Co-operative Acting Agencies: An Insider View
What you need to know about co-operative acting agencies and how they work
By Miranda Harrison of NorthOne Management
There’s a buzz of excitement. One of us has just come off the phone from a well-known casting director’s office. Having reviewed a self-tape from one of our actors, they’d like to see them in person for a Lantern Entertainment film, directed by an internationally well-known actor-turned-director – and we know that our actor is perfect for the role.
We're in our office near Waterloo in London, actors' headshots adorn the walls, and the inbox is full of breakdowns, meeting requests, job offers and contracts. NorthOne Management (known as N1) is a long-established and leading co-operative agency. We are a friendly, professional, hard-working team, who represent actors on Spotlight working in film, TV, stage and commercials. But what are co-operative (co-op) agencies? And how does it all work?
What is an actors’ co-op agency?
Put simply, an actors’ co-op is a dedicated group of actors who also work as agents for the agency. Unlike a ‘conventional’ agent, a co-operative agency is a not-for-profit enterprise but as both are the same business – an employment agency for actors – there are many similarities.
An actor represented by a co-op, such as N1, is submitted for Spotlight breakdowns in exactly the same way as by a long-established conventional agent. Some of us were represented by conventional agents before deciding to audition for N1, so we have first-hand experience with both types of representation. Others came straight from drama school. We currently range in age from 22 to 64.
How do co-op agencies work?
The ‘co-op ethos’ is democratic – everyone has an equal say in how things are run.
A co-op's work includes:
- submitting actors for jobs
- negotiating contracts and fees
- advising clients on their careers
- seeing clients (and prospective clients) in shows
- building and maintaining relationships across the industry.
Just as you would expect from any well-established agent, all of N1's actors are on Spotlight.
Working as actors
As actors, we are submitted for roles by those who fully understand our skill sets. Because we all know each other well, we are represented by people who really ‘get’ us, who know our skills and who submit us for exactly the right roles. This can’t be over-estimated as a strength at N1. Every actor is submitted for roles that match their strengths, with specifically targeted use of the comments box facility on Spotlight. We never find ourselves at an audition that we don’t want to be at (the classic is a vegan being submitted for a meat commercial).
Working as agents
As agents, we are trained in how to represent our actors professionally. This can be a worry when applying for representation by a co-op. How can an actor represent other actors professionally? At N1 the answer is simple – everyone starts with three days of intensive agent training, with plenty of ongoing support thereafter.
Our training includes:
- how to use industry-standard software
- how to assess Spotlight breakdowns in relation to the actors currently on our books
- understanding and negotiating contracts
- looking at ways to continue key relationship-building.
As AoD (Agent of the Day) we all work 2-3 days a month in the office, with a rota based on everyone’s availability (accommodating, of course, performance commitments). We have a monthly meeting, where all aspects of running the agency are reviewed.
How much commission do co-ops charge?
As an actors’ co-op is a not-for-profit organisation, every penny goes back into the business and there are no salaries. An exception is that some co-ops have Lead Agents – as they spend many more hours than the rest of the team on agent work, they are usually paid a fee to cover their time.
Running the business at N1 requires money for office rent and equipment, plus industry-related software, subscriptions and memberships.
Our income is from two sources:
- Commission on roles undertaken by our actors
- A monthly subscription.
Our commission is 12% for everything: film, TV, stage, commercials etc. The monthly sub varies amongst co-ops. Ours is currently £20 a month and we vary this according to the work that comes in. In the past, it has often been lower, and sometimes £0 when big jobs have come in. By paying this monthly sub, we are all shareholders in the agency and all co-own the assets – a good example of this is that we can use the office out of hours for self-tapes, rehearsals, printing scripts etc.
Benefits of being part of a co-op agency
In return for their commitment to co-op life at N1, every actor gets attentive and careful representation. This includes regular marketing 1-to-1s; discussing career goals and going through headshots, showreels and all the other elements on a Spotlight profile.
N1 fully supports Equity’s Manifesto for Casting, and we continually strive to achieve a diverse client list. We recently held a workshop on inclusivity, run by a founder member (now one of our actors) of a company that specialises in workplace inclusion. We regularly invite casting directors to run tailored workshops with us in film, TV and theatre, and we also organise workshops on career-related subjects.
How do I get involved?
If you're a talented actor on Spotlight, with a love of collaboration, then N1 might be just the place for you! You need to enjoy finding work for others, and to be confident in an office/business environment. Our website explains how to apply for representation, with an online application form.
Just like every agent, we need to be sure that we can send our actors to castings with confidence and that they bring something unique to the table.
Our process is:
- Every application is initially reviewed by the AoDs, who decide whether or not to circulate it to the rest of N1.
- Following circulation, votes are collated.
- If your application passes the voting stage, the applicant is then invited to an audition comprising:
- two contrasting monologues
- a two-way chat about co-op life
- a casting exercise.
We're always happy to answer questions, and you can get in touch with us via our website.
If you're interested in joining a co-op, you can take a look at the Contacts listings for co-operative agencies and find out if their books are open.
Oh! And the film role mentioned at the start of this article that our actor was up for? They got it!
Miranda Harrison trained at LSDA. Performance credits range from Shakespeare to contemporary theatre, film and TV, and voiceover work. A strong involvement with new writing includes workshopping/performing new work on courses at Theatre 503 and running Page to Stage London (where extracts by up-and-coming playwrights are performed as rehearsed readings with immediate feedback from an industry panel). Represented by NorthOne Management
Headshot credit: Nicholas Dawkes
Photograph courtesy of NorthOne Management.