To a lot of people who are just starting out in the entertainment industry, the role of casting agencies is a bit of a mystery. What do they actually do and how do they help somebody get an acting job? Their role is actually quite straightforward. Like any sort of agent, they act as an intermediary between the person who is looking for a job in the entertainment industry and the industry itself. Normally, it is the casting director who liaises with the casting agent or a number of casting agents to find who they need.
Casting agents or talent agents don’t just find jobs for actors; they may represent musicians and models, authors, film directors, dancers and writers, all of whom may be involved at some point in the business of putting a film or play together. Agents are not always required. It’s always possible that somebody is so well known that they are contacted directly without having to go through an agent, but in many cases having an agent cuts out a lot of the communication and negotiation that goes on when somebody is being hired.
The casting agent receives a commission, which is a percentage of what the actor or person they are representing gets paid for a particular job. In the United States, where the entertainment industry is much larger than that in Britain, the agents used to be called “ten-percenters” because they traditionally got paid ten percent of the earnings of the actor.
Most agencies are licensed to carry out their agency work as they are often dealing with considerable amounts of money. Some agencies are operated on behalf of professional organisations or guilds but usually they are separate undertakings that are financially independent from the actors’ associations.
Casting agencies have, in fact, two sets of clients who they represent and they will normally try to make both parties happy at the same time. In this regard they behave like a lot of intermediaries in the business world. One could compare what they do to a real estate agent who acts on behalf of the seller of a house, for instance, and the potential buyers.
Agencies may be specialised in who they represent. Normally, the larger the agency is, the more specialised it is. Different actors may themselves specialise in the sort of work they normally do. Some just work for the commercial advertising industry while others concentrate on film or theatre. Others again may be just involved in television. These different industries tend to have separate networks of people who are influential in the way they operate and people are hired. It makes sense then that agencies themselves specialise in a particular field as a lot of the job of an agent involves contact with people in a particular network.
The agent works at selling the actor to a particular casting director so they need to be on top of what the requirements are for a particular production that might be taking place. Whatever field the actor is interested in involves auditions and the agent is instrumental in helping the actor to get represented at the audition. They will also be the ones that will present the resume or portfolio and the headshot or shots at the audition or prior meeting with the casting director.