Our Account Manager for Young Performers Ellie Samuels and former Young Performer Junior Agent Mel Brown talk to us about how young performers can find an agent right agent for them
How do young performers go about finding an agent? In this episode of The Spotlight Podcast, we discuss what an agent can help with, how that relationship works, what you should do to start looking and how to approach an agent. Our experts Ellie Samuels and Mel Brown from Spotlight’s membership team are on hand to answer today’s questions.
20 minute listen.
Christina Care: Hello and welcome to The Spotlight Podcast. I’m Christina Care, the content manager at Spotlight, and today I’m talking to Ellie Samuels and Mel Brown, who are Spotlighters. Can you guys tell us what you do here at Spotlight?
Ellie Samuels: I’m Ellie. I’m the key account manager for Young Performer Agents and for the membership itself here at Spotlight. I’ve been doing that for the past two years and before that, I was here working on customer support for 13 years, so I have a good knowledge of the Spotlight world. Quickly, prior to that, I went to drama school. I went to the Guildford School of Acting and did a musical theatre course, worked in the business professionally in musical theatre as a performer for about 10 years. I still like to dance and I teach dance at Pineapple. I think that’s me in a nutshell.
Mel Brown: I’m Mel and I work here at Spotlight now in the membership team. My title is Membership Executive. I, like Ellie, started on customer support and it’s coming up for my two year anniversary. I started on Halloween. Spooky for some. And yeah, before coming to Spotlight, I worked as a young performer agent, kind of a junior agent, I started as an assistant and worked my way up to a junior agent. Yeah, that’s how I started my career. And then moved to Spotlight after that.
Christina Care: You were at uni before that, weren’t you?
Mel Brown: And at uni before that. Oh, it seems so long ago.
Christina Care: Oh, that just goes to show though the wealth of experience that our membership team have here as Spotlight, which I think is a really nice place for us to start.
Mel Brown: Definitely.
Christina Care: I guess the first question that I think is relevant to this topic, and our topic today is, how does a young performer get an agent, which I think is a really key question that you guys come up against quite often is why do they need one, generally speaking?
Ellie Samuels: Well, the way it works on Spotlight for the young performer membership group is that the agents receive the casting information, not the child or the parents. So, it really is just the way it’s set up. So that is, I suppose, the obvious answer to that question is that if you’re going to be on Spotlight as a young performer, then you do need an agent to represent you so that they can put you forward for jobs, etc.
So yes, it’s an important part of the process their being able to join in the first place, which I think works well.
Christina Care: And just in terms of like someone who is just interested in acting and is perhaps still only a kid, who just really loves to dance or loves to act, why would an agent help get them get in the door in a career sense?
Mel Brown: So I think, an agent is the person who you go to. They know everything about the industry and they are the ones who are putting you forward for that professional work. They know the standards of the industry and what should be expected in a working environment when you’re doing a project. So that’s why an agent’s role is so essential and why you have to find the right agent for you because it’s a relationship and everyone in this industry works in completely different ways. So there’s no one rule and that’s how it is. But it’s definitely essential when you are younger that you have someone looking out for you and your needs. And that’s what young former agents do.
Christina Care: Yeah, totally. I mean, otherwise it’d be kind of very parent heavy, wouldn’t it?
Mel Brown: And parents see things in different ways. They’re very good, obviously, they’re looking after your welfare as a child, but representing your needs in a business sense is very different. So they obviously pay a very important role-
Ellie Samuels: They can be more objective, can’t they, the agents.
Mel Brown: Exactly. Or they have to work very closely with the parents and help the parents to understand how the industry works and it’s such a big commitment as well for the parents. So yeah, it’s key that the agent is right for the child but also right for the parents.
Ellie Samuels: Definitely.
Mel Brown: 100%.
Christina Care: It’s a relationship between all parties there, isn’t it?
Mel Brown: Exactly.
Christina Care: So in terms of if it’s a parent or a young performer themselves just wanting to start looking for an agent, what kind of research should they do or what sort of things should they be looking for in the first place?
Ellie Samuels: There’s a number of different things. I suppose it depends on how they started thinking about it in the first place. So it could’ve come through friends, it could have come through a dance school that they go to or some drama classes or part-time classes that they maybe met somebody and then they heard about taking it to that step further, in which case I think it’s always good to get advice from contemporaries who have had an experience already themselves.
