AUSTRALIA’S GOT TALENT
By Sam Dallas | Inside Film Magazine
Talent agents play a crucial role in bringing screen productions to life. Sam Dallas delves into their world.
Experienced talent manager Mark Morrissey says an actor shouldn’t use the Australian film industry as a “stepping stone” to Hollywood.
“I don’t want actors here or young actors in general to think that to achieve success they have to go outside of this country,” the Sydney-based veteran of 25 years tells INSIDE FILM.
There’s still remarkable creative work done in this country by great producers [and] great directors.
“I think it’s important that if an actor is seeking an international career that they concentrate doing the work here and learning their craft…”
TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, the biggest Australian film of 2010, is a key example of a local movie that should have international success and could result, in actors moving to Tinsel Town.
It’s exciting times to be an Australian agent/manager with many of our young actors getting work overseas, such as Ryan Kwanten (TRUE BLOOD), Isabel Lucas (TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN), and Chris Hemsworth (STAR TREK, THOR) to name a few.
“But actors just can’t head overseas and expect to pick-up work straight away,” American –born agent Rob Woodburn says.
“Just because you have a manager or agent in the US doesn’t mean you’re getting auditions or you’re getting work,” says Woodburn, CEO of RISE, who now calls Sydney home after moving from the US in late-2006.
“I’d prefer for actors to work and excel here as much as possible – and go when we get a call from… the US – [such as] casting directors, network and studio executives – saying ‘hey, get on a plane and got out here.”
“We’re losing a lot of great actors who are going over there prematurely and most of them are sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.”
“In doing so, they’re losing that heat and buzz they were generating over here.”
An analogy that Woodburn likes is simply: “You don’t want to go to a party that you’re not invited to.”
Why are Australian’s the flavour of the month?
“I think one of the reasons is that they’re so well accepted is that they’re eager, they’re interested and a lot of the kids have dreamt about this growing-up,” says Morrissey, whose client list includes Hemsworth.
Woodburn says, “there’s more interest than ever due to the recession and the Writers Guild of America strike. As a result, there is a real lack of job security in the US right entertainment industry right now.”
“Nothing puts you on the map as a US agent or manager or casting director, than finding somebody from outside the US borders,” he says, indicting Australia, NZ, the UK and even South Africa are now targets.
“It just shows that you’ve got global reach. They’re really aggressive about fining people – more so than ever there’s interest in international actors.”
BGM director Mara Jablonski says the US sees Aussies as “untapped talent.”
As a result, agents and managers need to have key relationships in the US – and it’s something that won’t be going away in a hurry.
“it is absolutely essential that we have working relationships with numerous agents, managers and attorneys overseas,” JM Agency’s Joanna Milosz says.
“Our industry here is not big enough to sustain the careers of its talented performers, so sooner or later some of them will have to spread their wings.”
“I travel to LA on a regular basis to maintain my personal contacts and discuss clients, who may be ready to make that move. We assess and prepare our clients very thoroughly for the US market, based on the particular and individual advice we get from those who are at the pulse of the US entertainment industry.”
Jablonski says it’s a three-way-relationship – between American management, Australian agents/managers and the actor.
Furthermore, Kermond founder Claudine Kermond – who started the company when she was 22 – says you need to have strong working relationships with casting directors and producers – both locally and overseas.
Other working relationships are strongly needed with TV networks, film and TV studios, production companies, advertising agencies, TV/film writers and directors, financiers, investment organisations, (public and private) and government organisations (such as Screen Australia and AusFilm), Woodburn adds.
Former actor and singer and now Australian Drama Agents Association (VIC) president Mark Gogoll says performers should concentrate on their craft and let the agent do everything else.
“It’s like you having an accountant, or a lawyer… you can’t do it all yourself,” says Gogoll, who manages performers for stage and screen.
“Some actors have been freelance and that’s fine if they can do it but we specialise in our field.
“From my experience as a performer, I can see why people do need an agent.”
So, what does an agent/manager actually do in Australia?
“We represent actors whose talents we believe in and who believe in us because it’s a personal and professional relationship,” says Nicky Gluyas, who has her own management company on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
“We use our knowledge of the industry to source work for the actors, suggesting them for roles, arranging auditions, promoting their talent and selling their skills to secure roles.”
“We manage their calendars, arrange publicity, negotiate contracts, invoice jobs and arrange payments. We also help them overcome disappointments and advise them on the direction of their careers.”
Furthermore, Morrissey says when actors head overseas for meetings, accommodation, mobile phones and car rentals are organised, making it as easy as possible for the client.
Milosz, a former New York Times journalist, says it shows the difference between the Australian and US industries.
“The range of what we do is very wide, and tends to cover what in the US is done by an agent, manager attorney and publicist,” she says.
“Some specific actors in Australia may want to hire a publicist or services of a legal advisor, but this would most likely be on a job-to-job basis, when specifically required.”
Woodburn, who started his career at the renowned William Morris Agency, says the biggest difference between Australia and the US is formalised training for agent/managers.”
“I think a lot of agents and managers [in Australia] are forced to learn as they go as they are not exposed to ‘agent training programs’ that exist in the US,” says Woodburn, who now offers a training program.
“When joining an agency/management company, you essentially form a family,” says Woodburn.
“Extensive research on previous projects will be done before a ‘meet and greet’ with an actor; after which their work is sent to casting directors and a strategy meeting is set-up, looking at the actor’s shot/long-term goals,” says Woodburn.
In Australia, agents charge 10 percent commission while managers can charge more as long as there’s an agreement in place with the actor. Managers tend to charge slightly more (generally an additional 5 percent) due to having fewer clients – therefore more time is given on each.
Technology and having greater access to productions has changed the way agents/managers work.
“For example, not long-ago scripts had to be printed and actors would come in and pick them up and overseas scripts would have to be mailed,” says Gluyas, whose staff handles abut 60 actors, including Nicholas Brown (KITES).
“Now everything is faster and on email, scripts are on PDF [Adobe’s Portable Document Format], screen-tests can be shot [and] sent overseas and we can be talking to overseas casting directors about them all on the same day.”
“There is much greater access to overseas work than ever before. Also thanks to new technology, we represent actors in every mainland capital; we are easily able to operate nationally and internationally.”
Australia’s film and TV industry is always changing as a result, agents also need to adapt.
Milosz, who has been an agent for 25 years, says it’s a profession that has changed great deal over the years.
“We certainly do a lot more for our clients now, especially in terms of the international exposure,” Milosz says.
“Contracts have become far more complex.”
“There is a lot of new media coming into the equation when deals are done.”
She says paperwork has tripled, there’s more stress and the competition for roles had become exceedingly ferocious.
Jablonski says it’s become a more competitive industry – therefore, a more complicated industry.
Gogoll, an industry veteran of more than 20 years, says there’s more expectations from agents and managers.
What does the future hold for agents and managers in Australia?
“Agents and managers need to be more in control of their own destiny by packaging and developing film and television projects,” says Woodburn, who has opened an in-house production arm.
Milosz says, “hopefully” agents/managers won't have to change too much.
“Actors have very close, personal relationships with their agents in Australia – there is a lot of trust and high level of loyalty.”
“We all strongly support the Australian film and television industry and a considerable amount of work we do is for love not money.”
It’s a tough industry and as such, agents and managers need a number of skills to be successful.
“A mixture of lawyer, social worker, film buff and avid reader with solid administrative skills may be a good combination,” Milosz says.
And is there any advice for people wanting to get into the profession?
“You have to be strong,” Kermond say.
“But I think just loving talent is the main thing.”