A talent agent has two jobs — the first being to obtain auditions for their clients and the second is to negotiate contracts for those clients. In order to do their job well, agents try to stay in constant contact with their clients and to stay abreast of everything career-related that the client is doing. In addition, agents are able to locate auditions and projects for their clients that are not available to the acting population at large.
Legitimate talent agencies are paid when a contract gets negotiated by an agent for work that is going to be performed. Once the contract has been signed and the deal has been made official, the agent gets a percentage of the amount that his client is receiving and that percentage varies, depending upon the contract terms and the state the agent is licensed with. For jobs that are acting jobs covered under the Screen Actors Guild or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the agent percentage is 10 percent. For non-union jobs, it can be either more or less, depending on the contract, but in general, the range is between 10 percent and 20 percent.
Since a legitimate talent agent only gets paid when the client is paid, it is imperative to find an agent who is tenacious and aggressive. Some actors believe that smaller agencies will work harder for their clients, since the smaller agencies have less operating capital than the larger agencies and that a smaller agency can provide more personalized attention, although that depends on the agency and the client.
Talent agents work in the entertainment field. Their jobs are demanding and challenging, but the payoffs can be enormous. In order to get started as a talent agent, most agents started out by working for already established talent agents as assistants. These entry-level positions provide the chance to understand the workings of the agency, as well as a chance to make valuable network contacts.
In the 1980s and 1990s, top agents at Creative Artists Agency were earning up to $10 million a year. Naturally, with the cooling down of the economy, salaries dropped from those levels in most agencies, but the top agencies still pay quite respectably. Agents are notoriously closed-mouthed about their salaries, but in looking at job openings at Osbrink Talent Agency, the salary for a fashion model is listed at $624,000, which means that the agency receives between $62,400 and $124,800 for one client. While Osbrink does not reveal the number of clients it represents, the agency has two agents.