Talent Agent vs Talent Manager: What’s the Difference?

Beginning actors frequently ask, “Do I need an agent or a manager, and what’s the difference?” If you’ve ever watched the HBO show, Entourage, you intuitively understand the difference between a talent agent and a talent manager.  On the show, Vince’s agent is Ari Gold and his manager is “E”. Ari’s job is to book acting jobs for Vince and E’s job is to manage Vince’s career and keep him focused and on-track. While the show contains many comedic exaggerations, it does provide a fairly accurate picture of what managers and agents do in real life. Of course, most managers don’t live with their clients, but your manager should be your closest confidant in your acting career. Your manager is the person you rely on and trust above everyone else, to guide you and help you succeed as an actor. Therefore, if you’re going to work with a manager, you’d better make sure he or she is not only competent, but trustworthy and loyal.

Let’s review the actual job descriptions:

Talent Agent

A talent agent’s job is easy to understand. He reads through the “Breakdowns” each day and finds casting notices for roles that may be a good fit for his clients. If your agent finds a role that seems right for you, he’ll submit you for it. The casting director will then review the submission and if he agrees you’re a good candidate, you’ll receive an audition notice. If you book the job, the agent will typically receive a 10% commission, which is the only fee you should ever pay an agent. If you meet an agent who asks for an advance fee or wants to charge you for acting lessons or other services, run in the other direction. Legitimate talent agents work on commission only. The same advice applies to casting directors. Never, never, never pay for an audition! Paid auditions are not real auditions.

Breakdowns are the most common method talent agents use to find work for their clients, but there are other methods. For instance, a top-tier agent will likely have connections with top-tier casting directors.  When casting a big-budget film, these casting directors may inform these agents privately, before releasing casting notices via the Breakdown system. Unfortunately, if you’re a new actor, you have zero chance of getting an agent at that level. Nevertheless, even less-connected agents may be privy to information about roles that fit their clients.

Since agents only receive a 10% commission, they usually focus on booking jobs, not providing personal attention to clients. An agent may take you out to lunch when he’s trying to sign you, but once you’re his client, his focus will likely be on booking you work, not catering to your needs and whims.

Talent Manager

A manager’s job is more complicated. You can think of your manager as your career adviser and consultant. Ultimately, his job is to help you succeed as an actor. However, it can be difficult to quantify everything a manager does. Different managers may approach their jobs differently. Some may be hands-on with clients, while others may act more like agents. Every manager is different and every client is different, so there’s no list of standard procedures in a manager/client relationship. When selecting a manager, it’s important to find one who’s compatible with your individual style and will perform tasks that are important to you. To avoid misunderstandings, you and your manager should be clear with each other about exactly what tasks he or she will be responsible for.

Examples of what talent managers may do for clients:

  • Help you create and maintain your resume.
  • Help you get quality head shots.
  • Setup and maintain your actor accounts on casting websites.
  • Setup and maintain your IMDB account.
  • Help you create your reel, once you have credits.
  • Hire a web designer and supervise creating your website.
  • Work with a graphic designer to create promotional materials such as postcards and fliers.
  • Work with you to define your brand as an actor.
  • Help you hire the best possible talent agent or agents.
  • Review the Breakdowns to make sure your agent is actively submitting you for roles.
  • Work with you to analyze potential opportunities on TV shows and films, then help you contact the casting directors directly and pitch yourself for those roles.
  • Evaluate your acting technique and recommend acting classes or coaches.
  • Review your acting contracts and consult with attorneys to ensure that you’re adequately protected and receiving the best possible compensation.
  • Help you select a publicist and manage your publicist, once your career success level justifies hiring one.
  • Help you become a SAG-AFTRA member, once it becomes necessary to join.

As you can see, your manager will have much more involvement in your career than your agent. Your agent’s job is solely to get you work. Your manager wears many hats, but he’ll spend most of his time helping you develop as an actor and become marketable to casting directors.

Like agents, managers work on commission, but since your manager will spend far more time working with you, he or she will typically receive a 15% commission. This is the only fee you should ever pay a manager. Managers do not ever receive separate fees for individual services. The commission covers all services provided by the manager.

This does not mean your manager is your slave and must work endlessly for no pay. Many of a manager’s tasks involve overseeing other professionals whom you hire and pay directly. For instance, your manager is probably not an attorney, so you may need to hire an entertainment lawyer to review your contracts. In that instance, your manager would hire the lawyer and ensure that he completes the legal work, but you would pay the lawyer directly. The same is true for acting classes, web design, promotional costs, etc… Your manager’s job is to help you select the right professionals and to supervise those people to ensure that they do their jobs to your satisfaction.