"Acting deals with very delicate emotions. It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself."
As you know we are producing several eBooks, of which profits will go to the fund to support the projects and careers of our members.
As this year rolls out and a new one rolls in, and many of us are thinking about our future plans, I wanted to share some great insight and advice from agent Kristin Tarry of TCG Artists Management.
Our eBook on Acting will contain a plethora of wisdom, inspirations and advice from various agents, casting directors and successful established actors.
Please join me in thanking Kristin and all the other contributors who are currently working on articles for us. I'm sure I speak for all of us (BFA founders and patrons and members alike) by saying how much we appreciate anyone and everyone who steps up to help us achieve the goal we're all working towards....
Members will be notified when our eBooks on Acting and our other various eBooks are available for purchase...
How long have you been representing actors?
Nearly 25 years.
How did the journey start for you? Were you ever involved in the industry as an actor?
I trained at LAMDA on a 2 year Stage Management Course, no acting unless you count amateur dramatics as a teen (always knew I didn't have an acting talent).
What lead you towards becoming an agent? Your career path?
I previously worked for BBC TV alongside Janet Street-Porter and drama producer, Phillippa Giles, I then wanted to go into casting as I was told I would make a great agent.
What does an agent actually do?
An agent does everything! They talent search, suggest clients for roles, secure introductions to casting directors and directors, negotiate contracts, keep diaries, invoice for and collect monies, build relationships with industry members, go to theatre and cinema regularly, watch TV dramas, promote their clients who are in work and so on.
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
Telling a client they have that life changing role.
What's the most difficult/challenging part of your job?
What would be the biggest challenges actors face and how do you help them overcome them?
The sheer volume of 'actors' all trying to be seen for the same role, we help by advising them on correct photographs/showreels, to look professional and using our contacts within the industry to help them be seen by the right casting directors/directors.
Regarding the people who approach you or ultimately come to see you, what experience do they generally have? Or do some not have any at all?
Generally they are all established actors within the industry who are listed in Spotlight with a proven track record of television, film and theatre roles. However we do sometimes see 'young graduates' from drama school and very young actors who have no experience but a great face or credit. Occasionally an older person with no experience approaches us; usually they've done a different job and fancy being an actor but on the whole we wouldn't meet with these people.
Does that 'gut feeling' sometimes take over when you're considering someone? At what point does that come in? Headshot stage? First meeting? Or the first time you see them act?
Always, within the first few seconds of them walking in the door, occasionally people charm you and talk you round but usually you just know. Sometimes if you see a performance someone can be amazing but at the interview stage you just can't get on with them. Ultimately a lot of this job is about getting on with people when you walk through the door, so it is important. I can usually tell a lot from a headshot too.
How easy is it to recognise someone who has got something very special?
When they have something really special, you just know. The only way I can describe it is that they have a sparkle or special aura if you like, a presence, or they draw the room to them, people just want to watch them even if they are not speaking.
What are the most important ingredients for an actor to get your attention and really make you take interest in them?
Think of yourself as a product you are trying to sell, bring examples (CV, photo, showreel), sell yourself (bring reviews), know your casting bracket and list all your contacts within the industry. Be keen but not pushy, confident but not arrogant. Be on time for your appointment with them. If you are late for an appointment or audition you are immediately on the back foot.
How can an actor best prepare for an agent interview?
Write to them with links to CV, showreels or offer them tickets to a show you're currently appearing in. Agents will often cover established drama schools and a lot of their younger clients from those schools.
What's your advice to actors who come across agents who want to represent them for a fee as opposed to the standard commission?
Never sign with anyone who wants to take a fee from you, we earn our money from commission for jobs we submit you for, nothing else. Certainly never ever sign anything that says you will have to buy yourself out of the contract with an agent should another agent want to represent you.
What's your advice to actors based outside London? Is London often seen as the LA of the UK? We live in a smaller sized country – should aspiring actors necessarily consider a move to London as the all-important career choice?
We don't usually tell casting directors when actors are based outside of London (unless it is relevant to the role). However casting is so last minute nowadays you need to be available in London at a moments notice. Because of email, Blackberrys, iPhones, etc, sometimes we get castings coming in at 10/11pm at night for the next morning!
Are self-taped auditions becoming more and more the norm? Should actors feel they're missing out on a chance if they're asked to self-tape?
Self-taped auditions are becoming more and more common especially as more and more actors have smart phones etc, which make it so easy to do. We debated yesterday whether this was a good thing, as there is a lot to be said for doing a self tape in your own time, as many times as you want, in a relaxed and calm environment. However, in the same breath it doesn't give you as much of a chance to sell yourself to the casting director or director. We tend to find self-taping is only used in early stages or for projects casting abroad.
