Looking for local talent for your next production, but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. Filmmakers—especially those working on their first films—often have questions about hiring talent. Here to answer your who, what, when, where, and why are Northwest talent agents Dennis Troutman with OPTION Model & Media, Topo Swope with Topo Swope Talent, Stacie Overman with TAKE2 Talent Agency, Becky Reilly with Big Fish NW Talent, Tanya Tiffany with Tiffany Talent, and Elicia Walker with Actors First Agency.
Media Inc: What services does an agent provide that I cannot get by hiring actors directly?
Topo Swope: There are huge advantages to using an agent! An agent can give the client (producer) the cost, the availability, help in choosing an appropriate actor for the job. An agent can walk the client through the process and handle the job from A to Z. The client gives the agent all of the job details, and the agent is responsible for relaying all the information to the actors. Since the client only has to deal with one point of contact, the agent, it will save them time in that they won’t be saddled by multiple phone calls and emails. It removes the stress from an already stressful process.
Stacie Overman: By hiring talent through TAKE2, I help to make your job easier! You inform me of what you’re looking for and I do all the screening for you by going through my checklist: Are they available for all the possible dates of your shoot? Do they have transportation? Do they have the look you want? Do they have the chops you need?
I won’t send you anything that doesn’t fit all of your criteria. I do all the communication with all the talent for you. You only need to communicate your information through me, your talent agent, or as I look at it, your “business partner.”
Elicia Walker: I can only write for myself. The service I provide to clients would be my knowledge about my actors. We know our actors’ talents better than anyone else that may present them. I, for one, will not expect the producer to see everyone I represent. It saves the director and the producer a lot of time, and they are able to see talent that a casting director may not show. There is a lot of new talent that is in Seattle and sometimes casting directors may not know them yet. So the actors do not get seen right away.
I know that I book actors with my personal clients more, because I can talk to the client directly, and tell them about my actors’ strengths and weaknesses for a part. When you go through my office, I handle the audition process. I do the scheduling of the auditions, make sure actors have their sides, and handle callbacks if needed. I also save time in booking because I send out the calls and all the info the actors need when they are booked. Plus I negotiate the rate for the actor.
Tanya Tiffany: Agents in the NW market provide a number of services to a production client, but the most important seem to be Prequalification and Accountability of talent.
Prequalification: Anyone can call themselves an actor when self submitting to an ad on a callboard. Agents prequalify each of their talent to a degree that nobody who is actively producing work has the time to do on their own. Each agency does this to a different degree, some are very picky, some just have a basic minimum, but every agent has a standard that is well above the average submission when doing an open, “self submit” casting. This can save production huge amounts of time and energy looking for the diamond in a whole lot of rough. Find the right agent, let them know what you need, and you can immediately be searching for the best diamond in a field of diamonds.
Accountability: If an actor is booked directly, through a callboard, website, or friend of a friend, there is nothing for them to lose (except their day rate) for not showing up, being late, or bailing out early. For an independent actor, “I didn’t feel good,” “I had car trouble,” or “My alarm didn’t go off” are viable excuses to be late, or even no-show on shoot day.
MI: Why shouldn’t I cast my project through a callboard service (i.e. TPS, PerformersCALLBOARD, PDXAuditions, Craigslist)?
SO: Casting your project through a callboard or social media may have you scratching your head wondering why you did that! You may experience no-shows or talent that isn’t quite what you were hoping for. Under-par, if you will, or they simply do not understand the entertainment etiquette. Sometimes you can find a gem. But is your project worth the risk? There are typically many reasons why talent surfing callboards are without an agent.
MI: When do I need a casting director to cast my project, vs. calling an agent(s) vs. casting it myself?
Becky Reilly: Having great talent options is the goal. A casting director is going to be your best angle to having these options. They will also help you with a variety of concerns and help navigate many dynamics needed to successfully cast your project. Casting, in most cases, is critical and hiring a CD is a big step in doing it right. This will give you the most options for amazing talent that will help your project shine… now and in the future.
Most agents, I would guess, would prefer to work through a CD and there are solid CD options in the NW. Calling an agent can work. This may take more work on your end; there is a good deal of prep that goes into casting. This option limits you to their agency’s talent options.
Casting the project yourself adds a great deal of work to your already busy agenda. Using and planning, with a CD in your pre-production is going to reduce your work. Make room in your budget to get help with casting. Talented actors can make your script sing and you look great. Your buddy’s, girlfriend’s sister may not.
MI.: How much time do I need to find actors before a shoot?
Dennis Troutman: In a perfect world, producers, agents and actors can have up to a week or two to go through the process of submitting, auditions, callbacks and eventual bookings. However, some agents can also help you find an actor as late as the day before the shoot.
TS: Of course in our industry, time is a luxury rarely experienced! When a client says, “It’s a very short turn around,” and then gives us, say, 4-5 days, we laugh! That is that luxury! Usually we are working on a super time crunch, sometimes getting less than 12 hours’ notice for an actor to get to an audition! So the more time the client has to find actors, the better!
TT: The short answer, which is a little different for each agency, is that we’re used to moving fast. Most agents can move very quickly to get talent organized and scheduled to auditions, so for a proper booking agency, a few days is well enough time to make everything happen. Submitting today, scheduling 30 people to audition tomorrow, then booking talent and shooting two days later is our “normal.” Casting directors are also used to moving very quickly, and can multiply your own efforts by reaching out to multiple agents in parallel, and getting you the best talent that the market has to offer in a very short time.
MI: How can I audition actors if I don’t have a space for them to come to and can’t afford a casting director to do it?
DT: Depending on the agency you are working with, you could potentially hold a casting in their office, though it would likely need to be exclusively that particular agency’s actors.
EW: You are welcome to audition my actors at my wonderful office in Fremont. I have the space and a waiting room. I am set up to make the client comfortable and also the actors. Producers & directors welcome!
MI: How are actors priced? Rates?
BR: Good question. We cannot offer rates before getting a better understanding of the scope of your project. Our typical questions for you:
• What is the intended use of the materials that will be produced: TV Commercial, Webspot, Website, Corporate Video, Feature Film, Print, some combination, or other?
• How long will the materials be used: 13 weeks, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years? Please have an end date in mind.
• Where will the materials be used: Local, regional, national, international, internal?
• Which term(s) best describes the character(s) in this project: Spokesperson, Speaking Talent, Non-Speaking Principal, Featured Extra (seen in the foreground), Background Extra (barely recognizable in the background) or other?
You can also reference the SAG-AFTRA contracts that are easily found online: www.sagaftra.org/contracts.