One of the questions I am often asked about a role I've done is, "Did your agent get that for you?" The answer is always "No." Agents don't get jobs for you. Their job, and all they can do, is to submit you for a role.
When a show or commercial is ready to be cast, the agents are generally provided with what is known as a "breakdown." The breakdown gives information about all the available roles, such as a character description, and how many scenes and lines of dialogue the character has. After receiving the breakdown for the movie, TV show, commercial or whatever the possible job might be, the agent's job is to look over the available roles and decide which of his or her artists would be suitable. The agent then submits the clients headshot and resume, and the casting directors then decide whom they want to call in for an audition. The casting director calls the agent, the agent calls the client, (hopefully you!) and after that it's up the actor. Agents don't get you the job, they get you seen for a job. If you don't have an agent, its tougher to be seen because you don't always have the information concerning what jobs are available - only agents can subscribe to the breakdown. That's one of the reasons why networking with other actors through classes, plays, and organizations like SARTA is so important. So on to the next question ...
How do I get an agent? First, determine if they are licensed by the State of California as a talent agency. Talent agencies must be licensed. Personal Managers do not need to be licensed and are not regulated, so be careful there. In addition, "real" agents are also franchised by the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and Actors Equity, the performers unions. Franchised agents must post a sizeable cash bond with the unions, as they will be billing the producers that you work for and handling your money. Unfortunately, here in Sacramento there are no franchised agents, so the pickin's are pretty slim, although Hervey/Grimes Talent Agency, who are franchised in Los Angeles, have applied for a franchise for Sacramento. Hopefully they will be granted one soon. In the meantime, they are a safe bet and a good reputable company. There are a number of franchised agents in San Francisco, and many of them accept both union and non-union clients. You can get the list from the SAG/AFTRA office in San Francisco, or send your name and phone number, along with a self-addressed and stamped envelope to me at P.O. Box 1142, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670. You can also obtain the list from the SAG and AFTRA web sites.
Once you decide which agents you want to try to connect with, send your headshot and resume, along with a brief cover letter stating that you are seeking representation. If you have a demo tape, send that also, along with a self-addressed stamped return envelope for the tape. Don't be disappointed if you aren't accepted right away. There are many reasons why an agent won't take you on as a client. Space doesn't permit me to go any further this issue, so we'll continue the discussion next time around. There are some very definite things to look for and to look out for when seeking representation.