Do I Need A Talent Manager?

I recently got the following email:

Dear Larry, 

I’m just starting out as an actor after graduating college with a theater degree.  An actor friend of mine wants to hook me up with her manager. I went to talk to him, and he seems nice, but I’m not sure.  Do I need a talent manager?  Is there anything I need to look out for in picking one?  I don’t yet have an agent.  Thanks. 

Whether to have a manager or not is a question common to up-and-coming (and more established) actors.  The first thing that you should know about managers is that in California, it is illegal for a manager (or anyone without a talent agent’s license) to try to obtain employment for you as a performer.  This rule not only applies to actors, but also writers, directors, models, and pretty much any one else working in the entertainment industry.  But if that’s the case, then why do people have managers?  Isn’t the whole point of having a manager to get you work?

Well, presumably, the answer is “no.” The manager is not supposed to get you work.  But in practice, that is not the case.  Many (if not most) managers are trying to obtain work for their clients.  If not directly, by setting up auditions, then indirectly, by arranging “meetings” with casting agents, producers, directors, and other people who might get you work.  The issue is really more a problem for the manager because the Labor Commissioner can declare a manager contract illegal and unenforceable if it finds that the manager was procuring employment (Read about this recent case involving the group LMFAO to see how this plays out).

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the manager is not going to try to get you work.  What else can he do for you?

That depends on the person, but a good manager will try to advise you on how to best advance your career.  People come to Hollywood from all over the world looking to break into show business.  Most of those people have no idea how the business works and need advice on what to do (and what to avoid) to make it.  A good manager can give you advice on —

  • Which acting teachers  are worthwhile
  • What areas of acting should be studied (e.g., scene study, cold reading, commercials, voiceovers, improvisation, Shakespeare).
  • Should you do theater? Where?
  • Is doing a reality show going to help or hurt your career?
  • What about porn?
  • How do you survive while waiting for that big break?

There are a million more questions  that a good manager can answer for you to move your career forward.

So a manager can be helpful to you, but you have to make sure you pick the right one.  Most managers will require at least a one year commitment and many want you to sign for at least three years.  That’s a long time to be with a unqualified manager so check them out thoroughly before you sign any contracts. Talk to the manager and ask him what he’s going to do for you and how he’s going to help.  Ask him about his other clients.  Are any of them successful?  If so, how important was the manager to their success.  If you can, speak to at least three or four of his long-term clients (at least one year with him) to see what they say about his work.

Back in my acting days, I did not have a manager.  Looking back on my career, I’m sure it would have helped to have someone to advise me.  It can help you too, but only so long as it’s the right person.

Good luck.

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