You can then take it to the next step, I suppose. If they came towards Spotlight and they heard about Spotlight, then the obvious thing that we would then say is have a look at the contacts website, which is the collection of free listings that we publish digitally, so they can select by location or search by location for agents. But we would always then say ideally get a recommendation as well I think, wouldn’t you, Mel?
Mel Brown: Definitely because I think contacts is an amazing resource. I used it a lot when I was an agent and that was when it was back as a book and now it’s all online, which is amazing. But it can be very overwhelming looking at all those agents names and the thinking, where do I start? So recommendation and word of mouth is always… you can trust the people that are giving that advice saying, “I’ve worked with them and we’ve got great relationship,” etc etc.
But if you haven’t got those people, those contacts when you start out, it’s a very low task to do. Going through each and every agent looking at their website, seeing what they do, are they attached to a school, are they kind of an agency on their own?
Ellie Samuels: How long have they been going?
Mel Brown: What’s the work, what’s the background of the agents? That information is around and available. So again, it really is the research that you would need to look into and a lot of the websites out there have a lot of detail on them, so I would definitely recommend that as well.
Christina Care: Yeah, that’s a good starting point. I just want to pick up on something you just said there, which was about the location. Do you think it’s important that someone’s looking for an agent that’s located close to where they live anyway? Or is that not so important?
Ellie Samuels: It doesn’t have to be the case. And we do see that agents have children far and wide. I think it can be that because of the nature of joining an agency, the agency can sometimes be part of a school. So then obviously it’s going to be people that are in that area that go to that school. So we sort of tend to think that way sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be at all actually. There are agencies in London that will take on a child who’s somewhere in the Midlands or it can work the other way.
I think some of them tend to be more specific, the agencies, or want to look after people in their area, particularly if they have a good relationship with their child’s employment officer, the local authority, with regards to licencing. So the thing for agents, I think once they’ve got kids all over the place, is that they’re dealing with lots of different children’s employment at different local authorities, which of course Mel you’ll know because you were part of an agency. I never did that, but I’m learning all of that, that it actually can get a bit more complicated for the agency.
So, I mean it’s not something the parent needs to worry about, but they might find that agencies look after people in certain areas. But certainly, if they’re looking, then they don’t have to necessarily take that into consideration. And the agent will let them know if that is the case.
Mel Brown: And some agencies also have them in different areas as well, so you may have one that’s like London based but they also have a branch in Scotland, Wales, anywhere like that.
Ellie Samuels: It’s nice to be able to meet the agent, I suppose. So if you’re travelling too far or it feels a bit too remote-
Christina Care: It just adds that distance.
Ellie Samuels: It does a bit.
Christina Care: Between the relationship.
Ellie Samuels: To help build the relationship, it’s probably easy for a parent, particularly starting out in the industry who doesn’t really know much about it, if they are able to meet the agent. I mean we would always probably advise that, unless they had a firsthand recommendation.
Mel Brown: Because you’ve got to really meet, you’ve got to know the child, when you’re putting someone forward for work, you’ve got to know them, you’ve got to see what they’re like and kind of understand the roles they could be put forward for.
Ellie Samuels: Well, seeing them helps to them build up that relationship-
Mel Brown: Definitely.
Ellie Samuels: … which we might talk a bit more about.
Christina Care: For sure. I want to ask you then, once you’ve actually gone through that whole process, which is about lots of these different factors that you’ve mentioned, but then what should the parent or the performer do to actually approach that agent? Because I know that we’ve had lots of sessions here at Spotlight where we’ve had agents come in and answer that very question and they tend to vary. But one common question that seems to come from the parent or the performer themselves is, can I just approach them on social media? So I wanted to clarify that a little bit. What should it be? Should it be an email, a phone call, a tweet? I don’t know. What’s the best thing?
Ellie Samuels: I don’t think there’s probably one answer, is there?
Mel Brown: What we refer to originally when I first started speaking was each agent obviously works in their own way, but I would say the majority, first of all on their website, some people actually specify exactly how they would like to receive things. Way back when, a lot of it was post and stuff like that. Obviously now it’s more emails. That tends to be the preferred response. Social media is a wonderful thing and might be a nice way to connect if you’ve met them at a performance, they’ve come to see a show. That might be a nice way to kind of reach out to them.
