We hear from the team at the Yorkshire Academy of Film and Television Acting (YAFTA) on their advice for actors looking for, and dealing with an agent. Here are the answers to everything you're dying to know!
1. What's the best way for an actor to approach an agent? How an actor should approach an agent will depend on the agent's preferred method. First up, you should go onto the agency website and see if there are any submission instructions there. While hard copy letters used to be the norm, most agencies (YAFTA included) now accept representation requests via email. Be sure to follow their instructions exactly, and if in doubt, make a brief phone call. Do not contact an agent via social media, it looks very unprofessional and will simply be ignored. It is also very important that your email to them is professional and polite. This is a job application and you should be using appropriate language and checking your spelling. Remember not to add any large attachments; this is a surefire way to cause problems for an agency and the last thing you want to do is annoy an agent before they have even opened your email!2. What do you look for in an actor and how do you decide if they are suitable for your agency? There are a number of elements that combine to make us confident that an actor is the right fit for YAFTA.As a predominantly screen acting agency we want actors who have the right casting type and also the correct technique for working in film and television. We will consider their casting type and how they will fit in with the actors already on our books, whether this is filling a gap or particular niche, broadening or diversifying of what we offer, providing a contrast or simply adding to our talent pool. Acting skill and attitude is equally as important as training and credits. We will discuss how marketable an actor appears to be and whether we believe they will actually obtain castings and book work. We don't want to waste an actor's time or ours by offering to represent someone who could be a better fit elsewhere. We also try to get a sense of their attitude; if they are going to be someone who is a pleasure to work with, not only in terms of with us at the agency, but in their interactions with casting directors in auditions and directors and fellow cast members on set. We would never consider representing someone who was rude or unprofessional in their correspondence with us. Finally, it is important to us that actors applying to YAFTA actually want to be actors. This may sound strange, but we mean that they truly want to put in the hard work required in the industry and are prepared for all the ups and downs this involves. Anyone who simply wants to be famous isn't going to be the right fit for us.
3. What should an actor include in a cover letter to you? At YAFTA we are happy to receive submissions via email. This should include a brief covering letter in the body of the email which introduces you as an actor and highlights any relevant training and/or credits. We would also want the email to include a link to your online profile and a showreel, as this is essential for us to judge your acting talent. Additional links to short films are not useful - showreels are what a casting director will see and is therefore what decisions will be based on. Agents and casting directors do not have time to watch all of your links.You may attach a CV if you wish. When it comes to headshots, one small attachment (under 1MB) is acceptable, or embed it within the email. Do a test send of your email to yourself first; submissions with large or multiple files attached cause us a real headache!
4. Do you need to see an actor in a show or production to make a decision about whether you can offer representation? While it is always useful to see an actor in a production, this is not a necessity. Since we mainly represent our actors for film and TV work, a live performance is not essential for us in deciding whether we can offer representation. It is important that we see examples of acting through showreels and in some cases we will also ask actors to send a self-tape. We also like to meet actors where possible so we have a sense of them as a person and can evaluate their professionalism and attitude. We would suggest actors be wary of any agency that offers representation without asking for proof of your acting skill (whether live or recorded) and asking questions about you.There is sometimes a misconception that agencies with a related academy only represent their own students. At YAFTA this is not the case, while the YAFTA Academy and YAFTA Talent Agency share the same name, they are separate businesses. We do generally prefer to represent child and teen actors who train with us simply because when it comes to younger actors we feel it is important that we really know their skills and development. We want to be confident that they can withstand the pressure of auditioning and working in the industry, and that their parents are aware of and committed to the undertaking of having a child who is an actor. However, adult actors are always welcome to apply to the agency whether they train with the academy or not.
