Film & TV

What Is a Hollywood Talent Agent? How to Launch a Career as an Agent in the Entertainment Industry

Written by MasterClass

May 15, 2019 • 2 min read

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Agents and their talent agencies are the behind-the-scenes power brokers in the entertainment industry. Agents grease the wheels, cut the deals, and find work for actors, filmmakers, writers, and musicians.

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What Is a Talent Agent?

Within the entertainment industry, a talent agent—also called a booking agent—is the person who books actors, musicians, writers, or directors, etc. for work.

A talent agent is the chief steward of a client’s career path, helping with career development, branding, public relations, and networking. As part of this effort, a talent agent may do any of the following for a client: set up meetings between actors and directors or casting directors, send actors to auditions, and negotiate employment contracts. Talent agents also place writers, directors, and actors into film productions.

Sometimes a talent agent is also a lawyer and can legal advice to clients and write contracts themselves.

How Are Talent Agents Regulated?

Several states, such as California and Florida, regulate talent agents and require them to be licensed.

  • In California an individual talent agent must have a license and work for a talent agency. Other states have similar requirements.
  • A legitimate talent agent will be paid on commission, typically no more than 10 percent of any earnings you make as a result of the agent's work. In California, a talent agency must register its fees with the state and post them in its office.
  • An agent is legally permitted to negotiate contracts for work.

Labor unions that represent Hollywood talent also have rules governing the conduct of talent agents when they work with union members. Talent agents specialize in niches of the entertainment industry; some agents specialize in actors, others work only with directors, and yet others find work for exclusively for writers. Agents work with and are subject to regulation from labor unions for a particular profession, such as SAG/AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America, or the Writers Guild of America. These unions define the working terms of a client-agent relationship.

How Do Talent Agents Get Paid?

Talent agents work on commission, typically 10 percent of a potential client’s earnings, and are sometimes nicknamed “10 percenters.” They may own their own agency or work out of one of the big, established agencies, which include William Morris Endeavor (WME), Creative Artists Agency (CAA), United Talent Agency (UTA), and ICM Partners in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

What’s the Difference Between a Talent Agent and a Manager?

The main difference between an agent and a manager is that a manager cannot arrange for auditions, get you work, or negotiate employment contracts or deals. A talent agent is licensed and is the only person who is legally allowed to get you work in the entertainment industry. A manager's job is to provide career guidance and business management. Learn more about the differences between the two roles here.

How to Become a Talent Agent

There’s no single career path to becoming a talent agent, but there are a few basic requirements.

  • Earn a college degree. A bachelor’s degree is often a basic requirement of most talent agencies, and is helpful when just starting out. A law degree is not required, but a degree in entertainment law is a big bonus.
  • Get to know the entertainment industry. Know everything you can about the segment of the entertainment industry in which you work. Attend industry events, like screenings, festivals, conventions, to meet as many people as possible and become known within the industry.
  • Internships and work experience. Work as an intern or assistant at a major talent agency and work your way up the ladder. While you work, observe and get to know who the industry players are, network, and learn how the entertainment business works from the ground up.