But I would say a lot of the industry is driven by email. And I think the etiquette in email is also an interesting thing to address because obviously, you want to inform them exactly why you think you might be right for the agency and what talents you have. And that’s great. But a big email that you’re faced with, with a lot of words and a lot of paragraphs, can just be, when you’re very busy, quite overwhelming to stop and read.
So, I think you’ve got to kind of look at the email and think I want to put the information that’s relevant and be very precise and to the point and explain exactly why I’ve looked at this agency and why we think it’d be a good fit for me and my child.
Ellie Samuels: I mean a lot of the agencies, when you look at their websites, do have ‘apply’ or ‘contact us’, so there is like a sort of system on their website, that may be the first port of call. So if you know nothing, it might be an idea to look at a few and then they do often have a form where you can make that first point of contact. I think if it was me, I would prefer to have a bit more information and then maybe be able to email, but then I’m a bit old-fashioned.
Christina Care: And when you do actually make that contact, what are the sort of things that you think are really essential to include in that email? Because obviously, the first thing that people look at is the headshot. If you don’t have a headshot yet, particularly for a child, would you tell a parent that that’s the first step?
Ellie Samuels: I think probably before spending any money, photographs obviously do cost money, and then they might get onto an agency and that agency will say, “We’d actually prefer you to use this photographer.” I think you can take really good photos at home these days so I think in the first instance, don’t spend too much money, but if you’re looking to get your child into the industry somewhere and onto an agency, then yes, they need a headshot.
So it might be an idea to therefore take some nice simple, very natural headshots on your phone, with an uncluttered background, some nice lighting and that will serve well to start with. Agencies can’t dictate what photography you should use, but sometimes they like to have an image to the agency, a style and they like a particular photographer.
Christina Care: They want everyone to have a similar…
Ellie Samuels: Yeah. I don’t think they can actually say you have to, but they can advise and obviously being the professional, you want to take their advice. And normally one would hope it would be good advice. So, yeah, definitely avoid spending too much money in the first instance, I think, and then wait and see what the agency’s preferences are. But have a nice headshot to start with that where your child looks natural. Don’t put any make-up on them.
Mel Brown: Oh no. It sounds like so silly. It’s like, don’t send group shots. They might look lovely in a group friend’s photo, but they [agents] don’t know who they are. So just, and as Ellie said, like no make-up, as natural as possible. That’s so key. You want to see them as they are because, and that’s the thing I think you probably hear a lot, Christina, with casting directors saying, “We want to know the person coming into the room is the person who’s in the photograph.”
Christina Care: Absolutely. That’s like the number one thing that casting directors seem to say when they come in, is that if you do not look like your headshot, I’m not going to be happy.
Mel Brown: And kids grow so quickly in a year, like for them, six months to a year, you can change so much in that period of time. And I think that was something I was so aware with photos when suggesting people, was like, “Oh my goodness, I saw them last week and now they’ve grown so much.”
Ellie Samuels: So an agency is going to look at a headshot in the first instance, probably similarly to how a casting director would. Can I sell this person? So it needs to be natural and fresh and exactly as the child looks at the time. Yeah. So they can maybe look and see what gaps they have on their books or if they’ve already got a lot of children that age or that look, then they might say, “Actually, at the moment we haven’t got space.” So yeah, it’s good to get a good clear photo but not spend too much money initially, I think.
Christina Care: To elaborate on that a little bit, what is this whole thing about upfront fees? Because this is a thing that I’ve heard parents say where they’ve been asked to pay a fee to an agent upfront. What is your take on that? What does that mean and should parents be cautious of doing that?
Ellie Samuels: I think when you hear upfront fees, I know my tummy sort of goes, ooh. If you ask somebody probably in a professional sort of legal capacity, they’d say, “Well, they’re illegal.” And I think that’s kind of like bottom line what we all know. But then we also know there are lots of grey areas around it. So talking about photos and things like that, there can be fees that seem like they’re upfront because you’re paying to have a photo taken. The agency might be asking you to pay an admin fee in order to be on their website or… I mean, I personally, again as a parent, I, and obviously now with the knowledge that I have here, I would always question any fee upfront.
