When most of us picture talent agents, it's hard not to let our minds wander to the depictions we see on TV. Exhibit A: Entourage's Ari Gold aggressively yelling at someone on their phone. While the world of film and television can certainly be cutthroat, Amanda Rosenthal will be one of the first to tell you it's not as dramatic as Hollywood would like you to think. However, the hustle is real.
In May of 2000, Amanda left her first agency job to start Amanda Rosenthal Talent Agency or as most know it, ART Agency. With a client roster that include Michael Cera, Shenae Grimes-Beech and Keir Gilchrist, ART has become one of Canada's top talent agencies representing actors of all ages for film, television, theatre, voice, animation and commercials. It is also one of the only agencies in Canada with offices in both Toronto and Montreal.
We sat down with Amanda who graciously shared what it's really like to be a talent agent, the moments she's proud of and her biggest advice for those looking to follow in her footsteps.
How did you become a talent agent? What were the beginnings of your career like?
After graduating university I did a two year creative advertising program. I had been trying to find a job in advertising, and meeting with a lot of ad agency creative directors over the course of about eight months. At one point, in my frustration, I started to wonder if this was the career I even wanted. I was speaking to a good friend who was an actor in Vancouver at the time, and out of nowhere he mentioned that he thought I would make a great manager. After some research, I decided to start off in casting. I had a friend who knew a casting director so I sent her my resume. It turned out that she passed my resume along to an agent who worked in her building who was looking for a new assistant. I got a call for the interview, and I got the job!
I spent eight months searching in advertising, then had just one talent agency interview, so I knew it was meant to be! I really loved the work, and after a year as an assistant I started a kids department at the agency. I was 25 but looked 17, so no adult would have had me as an agent! It made perfect sense to rep kids!
Can someone train or go to school to become a talent agent? How does one get into this career?
the best training is to just start at the bottom as an assistant, and learn by doing
There is no specific program to become an agent, the best training is to just start at the bottom as an assistant, and learn by doing. When I hire assistants now I look at people who have general industry experience (agency, production, casting etc), but I often go on instinct and personality above any specific qualifications.
ART is one of Canada's most successful and longest running talent agencies. Congrats on all the success! Can you walk us through how you founded your company and what were some of the initial challenges?
Aw thanks! After three years at my first agency job, I started on my own in May of 2000. I was thinking about leaving, and happened to stumble upon a perfect office space. Someone else was looking at the space at the same time, so I had to make a decision quick! So I found my first office, and then decided to start my agency! I always joke that it was the craziest thing I’ve ever done, but it all worked out!
It wasn’t enough to be a good agent, I also needed to be a business person
I think at the beginning the biggest challenge was just building my reputation so that casting directors trusted my opinion and taste. I think being very careful about who I chose to represent naturally led to this. I have always wanted to work with people who inspire me with their talent, but who I also like. People often tell us that our clients are not only extremely talented, but really nice, good people. I love that! Another challenge I think was just learning how to run a business. It wasn’t enough to be a good agent, I also needed to be a business person. I sometimes feel like it’s two full time jobs! The irony is the only class I ever dropped in university was Business 101. I managed to figure it out though!
What are some of the moments you are proud of?
I think there are three main things that make me proud.
- When my clients achieve great things (big or small); from first bookings, to huge bookings, to award nominations and wins.
- When my team accomplishes great things; It makes me so happy when the other agents at my company share incredible moments with their clients.
- When I hear positive feedback about my company. I’ve created my company with a lot of positive intention, and it feels good when people recognize that.
What is your day to day like?
I’m usually at the office by about 9:30 AM and start going through my 300 e-mails from the night before! My office is an open concept space, so we often start our day with a debrief of our lives since we last saw each other the night before!
The mornings usually consist of watching self-tapes from clients that came in the night before or that morning, and doing our submissions on the various projects that are casting.
Throughout the day we talk to clients, coordinate their schedules, talk to casting directors, hustle for more auditions, negotiate contracts, visit with clients, meet with potential new clients.
Every day brings something new which is one of the things I love about this job.
