Hey J! Ask the Agent: We need to talk

Hey J,

Things haven’t been great between me and my agent for quite some time and I want a fresh start – but how do I tell my agent?

Thank you in advance, Kasey.

Hi Kasey,

Are you breaking up with me?! That’s what it can feel like, right? Your relationship with your agent is just that – a relationship. It starts out exciting and new and full of hope but, at the end of the line, you might be wishing you’d never met them. Let’s hope it hasn’t got that far and it’s just a case of things not quite clicking and you want, as you say, a fresh start.

There are many reasons why you might feel like moving on. Perhaps it hasn’t worked out at all; you haven’t had many auditions, or auditions for the right projects, you might feel like you’re on a different page from your agent or you have a different career path in mind. Perhaps you feel like you can’t talk to your agent about these things and that the communication has broken down – maybe they’re too busy or they never get back to you. Maybe you’ve been approached by someone else and you think they’re a better fit. The actor-agent relationship is complicated and it could be any one of these reasons, or any one of a number of other reasons.

I’d always say the very first step is to talk to your agent because it’s possible that things could be salvaged. As I said last week, so much work goes on that you don’t see and sometimes it might just be helpful to have a chat with your agent about what has been happening in the office for you and see if they have any ideas or suggestions for how things could be improved. You and your agent chose each other for a reason, maybe you just need a little bit of work to get things back on track? I always think that asking “is there anything I can be doing to help?” is a great way of subtly letting your agent know that you’re frustrated.

If not, if you really feel like you’ve tried hard enough and you don’t want to waste any more time on a relationship that you can’t see improving, or a relationship you don’t want to try and improve, well then, the time has come to break up with your agent.

What you can’t do, though, is ghost your agent. There’s a legally binding contract between you for a start and no other agent worth their salt would take you on if you were still contracted to another agent. So you’re going to have to make the break somehow.

First, I’d check that contract. What’s the notice period? Here in the UK it can be anything from ‘no notice’ to ‘six months’, so you’d better make sure you know what you’ve signed up to. There’s a difference between the right of an agent to represent you and their rights to claim any commission due to you as a result of their work. If your agent is a member of the Australian Entertainment Agents Association, for example, then there is a 13 month period from the date you terminate your relationship during which, if you work at the same venue again, commission is due to your old agent. Make sure you read your contract and understand your obligations!

How you leave your agent is up to you. Personally, I prefer hearing the news over email. It can be quite emotional and upsetting to hear that someone you’re really invested in and are working really hard for isn’t happy, so, for me, an email gives me time to process the news in my own way. If you have a really good friendship with your agent but it’s just the professional side of things that isn’t going so great, you may feel more comfortable calling them up and talking to them. I know one agent who was taken out for lunch by a client – I don’t advise that. The actor told them in the first few minutes that they were leaving and for the next hour the agent just wanted to get back to the office and get back to work for the clients they still had instead of making small talk with someone they no longer had a business investment in. But the client did foot the bill for lunch, which was nice!

At the end of the day, no matter how close or how friendly you are with your agent, the relationship is transactional. It is based on both parties being able to do something for the other, so if that has broken down, if the business side of the relationship isn’t working then you need to treat it like any other transactional relationship. First, try to fix it through discussion and, if it can’t be fixed, terminate the contract.

Always be polite and adult about it. You’re dealing with a person so thank them for everything they’ve done, explain you feel that you need a fresh pair of eyes on your career and end by wishing them all the best and hoping your paths cross again. Don’t burn any bridges or scorch the earth – you want to leave on the best of terms with yours, and their, dignity intact.

Stay connected. Stay creative.

J

Got a question? Email JBR at [email protected]

JBR

JBR is a UK Talent Agent based in London. He began his career as a child performer in the 1980’s and has spent more than three decades in the industry exploring creativity and working across a number of fields. He has been an actor, a director, a writer, a designer, a drag queen, a producer, a dramaturg, a teacher, a comedy booker, a publican, a marketing manager and an agent. He runs JBR Creative Management working with a small group of multi-platform creatives. JBR's first book, published by Nick Hern Books, will be released in summer 2021.

JBR

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