Does your kid need a talent manager? It depends. Some people have agents but no manager; others have managers but no agent. Many have both. The basic difference: a manager generally has fewer clients than an agent, so your kid is likely to get more of their attention. However—and this is important— unlike agents, managers are not licensed by the state, or franchised by unions. In other words, pretty much anyone can call themselves a manager.
In New York and California, talent managers are not permitted to secure work for their clients without the assistance of an agent. Why have a manager when an agent can (and must) do this for you? Because while the main role of an agent is to get their clients work, the main role of a manager is to look after the big picture: to shape and look after their client’s career. Strategy, choices, and long-term thinking are the domain of a manager.
An agent is generally focused on the day-to-day, which is necessary for securing auditions and managing contracts. It’s a little like the manager watches the forest while the agent watches the trees. For this service most managers charge between 10% and 15% commission.
Agents vs. Managers: Pros and Cons
As I mentioned earlier, some kids have an agent, some have a manager, and some have both. You really can’t get anywhere serious without at least one of them, as the auditions for better roles are only available through agents and managers. This may seem unfair until you consider the sheer numbers of actors who would submit their headshot and resume for every possible decent role if they were able to do so. It would overwhelm the office of every casting director daily.
The system of submitting through agents and managers ensures, for the most part, that the choices casting directors have for auditions are relatively appropriate in terms of suitability for the role, as well as capability. So the system works pretty well.
Technically you DO need to have an agent in Los Angeles, because in California managers are not permitted to secure work for their clients without the assistance of an agent. So unless you are arriving in LA with a manager from your hometown already, an agent relationship should be your first one.
I personally think that until your child is making a fair amount of money (obviously a subjective point) and/or until they are getting decent size roles on a regular basis, that there is just no real need for a manager. Again—if a manager’s primary role is to manage the career of an actor—there has to be a “career” to manage! And frankly, after all of the other deductions from a kid’s paycheck (15% to the Coogan, 10% to the agent, some % to taxes) why give away another 10% prematurely?
That being said, after a certain point of success a manager can be invaluable. Remember that agents typically have many more clients than managers do. This means that no matter how hands-on and “managerial” your agent may be, they still are not likely to have the bandwidth to take care of daily issues and big-picture decisions the way a manager would.
As Pamela Fisher, Dove’s agent at Abrams Artists Agency said to me: “A good manager is someone you can feel comfortable calling at midnight.” I think that’s a good part of the litmus test.
NEXT: Part 3: Casting Directors
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