Every day brings something new which is one of the things I love about this job. It’s never boring, and there is always work to be done because one of main goals is to continuously generate more opportunities for our clients. Often we will have events in the evening as well, which means there’s always fun to be had too. We love our clients and love spending time with them, and we have so many great friends in the industry so when we get to spend time with them outside of work we really love it.
Over the last few years, Canada has really made a stride in changes within the film and tv industry but there's still so much room for improvement. What would you say is the biggest difference between the Canadian entertainment agency vs. Hollywood and what are some lessons we can learn from our American counterparts?
Well, I think one obvious difference is money. There is just more of it in the US, and the salaries for actors are higher. I think the Canadian industry has caught up somewhat in the last 10 years, and the episodic rates actors can make for series work has greatly improved.
There have also been such incredible changes when it comes to diversity and inclusion since I started 20 years ago
There have also been such incredible changes when it comes to diversity and inclusion since I started 20 years ago, but as you said, yes always room for improvement. One of my favourite examples of incredible casting on a US show was Crossing Jordan. They had the most diverse, interesting cast well before people were talking about it and pushing for it in the way they are now. It’s so amazing to see how things are changing for the better across the entire industry.
If an actor is looking to sign up with you, what would your biggest advice for them be?
In terms of getting in the door here, usually we meet with people on referral, whether it’s by another client, a casting director, or an acting coach. We also look at all of the e-mails that come in.
It’s important to have a great professional headshot, and a demo reel, even if it’s scenes from an acting class.
It’s important to have a great professional headshot, and a demo reel, even if it’s scenes from an acting class. Don’t submit to agents with an unprofessional headshot!
In terms of who we tend to take on, I am always drawn to people who have a lot going on. I love working with people who are artists, and who are constantly working and creating. I have a lot of clients who have music careers, who write, produce their own short films, do improv, and even have their own businesses. I think the more you contribute to the world, the more you get back. I also think it’s so important to always be training and challenging yourself. Actors should always be taking classes.
it’s so important to always be training and challenging yourself. Actors should always be taking classes.
I really value communication with my clients. I need to know everything in order to learn about them and contribute to the growth of their career. The more I know about what my clients love, what inspires them, and what they hate, the better I can do my job. For me, it’s so much about the connection I have with my clients. The relationship is what drives me and motivates me. I want to work with people I love and believe in and look forward to talking to. Pretty simple really.
What is your advice for anyone who is looking to become a talent agent?
You have to be really passionate about your clients, and you have to have the drive to hustle for them and fight for them every single day.
Firstly, I think just get a job in the industry, as I mentioned - start at the bottom. Also - consume art! See all the theatre, watch TV and movies, see stand-up, know actors, love actors! This is a people and relationship job, there are so many amazing people in this industry, but it’s also a sales job. You have to be really passionate about your clients, and you have to have the drive to hustle for them and fight for them every single day.
Time for a shoutout to other entrepreneurs shaking up the world. Which business person do you admire and why?
OK this is the best part! You of course! You are such an amazing go-getter, and have built this awesome business with all of that passion and hustle that I’ve been talking about. Also, I have to shout out to my friend, designer Anne Hung. Not only is her clothing amazing, but she is an incredible business woman! A few years ago there was a fire in her store on Queen Street. Everything was ruined. But that did not stop her! For the first little while she went mobile. She has so many loyal and adoring clients that she was able to sustain and grow her business through on-line orders, and that involved my favorite; personal deliveries. She would show up at my office with a dress, and I used to joke that she was my dealer. Now she has this incredible studio that she built in the basement of her house where she sees clients on an appointment only basis. I admire her so much for the way she persevered, and continued to build her incredible business after the fire. Also, did I mention, I love her designs! I’m probably wearing something of hers right now.
What's next for you and ART?
One of my main focuses at ART has always been to nurture my team of assistants and agents, and to help them build and grow their careers. I am so lucky to work with the most incredible group of women. I’m always trying to find ways for them to get to the next level and achieve the things they want to achieve. I want growth in my company, but I’m very careful about it. I love it so much the way it is, and don’t really have a desire for it to be huge. I approach it as I do my client list; quality not quantity.