5. What's the best piece of advice you can give to an actor starting out? Keep training! The best actors at the top of their game never stop learning. The idea that you will ever be 'done' training as actor is laughable, there will always be more to learn and more to strive for. Training also gives you something to keep you busy in the quiet times and a community of actors to support and encourage you. For actors starting out in particular make sure these classes incorporate both acting training and industry skills. Of course you need to be able to act, but learning about the industry itself will prove just as important, and it will prepare you for work as a professional actor. We always advise our new YAFTA academy students to join websites like StarNow to help them gain experience in the acting industry. On StarNow you can find roles which will help you to learn about the industry whilst building your CV, networking and gaining showreel footage. All of these things are vital for an actor starting out in the industry. And if you haven't yet started training, YAFTA has many courses that you can view here: www.yafta.co.uk.
6. What characteristics in an actor excite you? We are really excited by actors who are passionate and eager to learn. We don't want actors who think getting representation is the final step and they can sit back and relax. Our most successful actors are those who work as hard as we do. We love meeting actors who are the full package; they have acting talent but also the drive and determination to succeed along with a wonderful personality and professional attitude to their career. They know they need to be proactive, both in terms of developing their industry knowledge and connections but also their acting skills. It gives us such a buzz when we see how far our actors have come and see them booking auditions and jobs.7. What advice do you give to your actors before they attend a casting? Be on time, know your scripts and character, be professional and be yourself. Relax and enjoy yourself; this is an opportunity to do what you love, even if it's just for five or ten minutes! 8. Does having an agent guarantee you work? Absolutely not! Unfortunately, agents are not wizards. The acting industry is incredibly competitive and hugely oversubscribed. There are thousands and thousands of actors, and sadly talent and hard work are also not guarantees, there will always be that element of luck and 'being in the right place at the right time', or at least 'being the right person at the right time'! Remember, agents can only put you forward for work that you are suitable for. Sometimes it may be that there haven't been any suitable roles or jobs for a period of time. Casting directors often receive hundreds of submissions for a single role and if you weren't chosen, it's often a reason outside of your control (fit with other actors, budget, height etc.) and nothing to do with your acting skill.Agents are only one link in the chain. We can promote you and put you forward for work but you can't sit back and expect magic to happen. It's a great idea to keep an eye out on StarNow and apply to any jobs between auditions and jobs your agent finds you. It's out of our hands once you book that audition, the rest is up to you! 9. What would your response be to an actor who says "My agent isn't any good, I never hear from them!" We understand your frustration but feel that this shows a lack of understanding of this complicated and competitive industry. The majority of agents are working very hard, day in, day out for their actors. And remember, they are essentially doing this for free - they don't get paid unless you get work and they can take commission!If you are questioning your agent, consider these questions first: Are you being proactive? Are your headshots representative of you? Are your headshots professional actor headshots?Are your online profiles up to date? Could your showreel do with a refresh?Have you asked your agent for advice?Have you asked your agent for a list of jobs you have been put forward for? If you have honestly answered these questions and feel there is no more you could be doing then arrange a discussion with your agent via email or phone. Agents are busy people but if you really are unable to connect with them over an extended period, then it may be time to consider moving elsewhere, but please try to communicate with them first. 10. Is there anything (e.g. attitude or approach) that you've noticed about actors you represent who are successful at auditions? The main thing we would say about the YAFTA actors who are successful at auditions is that they are consistent. They bring their A game every time, and whether they book the job or not, we get great feedback from casting directors. This often pays off when these actors get called in for future projects without even being submitted or taken straight to the recall stage! These actors are also proactive, finding their own projects and keeping their actor tools such as headshots, showreels and profiles up to date. They also respond quickly when we send an audition notice and keep us up to date with their availability, these are the most important elements in the actor/agent relationship. 11. What should an actor be doing in-between jobs and castings? Between jobs and castings actors should be being proactive; looking for work and opportunities, networking, undertaking training and keeping their other skills fresh. That said, it is also important to have other activities in your life to keep you busy and happy when things are quiet on the acting front. Actors should take time to relax and look after their mental and physical health. Keeping yourself healthy and in a good routine in-between times means you're raring and ready to go when you get that call, and the early starts of a shoot or the late nights of a show won't be such a shock to the system!
YAFTA's Acting for Screen Diploma has three intakes per year. To see when they are next auditioning please visit: www.yafta.co.uk/yafta-diploma.