The Real Poop
So the glitz and glamor of Hollywood or Broadway or Motown or the NBA interests you, and you're considering getting into one of those environments for a career (good luck with that). Unfortunately, you've got stage fright, you're tone deaf, you can't write, you run a twenty-two-minute mile, and sick beats avoid you like the plague. Face it: you don't have an artistic or athletic bone in your body.
Or maybe you do, but you don't feel like turning your hobby into a jobby. We can dig it.
Our question to you is this: can you find the people who can do that stuff, and build a business earning a living off of their hard work? Great, then you'd make a wonderful talent agent.
Talent agents (obviously) represent "the talent" (the word is in quotes because reality TV proves talent isn't a requirement). Agents are about the money side of the business, so they define the talent as two- (or even four-) legged packages of looks, skills, and maybe nepotism that can be sold to a studio, director, or other producer of entertainment products.
Simply put, an agent is a talented person's salesperson, and they make an average of almost $100,000 a year without stepping foot on the stage, screen, or playing field (source).
(Note: While talent agents work for everyone from pro athletes to Nashville country singers to that guy you see in all those commercials—not Peyton Manning, although he's got one too—we're going to mostly focus on the wheelings and dealings of film and television agents. Most of this info works across the board, so feel free to imagine we're talking about whatever longshot pipedream your particular clients are interested in.)
Talent agents own or work for agencies that seek out and sign entertainers, then act as a liaison between those entertainers and producers or casting directors to get them in the door for auditions. Then, once a part is booked, they negotiate rates and terms. It's one of the only career paths where "schmoozing" is absolutely a part of your job description.
You schmooze the good talent to let you represent them; you schmooze the casting directors to convince them to see a client of yours for a role; you schmooze the producers when you're negotiating pay (you get a percentage of what your clients make, so you're negotiating your own pay here as well). In the agent business, if you don't schmooze, you lose.
So why would anyone even need an agent? Can't an actor just call the head of casting at Disney and say, "Hey, I need a job, can I have one?" No they can't, because the answer would be, "How did you get this number? Don't call again."
The folks at Disney would likely not be impressed. There are thick walls between the public and the executives who actually make the real decisions. They don't just want every kid with a smile and a nice haircut calling them at home.
However, since you're the agent they'll take your calls because they already have a relationship with you (that schmoozing thing from before). The agent is the one who builds doors into those walls—or at least tiny cracks that they can gently slide their clients through.
Talent need agents—and agents need something to sell (and yes, since talent can be singular or plural just like sheep, that sentence is grammatically correct). After all, your relationship is about opening doors, but when those doors open there has to be something on the other side to make it worth the executive's time.
This means agents are only as good as the people they're selling. Or maybe it's renting.
Whichever term you want to use (leasing?), agents are kind of "filters" for the companies who hire them. They identify real talent, and then showcase that talent in the audition room or in the recording studio.
If an agent is presenting someone who ends up flaking on a very expensive production or shows up two hours late to a meeting, it's likely that the company will stop taking the agent's calls. This is why you don't represent everybody: because not everybody will keep you in business.
The big takeaway here is that Hollywood is a very people-oriented business—so the people involved absolutely matter. Why? Because the success of the talent simply isn't predictable.
If you commit to making a product like noise-cancelling headphones, you can predict what a million units will cost, and if you make a lot of phone calls ahead of time, you can predict what stores will stock them and in what quantities.
Movies and TV shows are somewhat predictable, but often a studio or network will have no idea how it'll perform until the ratings or ticket sales come in.
You can hire Brad Pitt to star in it, but audiences may just not like the story. Or maybe the weather was nice the opening weekend and they didn't really show up at the theater. Or maybe when you started filming, the plot had to change. Or the set blew up. Or the director quit. Or...well, you get the idea.
All of these uncertainties mean one thing: you're always going to be looking for the Next Big Thing. Because the Last Big Thing you had as your meal ticket last year is so last year...and you still really need to make the payments on that Bentley you may have bought a little too soon.