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07-08-2020 - Case Study

Agents: How To Get One, and What To Expect Once You Do – Part 1 of a Series

By: Jeff Berlin

Dan Burnside is VP and Head of Features and Television at the Dattner Dispoto & Associates, an agency for cinematographers, production designers, costume designers and editors.

We spoke the other day with Dan about the process for getting an agent, and how to be a good client once you secure one.

Jeff Berlin:

How does a DP know when they're ready for an agent, and what does an agent want to see in a prospective client?

Dan Burnside:

The go-to answer among agents is, when you're ready for an agent, an agent will find you. Perhaps you've done some work that people have noticed. You’ve made some strides in the industry. You've done a cool movie that's getting festival noise, or some mix of all of the above. When agents start calling you, you're ready. This doesn't mean you have to wait for that moment, but that's kind of my standard answer because it's always good to go into a relationship with an agent knowing that they see a successful path forward.


You once told me that just about every day you hear from DPs looking for an agent.


I do, from DPs of all experience levels. I can’t say there's a uniform thing that agents look for. Agencies work differently based on their culture. At ours, the agents tend to work instinctively in terms of signing people. You might see some work and feel that there's really something there, an eye, a perspective, something there that really intrigues you.


How should a DP reach out to an agent? How do you want to be approached by a prospective DP, and how often should a DP be reaching out?


If a DP reaches out and says, Hi, I'm friends with so and so whom you already represent… or if a DP I represent asks me, Hey, can you have a chat with a friend of mine, that is almost always an automatic way to connect with me. If someone I already represent says, Hey, take a peek at this, that's a good way to get my attention. I think the worst way is an awkward letter to a person you don't know, with whom you have no personal connection. If it’s just, I want an agent, will you look at my stuff. I think it's hard to get people's attention that way, and it's a bit weird way to start a conversation like that. Reaching out cold, cold calling, can be tough, especially if it's via email.


Would you say it's a bit repellent if a DP tries to cold call you on the phone?


In the midst of a work day, to shift gears and take a cold call, that’s a tougher conversation, just out of the blue. Reaching out through someone is a good. A lot of the people I rep I met through producer friends, existing clients. At social events I'll be introduced to someone or meet people. Then it's easier to call and say, Hey, we met here, or I saw you there. Can you please take a peek at this? As opposed to, I have no idea who you are. I probably don't know much about what your agency does specifically, but take a look at my work. That happens and it actually feels like the person reaching out is not trying hard enough, not putting in the work.


Let's say somebody does successfully reach out, you look at their work and don't take them, what, and how long, should transpire between then and when they reach out again?


If a DP sends me something and I don't feel that they're a good fit at that moment, I don’t just dismiss them as not a good fit. I’ll sometimes suggest that we keep in touch, and as you add more to your reel, that you keep me updated. I feel once there's new work to show, that's often a good time to follow up. Remind me that we spoke last year or six months ago. Bring me up to date, that you did two commercials and an independent film and this new material is from those projects. I will always take a look at that. I want to know how you are evolving, especially if I feel a DP is clearly talented but maybe it's just not the right time right now but it might be in six months, or a year. Let’s keep in touch.


What about a DP who reaches out too often?


Well, it's like dating where, if the person is just constantly on you and is pushing, you get an idea what being married to them would look like, and it's not a great look. A degree of grace in communication goes a long way, because if they are constantly reaching out I’ll think, if I sign this person, am I going to get 35 phone calls a day from them in the very beginning when we are building up their reel, getting those first key jobs? As an agent I want to help, I want to build a relationship, but I also don't want every minute of my work day dominated by someone who's overly needy.

Part 2 of this series coming very soon. Check back often.

Click here to read our previous article with Dan Burnside: Reels for Cinematographers - An Agent's Perspective

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