What is an actors’ co-operative agency?
- A group of actors who run their agency themselves, work as agents for each other, and decide collectively how to run their business.
- Some co-ops have a paid lead agent, coordinator or administrator, as a central point of contact. This person is usually not an actor, nor a member of the co-op.
- The first co-op agency began in 1974 in the UK. Many now thrive in the UK and Ireland.
- CPMA membership requires an agency to be a bona-fide co-op business: owned and controlled by its members, through a democratic structure, based on one member, one vote.
Co-op agencies operate in much the same way as conventional agents:
- They access the same casting information.
- submit actors for jobs
- negotiate contracts and fees
- take commission
- advise their clients on their careers
- see the work of their clients and prospective clients
- invite casting directors to see their clients’ work.
What is the commitment?
- There might be a joining fee and other fees, such as a levy to cover office costs, coordinator’s fees, etc. A joining fee must be refunded if you leave; other fees can be non-refundable, but must not be a condition of representation.
- If you are offered a place you will be trained to work as an agent.
- There may be a trial period of three to six months before full membership is offered.
- When not employed as an actor, you’ll be expected to work in the office, typically 3-4 times a month, and attend meetings to discuss aspects of running the agency.
- You may serve on agency committees – contracts or finance, for example.
- You’ll be expected to see the work of other members and applicants.
Why an actors’ co-op? There are many advantages:
- You get a valuable insight into how your industry works, very useful to newcomers and those returning to the profession.
- You have the support of other of actors, some of whom will have been in the business for many years, so you can benefit from their experience.
- You know the jobs that you have been submitted for and can monitor them.
- You can be more pro-active in your career by being involved in how to present yourself.
- You can choose the work you do, without feeling that you must agree to every job or risk losing your agent.
- You benefit from the contacts of your fellow members.
- You have a say in how the agency is run, through a democratic structure.
- Co-op agencies are not-for-profit: surplus funds are usually put back into the business.
- More than one person decides who to suggest for a job.
- Co-ops usually know their clients better than a conventional agent and can really sell them with honesty and confidence – this is acknowledged by many casting directors.
- Co-ops have fewer clients and tend to avoid clashes.
- Commission rates are lower, usually a basic 10%. Some have a sliding scale.
- Usually, co-op agencies are not registered for VAT, so there is no VAT on commission.
Are there drawbacks?
- A co-op agency is only as good as its members. Some can be less committed than others.
- One or two casting directors may be reluctant to use co-ops, citing lack of continuity of personnel. It’s important to keep detailed notes and have one negotiator on a contract. Some co-ops have a coordinator or lead agent to provide continuity.
- It can be frustrating when other members get work and you don’t.
- Major roles often go to “names” with top conventional agents. However, co-ops get the same casting information, if they’ve developed trusting relationships with casting directors, so there can be lots of other, good roles to go for.
How do I know if it’s a good co-op?
- Ask a current or recent member
- Check how long it’s been established
- Look at their website and their members’ CVs
- Ask about its contacts with casting directors, theatres, etc.
- Spend some time in the office.
- Does it belong to the CPMA? Equity welcomed the creation of the CPMA, which has a Code of Conduct.
- Is it incorporated? Many good co-ops are not incorporated, but it might be a factor, because incorporation protects co-op members from the agency’s creditors.
Is it right for you? It’s not right for everybody – you need to:
- be a good agent, not just a good actor.
- work in the office, whilst fulfilling other agency commitments, and non-acting jobs.
- afford the joining/training fee and the cost of travel to the office.
- be committed, reliable and keen to support fellow actors.
- be computer literate.
- be comfortable talking on the phone to casting directors and employers.
- know your clients and their CVs, and sell them with conviction.
- make intelligent and credible submissions.
- be prepared to deal with contracts.
How do I apply to a co-op?
- Send a recent head-shot, CV and, if possible, a showreel or details of a show you’re in.
- Check their website and client list: are their books open? Is there a vacancy in your category? Do they accept email applications? Procedures for applying and criteria for joining will vary.
- Use the agency name in your application. Write a proper business letter. If you know someone in the co-op, mention it.
- Say why you want to join a co-op.
- If it’s a drama school end of year show or showcase, it’s better to write individually.
- Mention relevant skills.
- If you’re invited in for an interview, prepare well, be on time, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Be aware that you may meet a lot of people at once.
Visit Our Members’ Details page to choose an agency to apply to.