may like to choose to continue.
10. Be grateful for the experience We work in an amazing and eccentric field. No one has all the codes or knows what is going to happen next, and so it may be easy to lose sight of everything that happens when you're not around. No matter what motivated you to make representation changes, your agent or manager has mostly likely worked harder for you than you will realize. Acknowledge and validate their efforts in championing you - and not just when you're leaving them of course! Sending small Thank-Yous along the way (notes, emails, flowers or gift vouchers perhaps) and making specific compliments gives you the opportunity to guide your team and show sincere gratitude for what they’ve done throughout the relationship. And if you're moving elsewhere, remember the experiences and lessons you're taking with you, and make that transition with a positive intention.
Let's leave the final words to some childhood heroes...