Are there any personality traits or intrinsic qualities you see inherent in actors who go on to have long standing careers or huge success?
Not really personality traits or qualities, as I said before some people just have 'it' – whatever 'it' may be.
Could you give 3 tips for starting an acting career?
Do something else. Do something else. Do something else. These are the best 3 tips I can give anyone. However, if it's in your blood you won't take any notice of this anyway; just don't say you weren't told. 1) Your headshot is more important than you realise. 2) If you don't get accepted to one of the top drama schools you will struggle even more in this industry and even if you do train at RADA, LAMDA, Guildhall, etc, this still doesn't guarantee you will work as an actor once you've finished your training. 3) Sign to an agent who likes you and wants to work for you. There's no point signing to an agency who doesn't have time for you or believe wholeheartedly in your talents.
How do actors get on your radar?
Actors either email me and I like the look of their headshot, their CV shows me some strong credits, their reel is good. Or, I talent spot at drama schools and other theatre shows.
Where do you find new talent to rep?
Mostly people write directly to me at the agency or I talent spot at drama schools, etc. I am recommended to a large proportion of the people who approach TCG Ltd.
Can you give your opinion, advice, suggestions re actors headshots?
The most important thing about your headshot is that it actually looks like you. This may sound ridiculous, but you wouldn't believe the number of people who walk in the door and look nothing like their picture. If you are not what the casting team are expecting you start off on the back foot and have to work extra hard to impress. You may not even get the chance to impress as they might end the audition quite quickly.
Same questions regarding showreels?
Put your best work at the front of the reel. Most people only watch about 90 seconds worth of your work. Make sure it advertises you and not the other people in the reel. Make sure the other people playing opposite are good actors too. If they are bad, you will look bad too. An industry professional can spot a student film a mile off so try if you can to get the best quality professional work you possibly can. If you want to have a montage put it at the end of the reel but remember an agent or casting director want to hear you on camera as well as see you acting. Try not to use anything that's more than 2 years old.
Any advice for actors who don't' have a showreel as yet but are thinking of putting one together from their work?
A showreel is as important as your headshot. Most casting people want to see a show reel nowadays.
Any advice for actors who don't as yet have enough material from their careers to be able to put a showreel together?
If you really have nothing to use that's of a professional standard you can either write to the film schools to try to get some good footage or even film something yourself. If you film it yourself then make it look as professional as possible. Don't think you're adding atmosphere by filming in front of your washing drying in the background/filming in a dark cellar/setting the scene with your personal effects – these are only a distraction. Film it against a white wall with natural light – it is your acting they want to see at the end of the day. Try to have another actor read in the lines to you off camera.
What's your advice to new or aspiring actors thinking of working on expenses only projects? Any advice on how to tell which are genuine non-exploitative projects and which might be productions simply looking for free actors because they know they can get away with it?
On the whole, I am not keen on people working for no money – even the film schools will pay you something for your time. Personally, I don't do expenses only projects and any actor who does will need to tread very carefully as it's possible they are being exploited. In the TCG office we say "the smaller the budget, the bigger the agro".
Should an actor only rely on their agent? How much responsibility would you place on them for finding their own opportunities alongside the work you do for them? Do you encourage it? Frown on it?
An actor shouldn't rely solely on their agent, no. We encourage clients to put themselves forward for regional theatre or occasionally follow up on a submission we've made for them. Actors should get out and about to the theatre and other networking possibilities. We also ask our clients to let us know what their friends are casting for but not to tell their friends the projects they are going up for.
Do you/your clients feel that taking a chance on a new project/new filmmaker is sometimes a risk worth taking?
We sometimes do take chances on new filmmakers but not necessarily if they don't pay any money whatsoever. Generally though, we would respond if we know the casting directors or any of the production team involved.
Are there aspects of a production looking for actors, or a script itself that carry warning signals to you and make you feel you/your clients shouldn't get involved?
Usually if the script is poorly written, the production people are disorganized, if their manner is bad on the telephone, this is the kind of thing that would sound alarm bells.
What's your view on changes in the industry over recent years?
The industry is certainly not what it used to be and it's not changed for the better. There are way too many people who like to think they can be actors for a start. Almost every negotiation starts with "we don't have any money in our budget". The advertising world is the worst. Commercials used to keep jobbing actors and most agencies afloat and able to do the lesser paid artistic work. Nowadays though, you are practically paying to appear in commercials. The advertising agencies take forever to pay their bills and generally treat agents in particular, with very little respect. Industry people now expect to be able to contact casting directors/agents/actors 24/7 too and have no respect for their down time. Another change is that people mostly email each other now instead of picking up the phone and talking to each other. It's a shame as most of our working relationships are built initially over the telephone.
