Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You're fired!

No, I didn't lose my job (although there are some days when I think that would be A OK with me). The other day, we fired A Girl's first agent. It wasn't pretty. In fact, she reacted like a snotty child which, instead of making us feel bad, simply reinforced our decision to fire her.

A lot of actors (and, for child actors, their parents) tend to think that if they aren't getting any jobs, it's the agent's fault. But if they are getting jobs, it has nothing to do with the agent and everything to do with the actor's charm, talent and good looks. We aren't like that. A good agent can get an actor in front of the right people at the right time and a good actor/agent relationship is important to the development of a successful acting career. In the best case, you want to "stick with the horse that got you there." It isn't nice to have one agent start you out, get you your first (often lower paying) jobs when no one knew who you were and then leave for no good reason once you start booking more and higher paying jobs.

On the other hand, this is a business. There are a lot of agents to choose from - at least for successful actors. Just because a particular agent gave you a chance when, perhaps, no one else would doesn't mean you need to stick with that agent forever - no matter what.

So here's why we fired her agent:

1. Her agent was not the nicest person around. She had her moments when she'd be friendly. But most of the time she acted like she was doing us all a favor by taking our calls. It's not like we were calling all the time asking stupid questions. We always responded to her calls in a timely fashion. We turned our schedules upside down to make A Girl available for auditions and jobs. We were available at the last minute for several things - which most people simply can't (or won't) do. All in all, we were pretty good clients.

We dealt with her bad bedside manner by just chalking it up to her being busy. After all, A Girl was getting auditions and that's all you can really ask for from an agent. But the straw that broke the camel's back for me happened right after A Girl came back from Asia. We went to the agent's office for a voice over audition and all A Girl could talk about was getting to say hi to her agent. When we got to the office, she went up to the agent and said hello. The agent barely looked up from the piece of paper she was holding, said "Oh. Hi." and walked away. She didn't even smile! It's one thing for the agent to be snippy with stage parents but to be mean to a child? That's just wrong.

2. We dual listed A Girl last year (which means that two agencies where submitting her for jobs). The second agency had a strong modeling/print department and that's something A Girl wanted to do more of. Granted, I didn't handle the dual listing very well. I was so afraid of pissing off Agent #1 (and, true to my nature, I felt guilty about it) that I put off telling her for several months. Finally, I got up the nerve to tell her and, as I feared, she was angry. (And that could be part of why she was snippy to A Girl although she's the one that booked A Girl in Asia and got 10% of the nothing she made while she was there. But that's no excuse to be mean to a child.)

But instead of trying to show why we should go back to being exclusively with her, Agent #1 got meaner and snippier. She still sent A Girl on auditions and there were still times when we had nice conversations. Both she and Agent #2 were booking A Girl on jobs. But, when A Girl came back from Asia, Agent #2 made an effort to see her. Agent #2 also spent nearly an hour one day talking to my husband about A Girl's career and what her next steps might be. She explained how things work in L.A. Based on her personal experience having done tons of musical theater as a child, she explained how that business works as well. And then she came in with an offer we felt we couldn't refuse - if A Girl signed exclusively with her, A Girl would then automatically get an exclusive agency arrangement in L.A. which is almost a necessity in order to get television and film work. Agent #1 has no connections in L.A. and has never even offered to talk to us about A Girl's career development. It's not that we expect her to manage A Girl's career. That's not her job. But if she wants to maintain successful clients, she needs to be more than just a booking agent.

This isn't a decision we made lightly. We thought long and hard about whether it was fair to leave Agent #1 but without an L.A. connection, she just isn't able to provide the kind of access to bigger jobs that other agencies can provide. However, her agency is very strong in voice overs. Although those jobs are not generally high paying, A Girl is well established and is starting to book jobs without auditions because producers know her and have been happy with her work. So we decided to go with Agent #2 with everything except Chicago voice over work. We knew Agent #1 wouldn't be happy but I wasn't prepared for her response.

I called her and, as usual, she was too busy to talk to me. But I had to get it over with so I said "There's no easy way for me to say this. We've decided to sign an exclusive arrangement with Agency X." Before I could get another word out she said (in her usual snippy voice) "Well, good luck with that." I jumped in with "But we'd like to have A Girl continue to work with you for voice overs." Her response was "Well, we'll see about that." When I reiterated that we'd like to stay with her she said "We'll take it under advisement." WTF? I can understand being pissed about losing the business and maybe saying "Can we talk about this another time? I'm upset at losing such a good client and I'd like to collect my thoughts before we continue this conversation." That's professional. It's not like we don't have other options - A Girl has done something like ten voice over jobs since returning home in November. It's not like her agent has to work real hard to get stuff for her.

Since then, she hasn't called us. When they needed A Girl at the last minute for a booking, she had someone else from her agency call me. When she had another booking for A Girl, she sent an email. Is it really a good idea to continue to work with someone who can't bring herself to pick up the phone and talk to you?

So now we're switching to another voice over agent who is so excited to be representing A Girl that she's already started making calls to her industry contacts. She's also talked to us about keeping her posted with A Girl's schedule promising to try to schedule things around her other commitments as much as possible. She's even trying to work out a situation where A Girl can work from L.A.

What I've learned (that my husband knew all along) is that although this is a relationship business, it is a business first and foremost. While it's good to have a friendly relationship with your (or your child's) agent, it's important that the agent work FOR you and not just expect you to do all the work. If you aren't getting good service, there's nothing wrong with testing the market to see if you can find something better. Although I do feel a little bad about firing Agent #1, I know we did it for all the right reasons. And if she ever decides she wants to understand why she lost our business, she can call anytime and we'll explain it.


landismom said...

This is a really interesting post. Thanks for putting in so much detail. I've had a lot of friends with agents, but never known the parents of an actor before. I think it's great that you are able to exercise such good judgment.

AfricaBleu said...

This is FASCINATING to me - I've never known anyone who really DID the whole agent/tv thing.

Sounds like you've got it all figured out - and I think you did the right thing - this agent was your EMPOYEE and she acted like the reverse was true - never a good sign!

So, will we ever know which little girl on tv is yours? :)