There’s a fee for Spotlight, but that is a membership fee. So I think once you know that and then you kind of know what the agent is charging too and what that includes. And also just be aware that some agencies don’t charge anything. So the main thing that is legal and is correct is to charge commission. When you get a job, the agent will take a commission. That’s the same for adults as well. What their commission rates are, again, that’s something to look at. But anything that’s upfront, so before the person is even getting a job, should be looked at properly and fully. That’s what I would say and maybe don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Mel Brown: That’s so key. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If the meeting has gone well and they have offered representation, there will be a contract to sign and that contract needs to be read carefully because everything will be in there and not the fees in terms of what they will charge commission rates when the child hopefully lands a job and also about termination. If you want to move on to another agency. Things should be very clearly outlined in that contract. And if you do not understand something or you have questions that is your right to say that to them and say, “I’m sorry, could you just clarify this for me,” or anything like that. Because ultimately the contract is there to protect both parties, both the agent and the parent and child. So yes, read it carefully.
Christina Care: Absolutely.
Ellie Samuels: I think sometimes it can be unclear as well because as we were saying earlier, a lot of agencies for children have schools attached or workshops or classes in part-time, full time or whatever, and there might be some money that’s in there that you presume is to cover a workshop, but then it’s a good idea to look at how much that workshop is. What you’re getting for it. Do you know anyone else’s child that’s already done it? Did they enjoy it? Should it be £100? Should it be £50 pounds?
Because it can be quite a business of making money and I think we can see this and there are lots of good things provided and fabulous workshops out there. So many things available for kids. But I think it’s really good to just look at what you’re paying and what you’re getting for it and be aware that there are agencies out there who represent children who don’t charge anything other than the commission. And then anything else that you can’t define within that fee, then you shouldn’t pay it.
Mel Brown: Yeah.
Christina Care: Yeah. And you should be able to ask the question.
Ellie Samuels: Yeah.
Mel Brown: Yes.
Christina Care: It comes back to that, what you were alluding to earlier, that relationship with the agent. If you aren’t able to have that sort of open communication with them, that’s kind of a bad sign, isn’t it?
Ellie Samuels: Yeah.
Christina Care: So as long as you can ask the questions, then hopefully that’s a good basis for everybody.
Ellie Samuels: Absolutely. And there are so many brilliant agents out there that I know in my time doing this role and then working closely with Mel as well. We’re building relationships with them all the time, so you don’t want to be too paranoid about it, but at the same time just be responsible. It’s your child. If it was my child, I’d just want to make sure that they’re in safe hands and that you spending money well, if you are spending money.
Christina Care: Exactly.
Mel Brown: I think from an agent point of view, I honestly believe that the relationship that you have with an agent is so crucial. And that comes from all areas of when you start as a young performer, child actor, all the way through your career. Agents are busy people. Time is not on their side. They’re doing a lot of things. But they will get back to you. If that email pops into their email box, they might not get back to you straight away, but it’s there and they will respond.
Ellie Samuels: Yeah. And then I suppose from the child’s point of view, I would just say, ideally they should be enjoying the experience.
Mel Brown: Definitely.
Christina Care: Yeah, absolutely. We don’t say that enough sometimes.
Ellie Samuels: Yeah. And I think sometimes that can shift when they grow a bit older and might not… So I suppose, just make sure you’re checking in with the child and that they’re enjoying the process.
Mel Brown: That’s really crucial.
Christina Care: And if they do want to talk more, they can, if they are a Spotlight member, they can actually make use of speaking to either of you.
Ellie Samuels: Absolutely.
Mel Brown: That’s true.
Christina Care: This is one of our benefits of being a Spotlight member as a young performer is that you have access to one-to-one sessions with Ellie or Mel as either a parent or a child.
Ellie Samuels: Yeah.
Mel Brown: Yeah.
Christina Care: So if someone wants to get in touch, ask any more questions they can do so by giving us a call at Spotlight or where can they email specifically?
Ellie Samuels: I would say firstname.lastname@example.org and that goes directly to the customer support team.
Christina Care: Fantastic.
Mel Brown: And also news and advice is a great section, part of the website, I still learn stuff from when I read your articles, so I would always encourage people to have a look at them. There’s something in each article for everyone.
Ellie Samuels: And obviously there’s the newsletter that goes out every month as well. So I think that’s something any of you that are listening to this, if you’re not receiving a monthly newsletter, which is specifically to do with young performers, then get in touch with customer support just to make sure that your email preferences are set correctly. Because they have all of these articles in them.
Christina Care: Fabulous. Also just to mention that people can also drop us a line on Twitter, which is @spotlightuk. Thank you very much. Ellie and Mel.
Ellie Samuels: Thank you.
Mel Brown: Thank you, Christina.
Christina Care: Talk to you next time.