Do you feel the economic crisis has had a bearing effect?
Yes, the economic crisis has had a huge negative impact on the business.
Do you feel there are more or less quality projects happening in this country at the moment?
There are less feature films being made here, however, a small light at the end of the tunnel is that TV dramas have picked up since the success of programmes such as Downton Abbey. Finally the TV viewing population seem to have tired of reality TV.
The average budget for a British Film has dropped dramatically over the past ten years? Has this had any effect the industry from your perspective?
Yes, of course it's had an effect on the industry. Actors and agents are being paid less for their work now than they were 20 odd years ago.
A friend of mine who's a successful working actor and been in a lot of well-known films feels that the roles that he was eligible for eight or nine years ago now automatically go to the James McAvoys and Tom Hardys. Is this something you're seeing happen?
All producers and directors want names for practically every part they cast and they can get named actors to accept roles they wouldn't have even considered 10 years ago. We now have film stars appearing in TV series and serials. So yes, I would agree this is happening and consequently it's having a knock on effect on the amount of roles for jobbing actors.
If you receive a breakdown or a query from a production company wanting you to pass a script along to a specific client, what are the instincts you feel or signs that you see that it is a project worth investing yours and your client's time in? What excites you? Intrigues you? And what gives you faith that the people involved are going to see the project through in a decent and professional manner?
When we receive scripts for clients, we usually forward it straight to the actor for their opinion. If they are not sure about the script, someone from TCG will have a read. We then discuss our thoughts with the client concerned. Strong storylines with great character driven plots are exciting. A director with an impressive track record is always attractive to the client too. Usually, I will know someone involved with a project somewhere along the line, be it the producer, director or casting director.
In reverse what are the warning signs that a project or script should be passed over?
If it's poorly written and doesn't flow or capture your imagination. Is it going to be a cult hit? Or will it flop?
How do you see the industry evolving and changing in the time ahead?
I think a lot of actors and agencies will fall by the wayside if things don't improve in the future. That said, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing in such an oversubscribed industry. When people start having families they need to make a certain amount of money to survive. Unless they are very lucky they will need to have a second job to make ends meet. Only 6 per cent of Equity members earn over £30,000 a year. 52 per cent of Equity members earn less than £6,000 a year. Only 8% of UK based actors are believed to be in work at any given time.
From a technical point of view, I think we will see more CGI and Motion Capture in films – guess what – that's less use of actors again.
What's the all important thing that makes the actor/agent relationship work well?
An actor/agent relationship is a little like a marriage but without the intimacy. You have to trust each other totally. Once the trust is broken it's hard to get the relationship back on track. You have to like and respect each other and your respective opinions and viewpoints. If you find yourself arguing with your agent all the time you may want to consider moving on before you become moved on. Never try to negotiate a lower commission rate with your agent – it won't go down too well. Your agent lives, eats, breathes this industry and generally loves their job. If they don't they won't survive in the industry themselves. They work harder than you will ever know so never insult them by not paying your commission. Always keep your agent informed of your whereabouts and unavailability – nothing will annoy them more than their setting up a casting and your saying you can't make it because you've booked a holiday, got a hair appointment, an MOT booked, got to go Christmas shopping, are pregnant, can't get childcare, are sick and any other excuse you may think acceptable.
Films and filmmaking would dry up and die were it not for new talent coming through. The same people making and staring in films now couldn't all possibly still be in the same positions fifty years from now. And yet making that first career step or finding that all important break seems stained with overbearing impossibility. So finally, could you leave us with any best piece of advice you could give? This is for anyone; actors, new and established, filmmakers wanting to work with actors. Anyone thinking of getting into the industry but put off by the many obstacles faced. Anyone who's been trying for years and on the verge of giving up. Any words you would like to pass on to any of us…..
Filmmakers need to be brave enough to give new talent a chance – if people like Steven Spielberg can take a chance on actors like Jeremy Irvine who had literally done nothing before War Horse, then why can't every other filmmaker in the business.
The best piece of advice I could give: even though all around you tell you to Do Something Else, if you want it that badly and believe in yourself so much you're prepared to starve for your art then don't give up. Don't take no for an answer. Network, get yourself out there, spend your daytimes researching up and coming projects (the internet is an amazing tool), email your details to agents, casting directors, directors and producers. If you're really that good something will break eventually. As a new actor it will help if you can train at a reputable drama school. It costs a lot of money but you are effectively paying for the school to bring you to the attention of the influential people in the industry. If it really is in your blood you won't be able to give up.