Janet Ginsburg reveals the subtle timing of when an agent is needed and when an agent might hinder getting that job.
After years of hard work and practice, it's finally time to draw attention to what you've been drawing. So what do you have to do to get your foot in the door? One method is to gain representation -- easy enough to do if you're established, but a little more difficult if you're not. Luckily, if you're talented, serious -- and patient -- it's easier than you think to get your work noticed.
First: Location, Location, Location: If you wanted to be a lobbyist, you'd find a wealth of job opportunities in Washington, D.C. If it's animation you're interested in, your place is in Southern California. Of course, it's possible to get work in other parts of the country -- there's plenty of work for computer animators in Northern California, for example -- but as in any field, it's important to be where the action is. And as far as animation is concerned, that place is Los Angeles. Other hot spots are the Bay area and New York City. Outside the U.S. there are numerous major animation centers as well, such as Paris, Toronto, Vancouver, London, etc. For instance, if you want to be involved in stop-motion, then you'd better get yourself to Bristol!
Second: Being in the Know: Once you've arrived in town with your portfolio under your arm, you'll have plenty to do before you go knocking on agency doors. The first major task is research -- getting the information you need to plot your course of action. It's important to be informed about who's who and what's where in your field. There are a number of animation and/or entertainment-themed publications and directories (Daily Variety, Animation World Network, The Hollywood Creative Directory, etc.). Read and reference them. Keeping current won't make you a better artist or writer, and it won't get you an agent or a deal -- but it will help you learn the names and faces you need to know in order to get ahead in your chosen field.
Third: Getting Out There: One of the best ways to secure an agent, according to Animanagement's Aaron Berger, "is to have someone who the representative knows and trusts recommend you. That's the quickest route." If you're just starting out, you probably don't know too many people in the industry -- so the importance of networking can't be underestimated. By attending industry conferences and events, you're more likely to meet people who will take an interest in seeing your work. Talk to people who have the jobs you'd like to have, and find out how they got there. And talk to others like yourself, just starting out -- you never know where they'll go or who they know. They just might know about opportunities that would interest you.
Beyond the Basics
While having an agent, lawyer or manager negotiate on your behalf is certainly desirable, it isn't imperative for a person new to the field -- or in many instances, even one with experience. What is resoundingly important is that you focus on honing your skills, breaking into the business on any level, and building a solid reputation.
"It's not necessary for every artist or animator to have an agent negotiate for their salary or position," says Randy Myers, who is repped by John Goldsmith of the Irv Schecter Company. Myers is a character animator/animation director who's worked in animation for more than a decade, on both features (Iron Giant, Quest for Camelot) and television. He is currently directing episodes of The Powerpuff Girls on Cartoon Network. "If someone is just starting out in the industry, it's not important to have an agent. All that should matter is getting work and doing the best you can. If you do that, eventually the bigger deals will come to you -- then you should think about finding representation."
Claudia Katz, producer and Senior Vice President at Rough Draft, concurs that an agent isn't an absolute must for a new talent who's seeking work. "Our hiring process is open to everyone. People drop off portfolios, and based on these portfolios, they are invited to take a test...[We] hire people based on the results of these In fact, having an agent tests. The application process is so open, an agent isn't providing you any entry you couldn't seek on your own."
In fact, having an agent can occasionally work against a new artist's best interests. "During our first season [working on Futurama], an agent for a layout artist who was fresh out of school called to demand a two year contract with salary and promotion guarantees. This artist's test was borderline, but we were willing to take a chance on him until these demands were made. In this case, his agent cost him the opportunity to find out whether he would have worked out."
The Next Level
While the necessity of pursuing representation when starting out is debatable, the merits of having a rep who believes strongly in your work as an established talent are much clearer.
Greg Emison has worked as a storyboard artist on shows including Rugrats, Hey Arnold! and Cow and Chicken. He is currently producing two of his own original ideas on the web at stickyflicks.com. "I had a show optioned by a major network, and needed someone to broker the deal for me," explains Emison. "Getting an agent has allowed me time to concentrate on the creative aspects of my creations and stop worrying about the business end. To get an agent you have to open a few doors of your own at first, but it's worth the ones that are open for you later."
Randy Myers agrees that there are definite benefits to obtaining representation. "Having someone represent me not only opened some new doors for me, but also made it more attractive financially to walk through those doors. I've found that the larger studios tend to give an artist more credibility if they have someone representing them."
When you are ready to seek representation, there are smart and not-so-smart ways to do it. "Sound out people in the business, and get their recommendations," suggests Adam Lane, a creator/producer currently developing a project at Fox Kids. Lane is represented by Aaron Berger at Animanagement. "[Aaron] is an invaluable source for professional advice, and a great sounding board for ideas. Make sure your agent has good personal relationships in the business -- deals get done that way."
Ultimately, the benefits of seeking representation at the early stages of one's career vary from artist to artist. It's a highly personal choice, and one should take many factors into consideration when making the decision -- but for many inexperienced artists, it can be a bit like putting the cart before the horse. Agents want to represent talented, experienced individuals with solid reputations and work histories. At that point in one's career, representation is naturally easier to find, and generally a lot more useful.
"When a company is signing you to a multi-year contract, I can see an agent or at least a lawyer being quite helpful," says Claudia Katz. "However, at Rough Draft, our budgets are set, and an agent isn't going to get [you] any more money [than] someone else...you're getting the same salary as the person next to you, only you're handing over 10%."
"In animation," Katz continues, "good people find good jobs, with or without agents. We are in an industry and a market in which if you are talented and work hard, you will have no trouble finding work."
Janet Ginsburg is a writer and producer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in VIBE, LA Weekly and on the E! Entertainment Television Network. She fraternizes freely with talented animation types, occasionally collaborates with them, and has several animated projects in the works.