The simple answer to whether or not you need representation in reality is that there’s no simple answer. The right decision for you lies on the other side of this question — what do you expect to get out of having representation?
If you’re brand spanking new to the reality business, I think you’re throwing money out the window hunting representation. Most agents that will handle you as a green client are playing numbers, hoping you’ll bring in what you can so they can take ten percent off the top from you and a legion of other self-starters with minimal effort. also, in all honesty, there isn’t much an agent can do for you at that point in your career.
As for seeking representation later on, I know plenty of successful, mid-career story producers (earning in the low six figures) who represent themselves. If you can self-pilot a career earning $2300 a week, you’ll be taking home about $1500 a week after taxes. With an agency, subtract another $230 each week in commission… your $1500 is now $1270. If you worked 45 weeks (a great year), you’ll pay out $10,350, about the cost of a barely-used Ford Taurus.
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? If you work just three or four jobs a year (as most of us do) and your agent simply negotiates rates and executes contracts, you’re likely better off paying an entertainment attorney three to five hundred a pop to handle your negotiations. But if you know how to use your representation effectively, your agent can be worth every penny.
This month alone, I have a number of meetings with production companies and networks to present some original shows. Even with more than 20 credits under my belt, I doubt I would have been able to arrange most of these without benefit of my lit agent. I’m paying for access and occasional counsel (my agent and I have been together a while now, so we talk more often than most agents and clients might), and hopefully it’ll pay off in a big way if my original shows make it into production.
Know what you want, ask for it, and if your agency is unwilling to help you move forward with your career, move on.
Do’s and don’ts:
DO ask yourself if you can afford to spend 10 percent of your gross income on representation.
DON’T sign with any non-WGA-signatory lit agent or agency.
DO look for representation once you have a few credits and have long-term goals as a showrunner or creator.
DON’T look for representation as some sort of validation or if you think it’s an agent’s job to find you work.
DO do your homework before you sign anywhere. Who are your agent’s other clients?
DON’T think your agent holds the power in your relationship. They work for you, not the other way around. If they don’t want to set meetings for you or present your work anywhere, preferring to handle only the negotiating end of the jobs you find for yourself, run.