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By Brendan Swift | Picha Magazine 

Talent alone is not enough to make it in the screen industry: an enterprising agent can provide the guidance – and open the right doors – to help forge a successful career. But what should an actor look for?

Rob Woodburn, who co-founded RISE answers some of those questions. He was previously Partner and Head of the Feature Film and Television Talent division of Encompass Entertainment Group (fka Artist & Entertainment Group and has worked as an agent and manager in the USA for ROAR, Jet Set Models, Paradigm and William Morris Agency (now known as WME | IMG).


Does the talent agent industry need to professionalise and if so, how?


Rob Woodburn (RW): Unfortunately, agents and managers in Australia don’t have the benefit of participating in formalised training and mentorship programs like they do in the US. It’s a highly skilled profession and takes years of training and education before you can consider yourself a proper agent/manager. To that end, your learning curve never ends as the entertainment industry is ever changing. Assistants, junior agents, and agents need to learn as much as they can from the senior agents and heads of their organisations as their experience is invaluable. RISE is the only agency that currently offers a formalised training program.


As an artist, you need to train, show up on time, know your lines and treat your agent/manager with respect as they are your lifeline. Look at yourself as a brand and consider your career as a business while keeping your creativity at the forefront. Folks need to see our industry as a business and not just a hobby, as is the perception from most mainstream industries. The best way to make this happen is to step up the level of professionalism.

How does the Australian industry differ from the US market?

RW: The US market differs in terms of the money, structure, pace and volume of activity. Agent/managers, much like actors, start at the grassroots level and have to work their way through and extremely competitive battlefield to secure highly sought-after roles within the industry. They all start in the mailroom and the work as an assistant for 2-4 years before they are promoted and can be considered an agent/manager. The process weeds out the weak and ensures that the most qualified people move up the food chain.


In the US, there is more of an understanding of the business side of the industry by artists. They understand the importance of their agent/manager and treat them with respect. I find that agent managers in Australia are often seen as the bottom of the food chain by some and are not treated with the respect that they deserve. It’s a very difficult job that doesn’t get the recognition and appreciation that it should.


In terms of artists, I find that there is a huge emphasis put on drama schools here in Australia. In America, most artists learn in a more of a “hands on,” approach… they start off doing commercials, then small TV roles and eventually graduate to large TV and film roles I feel that there is a balance between the two, but the USA has more of a “learn by doing,” outlook in terms of acting.


What should an actor look for in a good agent (and what should they avoid in a bad one)?


RW: First of all, I would ask casting directors, artists (actors, writers, directors), producers, executives (TV & Film) whom they consider to be credible. I’d go online, do research on the companies and the agent/managers that work there. Look at their training, experience and reputation in the industry.


Take a look at their current client list and see what types of artists they represent… do you fit into their niche? Make sure they are licensed with the Office of Industrial Relations. If you are interested in eventually working overseas, see what relationships they have in those markets.


I find that “less is more,” … if an agent/manager has too many clients on their books, they tend to be ineffective – see what the agent-to-client ratio is. Avoid agent managers that have a high turnover… meaning clients are continually “coming and going.” If clients are loyal to an agent/manager for a long time, it’s usually because they are both happy with the relationship.


Avoid agent/managers that are too flashy and talk themselves up too much. Their work and reputation should speak for itself. Avoid agent/managers that are too negative i.e. “the glass is half empty.” This usually translates into the way they work.


How should an actor behave with his agent?


RW: Treat your agent/manager with professionalism and respect and you will get the same in return. You need to remember that your agent/managers work on a commission basis and only make money when you are working. To that end, it’s in their best interests to do everything in their power to create opportunities on your behalf. Don’t bad mouth your agent/manager to other artists or in public. It’s a small industry here in Australia and those comments always make their way back to the agent/manager.


As an artist, you need to focus on your career and not be distracted by other artists. Everyone has their own path and I feel that it’s best to “hold your cards close to your chest,” versus being too public about your career. As soon as you get caught up with “what everyone else is doing,” you lose your edge.

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