There are numerous factors that will dictate how much your agent can or will be able to do for you at any given time. The status quo of your résumé, the extent of the access, or clout that your agency has, as well as the specific demographic in terms of your age range and physicality are all factors that can dictate how much audition activity an actor gets from an agent. And even within the framework I just described, there are shades of gray. For example, you may have a very light résumé, but have just come out of a top tier acting training program and have been picked up by a major agency. Often these agencies get you seen for huge roles in major projects in all areas. Doesn’t mean you'll be cast at this level, but it is possible to get seen, and it happens every year to at least some of the students at the schools where I teach.
Obviously, only a small percentage of actors are in the category I just described, so for today I’ll talk about a more common syndrome: a young actor who has good training (although not from a major school), has a light résumé, and an agent with a respectable degree of access.
In the “old days” it was easier to gauge, to some degree, how much your agent was attempting to work on your behalf. How? Submissions were made by hard copy. As such, an actor could tell when he handed his agent 25 or 30 pictures and résumés, how many submissions were being made by how often his agent would call him and say, “We need more photos. I only have two left.” Still, this was only a partial indicator as to how much an agent was working for a client, because all agents have access to the breakdowns and are able to submit. What the actor was often in the dark about was the extent of the follow-up that was being done by the agent. So the photo/résumé submission was Step 1, of course, but good agents know that Part 2 is the real work: follow-up, a factor without which, no business can flourish.—certainly not ours, where the competition is so fierce.
So none of this is to prescribe a “gotcha” or a sneaky way to check up on your agent, but it might be an aha moment for you and lead you to a better relationship with your agent. It is common for actors to complain to their agents that they see friends of theirs going in on things for which they feel they should have been seen. When the agent asks, “Like what?” (and they usually will), the actor often has trouble with specifics, or in an even more common scenario, names a huge role in a huge project that he doesn’t have the credits to realistically be seen for, or that his particular agent has the access to get for him.
In the actor’s corner, it also happens that an agent will tell the actor he can’t get him a specific audition because they’re "only looking for names.” And yet the actor sees friends of his whose résumés are not stronger than his own getting seen for that specific audition! This specific scenario is often a reflection of the the agent’s lack of access and even lack of awareness that unknowns are indeed being seen.
OK, so what do you do? You monitor the market. You get a realistic handle on where you are in the business and you look at IMDbpro if you haven’t already and see what jobs the other actors on you agent’s client list are getting. You look up who cast those projects. If it’s in the past year or two, you know you agent must have relationships with those casting offices. Do some real work here so you can gain some real awareness of who your agent’s strongest casting relationships appear to be. Then keep note of the projects for which your friends are being seen? Are they at the same career level? Is their look similar?
Then, when you communicate with your agent, do the following. Thank them for all they’ve been doing for you and tell them how much you appreciate it. They are working for free, so start by presuming they’re doing their job and cut them some slack. Then ask if there’s anything you could be doing to meet them partway and make their job a little easier. If this communication is welcomed, and it should be if they are decent people and respectable in business, venture forth politely and mention that you’ve seen a few projects of late that you had a friend of the same type and career level was seen for and you weren’t. If they say they submitted you, but there was nothing further, be sure to ask the following: “Is there anything casting directors say about me when you contact them that I could work on?” Notice what you’re doing here. You’re giving them the benefit of the doubt and presuming there is some all-important follow-up being done! The importance of follow-up cannot be overestimated. If they say, “No, it takes time, the’'re just not interested yet. You haven’t done anything,” then the response is a tad general.
What you want is for them to ask you specifically what you weren’t seen on, and hope they can be specific back. So name the project and the role. You may hear: “The casting director felt you were too old (or young) for this.” Or, “The casting director felt you were not as upscale as they need here.” This may not be exactly what you wanted to hear, but as the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” By which I mean, when you are specific, you can often learn if the all-important
Part 2 (follow-up) is being done by your agent. Follow-up will result, at least some of the time, in specifics. If you get specifics, you have your answer. Yet, this is not a one-shot deal. You may need to have this kind of discussion on a few occasions to see if an actual pattern forms.
I am aware that this technique is not a “one size fits all” remedy, and there is homework to be done before even attempting it. However, I can say that many actors fit in this particular category in the industry and don’t know how to handle it. Tact, diplomacy, and, yes, gratitude go a long way. And if someone is part of your team, he or she should be willing to help you move forward. You’re working together after all. If a relationship is lacking in communication, try to fix it. Too many actors don’t communicate with their representatives because they don’t know how. Eventually the actor virtually explodes when the situation becomes unbearable. Often the relationship is not only salvageable, but can grow into something far better than it is. Communicate.