Having an agent can be a way of bringing in more work but it can also come with its challenges.
Most creatives reach a point in there career when they must consider what they need to do to take their career to the next level. The world of costume design is becoming an ever broader one, incorporating more sectors than ever before. For example, your role as a costume designer might enter into the world of styling; you may find yourself working in the music industry where before you had only worked in theatre, Film/TV might now go hand in hand with advertising or editorial shoots. The options can be limitless, but this can cause a problem for most people. If you have predominantly worked in one sector how do you get the contacts to move between worlds? That’s where an agent might be handy.
What does an agent do?
Good question, and if you have ever worked around actors long enough you might get the answer ‘nothing’ as agents tend to be the average thespians’ primary resource of complaint (second only to the fit of a costume of course). However having an agent can be an important step in your creative career, helping you reach new contacts and explore projects previously not open to you. In basic terms, an agent finds work for you on your behalf. But a good agent is much more than a middle man in a recruitment process – get it right and this could be one of the most rewarding (and lucrative) professional relationships you will have. Get it wrong and you will find yourself at loggerheads with someone who doesn’t understand you creatively.
The other useful role of an agent is to deal with the negotiation of fees and any contractual issues that may arise. It can be hugely useful having an agent to do this on your behalf saving you from any potentially awkward situations if you were to deal directly with a client. The agent can fight your corner without your name being tarnished. Agents can usually negotiate a higher fee than you could on your own, which is a win-win for both you and the agent – after all their cut comes from your fee.
What makes a good agent?
It sounds obvious but an agent should have your best interests at heart. Ideally, you need to be with an agent who is prepared to represent you in the long term and isn’t only interested in making fast money from your creative work. When you meet with a prospective agent one of the most important questions you need to ask is ‘Do we get on?’ Honesty is so important in a relationship with an agent – if they call you to discuss a meeting or a project you really are not sure about, you need to feel comfortable enough to voice this without fear of reprimand. A good agent is helping you shape your long term career and is understanding of your goals as a creative. This being said they should be able to spot areas where your skills will be best applied and this might mean pushing you out of your comfort zone – which under the right conditions is a good thing. Ultimately it should always be a dialogue. Being able to trust that your agent has your best interests at heart and not just their own is key.
Do they believe in your work?
The point where you begin to be approached by agents is usually the point where your work has become the most visible. Representing talent is a business like any other, but hopefully, agents are working in the industry because they love it and love what you do. Make sure you get an agent who genuinely believes in your work and not just one who wants you because you have recently worked for a high profile client or project. A creative career has its ups and downs, you will need their support in the low moments as well as the highs.
There is no safety in numbers.
If you are lucky enough to have been offered representation check how many other costume people they have on their books before you make a decision. Ideally, there shouldn’t be many, and your work should be very different from the other people on the agent’s books. You should all be at slightly different career stages and working in different sectors. Otherwise, you could be in a situation where an agent is pitching several of you for exactly the same role. Competition is high enough in creative industries, so you want your agent to be fighting your corner when it comes to that project you desperately want to be considered for – they shouldn’t just be throwing lots of similar designers at the wall and seeing what sticks.
They work for you
This is a good one to remember. It can sometimes feel like you are working for your agent (and we’d argue this could a sign of a bad client/agent relationship), but you must keep in mind that they work for you. They don’t get paid if you don’t work so sometimes frustrations can run high. But if a project isn’t right for you, you have to be able to refuse. Sometimes saying no to certain projects is just as important as when you say yes.
Is an agent right for me?
This is all down to the individual. Have you got regular gigs throughout the year and are happy in your work? If so an agent might not be necessary. Are you right at the beginning of your career? Again it is very unlikely an agent is right for you at this stage as your body of work is not developed enough yet. If, however, you are regularly taking on big contracts and working on high profile projects, this could be the right time to consider representation. Agents are also a great idea if you want to expand your work beyond your circle of contacts. If you have worked predominantly in one country, say the UK, and want to explore working in a country like the US, then having an agent based in the country where you want to find projects could also be a good starting point.
Having an agent can be a great boost for your career, get it right and it can absolutely be the right decision for a costume designer.