Who Wants To Be An Agent?

From an article I originially posted on SportsAgentBlog.com, and in Forum-Vermont Law School newspaper.


The Entourage Effect, So You Want To Be An Agent?

By Zak A. Kurtz

Most of you are familiar with the hit HBO series Entourage.  The show is based on the experiences of Mark Wahlberg as an up and coming movie star coming from Boston to Hollywood.  Wahlberg is represented in the series by movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier).  Wahlberg said that the idea for the show came when his assistant told him to film him and his friends because they “were hilarious.”  How many times has someone told you and your friends that. 


Growing up in Queens, New York with dreams and aspirations of making it as a star on the big screen, Vince and his childhood buddies move to Hollywood where he becomes an A-list movie star.  The episodes follow Vince through all his movie roles, contracts negotiations, lavish parties, and many other wild experiences within the industry.  The show epitomizes the movie star lifestyle in Hollywood and has weekly cameo appearances from many notable celebrities, some including Kanye West, Gary Busey, Mandy Moore, Val Kilmer, Anna Faris, Bow Wow, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Seth Green and Hugh Heffner.


Although Vince is the movie star and head of the group, the character that really stands out is his agent, Ari Gold. Ari is an audacious, loud mouthed, tightly wound, super agent who wheels and deals for Vince while uttering ridiculously witty comments. Most believe that Ari’s character is based on real life agent Ari Emanuel, Mark Wahlbergs current agent. Emanuel founded Endeavor Talent Agency in 1995 after he left the well-recognized agency of International Creative Management (ICM), where he previously represented Jeremy Piven, the actor playing Ari Gold.  If that isn’t confusing enough, Endeavor and Emanuel, now signed Adrian Grenier (Vince) as a client a month ago, further intertwining the series with reality. 


The role of the brash, conniving, supercilious Hollywood agent is portrayed with perfection in Entourage. Ari and Vince’s friend and manager, Eric Murphy are both agents and two key components in the show. Professors, law students, future agents, lawyers and many others love watching agents depicted on the screen.  The Ari Gold’s, Eric Murphy’s, Josh Weinstein’s and many other characters in the business of entertainment and sports appear weekly to millions of viewers who watch in awe. From the representation of stars like Brad Pitt to athletes like LeBron James or David Beckham, we deduce much of what know about agents from the big screen and shows like Entourage.  But how much of that is accurate?


Ari’s character breaks away from his job at a big time agency to start from the ground up building his own brand.  On the screen, this seems to be rather easy for Ari as he forms the Miller Gold Agency and is extremely successful almost instantly.  In reality, it is not that easy to build an Entertainment agency (or any business) from the ground up.  Ari Emanuel chose this path, and created Endeavor Talent Agency.  Which took more than ten years to become a well-established entity in the industry.  It still is not as prominent as CAA or other top agencies but is starting to get climb up the ranks as a top agency.

Entourage overlooks the rough areas that you encounter when starting your own agency.  Ari does work out of a smaller office with less staff for about an episode, but this certainly does not represent the true sacrifice one makes when attempting to start their own agency. 


The movie Jerry Maguire, another classic sports agent flick, shows a better representation of the true anguish and sacrifice one makes when starting up an agency.  Jerry and Ari both leave big agencies to pursue starting up their own firm.  However, Maguire finds it a lot harder than Ari when beginning to build his agency from the ground up.  After time and much personal sacrifice you can build an agency to become great.  A true example of that is Leigh Steinberg, the super agent that the movie Jerry Maguire is based on.  Like the others, Steinberg broke away from a messy situation at a larger agency to form his own firm.  He quickly climbed back to where he once was, but not without many changes and sacrifices.  Leigh is now viewed as one of the greatest agents of our time. 


The path of building your own agency is one that many persistent, motivated and talented agents take.  It is romanticized on the silver screen and is not as easy as general perceptions would lead you to believe.  Starting you own agency takes a lot of money up front with little in return.  The size of your future agency (including agents, clients, staff), along with the type of clients you want to represent are only several things you need to be aware of. 


Before even thinking about starting your own agency you need to become registered as an agent in the particular state you wish to work in.  The registration fee can run from $1000-$2500 depending on the state.  This goes for athlete and entertainment agents, unless you are a “talent agent” (most state jurisdictions have their own talent agency acts that govern their conduct and some do not require you to register as an agent).  The Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) guides other state laws regarding agents.


Once you have paid the appropriate fees and declared yourself as an agent officially, you must then establish your clients.  Most agencies are responsible for paying for athlete and entertainers tryout fee’s, travel expenses, equipment needed, marketing and much more.  All of these fees come from the agency and are not reimbursed until the agent signs that individual client a contract.  Depending on the client, this can take a while, and even if a client signs quickly the money might not get to you until some time after.  Agents representing athletes make anywhere from 3%-6% on contract negotiations, with most agents charging a standard 5%.  Marketing and endorsement contracts, on the other hand, usually give agents from 15%-25% commission. 


On the bright side you could imagine representing Lebron James out of high school when he signed a 90 million dollar deal with Nike.  Then again, LeBron James is an extremely rare client to find.  Any way you look at it, starting an agency and becoming an agent has many roadblocks and obstacles standing in the way.  High start up expenses with little in return scare most people away from becoming an agent.


Therefore, before becoming an agent can be a practicable option as a permanent job you really must either know someone currently in the industry.  There, you can get started at a big firm where you can learn the ropes and build connections. An internship at a large firm or talent agency could build solid ties. The other route that will get you there and the route chosen by Eric Murphy, is one where you know the star or athlete personally, well enough to represent him when he eventually becomes famous, like Vince.  Drew Rosenhaus got his start in the industry this way, representing his once college roommate.  Those two options are the ones I hear most often by experienced professionals in the industry.  Making connections is crucial in the entertainment industry; persistence the right email, phone call or conversation could get you somewhere.


Shows like Entourage idealize the role of the agent, and show only the truly indulging aspects of the business.  The industry itself is a cutthroat one; some of the tactics shown on television do not accurately portray the industry and the proper role an agent plays.  Although the lifestyle may look wonderful on the screen, being an agent is a 24/7 job that takes a lot out of an individual, specifically when starting your own agency. Making money in the industry is a lot harder than one would think unless you have the proper connections. 





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