Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How Important Are a Leader's Connections to the Success of a Talent Agency?

East West Players’ research addresses the value of ‘who you know’…

It’s a relationship business. (duh)

Coordinator/Consultant Ming Lo has now interviewed with a range of stakeholders: theatre managers, actors, agents, TV network executives, marketing firm CEO’s, lawyers. Reaction to the idea of an Asian Pacific American talent agency has been as varied as the interviewees, ranging from enthusiasm to curiosity to (very frank) disinterest. But, one glaring trend from nearly every interview was the acknowledgement that the success of the agency would hinge on the person recruited to take the lead as an agent. Or rather, it would hinge on the connections he/she has.

Case in point: One agent from a mid-sized respectably established agency (who asked to remain anonymous) described some of the fellow agents in the firm. “One agent has 10 connections. Another has 5. This other one has 5.” The implication: These agents are defined (if even only in part) by their connections- specifically to casting directors- enough for them to be numerically listed and categorized. These connections, as Arts Education Director Marilyn Tokuda, has noted, become the ‘lifeblood’ for the agency.

The logic is this: A casting director (often under pressure from the director and/or producers) will often turn to trusted agents who can send 5-10 strong actors with one phone call. Often under deadline tight deadline, he/she won’t bother making cold calls or contacting agents with ‘poor’ reputations. This streamlines the audition process; saves on scheduling and, ultimately, production costs. It’s a matter of efficiency. This is no big surprise in an industry defined by the bottom line. But this is confirmation that in the creation of an APA talent agency, we we’ll have to wrap this dose of ‘reality’ with our goals of creating a mission-driven prototype. To win the game, we may have to play by these rules—or at least bring on someone who does. We know: To support careers of APA actors, we must form a venture that is effective (at the least) and also financially viable (ideally!). Possible Future Blog Title: Hippie-spirited community activism dons HBO Entourage-style suit (and attitude) to meet our mission.

Individual interviews (by phone and in person) are ongoing. Arts Education Director Marilyn Tokuda and Coordinator/Consultant Ming Lo have begun to cull and analyze the data. (Did you know – according to one source – that the average base salary for a Hollywood agent ranges from $85-$120K? Not a lot of these kinds of salaries in nonprofit theatre!)

The next step: Draft 1 of a Business Plan. Stay tuned.

--Lisa Tang, East West Players

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