Filmpulse Magazine reader Victor wants to know who decides on the choice of an actor’s role. The actor himself? His agent? Who has the final decision? And what is the manager of an actor in the film business actually responsible for? Here you will find the answers from Dr. Film.
Actor, agent or manager: Who decides when choosing a role?
Victor asks: Who decides for a film? The actor’s manager or the actor himself? Suppose the manager gets the call that a new movie is about to be shot. Let’s just say for the sake of argument, Superman. Gets:
- first the actor’s manager the phone call, or the actor himself?
- Who decides to accept this role, the manager for the actor, thus speculating for the actor whether this film is a good choice for him, for his further success.
Or does the actor himself decide whether he really wants to be in this film or not?
I mean, what else does the manager do except negotiate with the film company about the budget of the salary? I mean, I thought the manager wants his actors to get more and more success. So I wonder if the actor is allowed to choose a movie. Or the manager is in charge of that.
- What if the manager thinks, for example, “No, you, believe me, this movie is not good for you.” But the actor says: “But I like the Superman character, I want to play that one too”?
What is it like? Is the actor always in charge and the manager really only responsible for negotiating the actor’s salary? Or how or what?
Good questions deserve good answers! So that nothing gets mixed up, a few notes in advance about the roles of all those involved, before we move on to the actual answer to the decision-making question about the choice of roles in the feature film:
Dr. Film says:
The larger an industry, and this also applies to the film business, the higher the division of labor and thus the number of specialized professions and experts. This is especially true for Hollywood.
While in most European countries, including Germany, film actors in the early stages of their careers have to look after their careers on their own and can later rely on the support of a professional agency with a certain degree of familiarity when choosing future roles, the situation is completely different in the USA.
In Los Angeles, around 650,000 people work in the film industry. From extras to lighting technicians to superstars, the total payroll paid out within the American film industry is estimated at $58.8 billion per year.1
Where there is a lot of work – at least this was the case until the rise of the Chinese film studios and the outbreak of Corona – the work processes become smaller: it is not the actor himself who is looking for opportunities to appear in feature films or series in his network and in the film industry in the United States. But rather specialists commissioned by him. Usually these are: managers and the agent.
Source: 1Estimate of the Chamber of Commerce in Hollywood, 2020.
1The function of the manager in role choices
When it comes to career planning, i.e. image, increasing one’s own recognition or the way an actor presents himself in public, or the question of what material an artist should submit for a casting, the manager comes into play.
The role of a manager as a consultant is manifold and can also be defined individually. It depends on his or her abilities and the wishes of the artist. The actor can be asked by Manager to work with him or her. Or, conversely, the actor is interested in the knowledge, experience and contacts and personal network of the film manager and asks him or her to work for him or her.
However, the consulting services of an actor’s manager usually do not go so far (!) as to provide his client with invitations to a casting. This is a different profession and the agent’s business.
2The agent for film actors
If it’s about knowing which roles will be cast soon and where in the film business a casting is pending, the agent is the right person.
He or she knows the profile that the actor has defined together with the manager, which is reflected in the actor’s documents (videos, filmography, showreel, photos, CV).
In order to see where there is an opportunity to apply to participate in a casting, the agent checks daily online the breakdowns published by the casting directors. These can only be viewed by licensed agents.
If the actor convinces at the casting, the agent negotiates the contracts and all further details. In return, he receives a percentage of the respective fee from the artist. This can be up to 10 % of the fee.
3Licenses and legal requirements
The work of the agent requires a state license in most states of the USA. The film agent is considered by the law to be an employment agent. He therefore needs a state license to practice his profession. In addition, agents in America must adhere to the industry regulations of the actors’ unions.
Licensed agents can legally negotiate for their clients and even sign contracts. This is completely different with managers: film managers are “only” consultants. As consultants they cannot represent their clients. Unlike agents, there are no legal requirements for their remuneration.
Unlike the agent, a manager is not paid depending on the success of a casting. He can receive an annual lump sum or a compensation for the hours worked. A bonus is also not uncommon.
Who is more important in choosing a role? Agent or manager?
The manager determines the career of an artist to a far greater extent than an agent. The manager helps to determine the big lines and works out all important career strategies. But that is not the only reason why the manager’s salary as a consultant is far higher than that of an agent. But also because it is freely negotiable.
A manager counts between 10 and 35 actors among his clients. An agent represents up to 300 actors. Quite simply because many castings remain unsuccessful through no fault of one party because of the gigantic competition and an agent must therefore bet on as many horses as possible for financial reasons.
Both agent and manager are technically commissioned by the performer. They are paid by him. Nevertheless, in the film business it is too easy to claim that an artist as a client always has the last word in a role decision.
Relationships and networking are the key, not only for managers
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Many established film managers are asked by artists to work with them because they have proven in the past that they are able to give the right recommendations to their clients as “godfathers”. An actor will therefore consider at least twice to go against the advice of an industry-wide known and recognized manager when choosing a role.
But many casting agents also have a hard-earned, good reputation. They understand that when casting a film role, it is not about having the widest possible choice. Those who provide hand-picked, carefully thought-out suggestions for casting a role rely on quality. Even though this may sometimes frustrate the actors he represents because they are eager to be proposed for casting.
Those who only submit viable castings will soon have a good reputation because they make life easier for the casting director. They know that the reputation of the candidates is worthwhile for them because the proposals for a role are hand-picked and thoughtfully submitted. The word gets around to the studios and also to the actors. That’s why the agent is much more than just an interchangeable contractor.
A question of power
In the end, of course, the power of the actor plays an important role in choosing the role and responding to the suggestions of the manager and the agent.
Any agent or manager who contradicts a millionaire Hollywood star as an agent or manager may risk losing this lucrative customer. This damages the reputation, if it is not about stars with well-known career knickknacks like Johnny Depp or Nicolas Cage.
Thus, when it comes to the question of who makes the final choice about a film role, the same four factors that are always present in business life are ultimately decisive: Professionalism, trust, backbone and ego.
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