I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Ben Jordan, a Junior Agent at Headline Talent Agency based in New York City. Ben told me about his experience working at this agency, what it takes to stay ahead of the curb, and what attributes one needs to be a successful Talent Agent in this competitive field.
Christian Roberts: How did you know that you wanted to become an agent?
Ben Jordan: I went to college at University of Alabama where I studied Political Science. While I was there, I made a lot of good friends who were into the local music scene, friends who played music. Before I knew it, I found myself immersed in the music community. I went to a ton of shows, hosted shows at the coffeehouse that I ran, and even help put on packed house party concerts at my home. I particularly remember one show where in the middle of the set, the lead singer called out to me thanking me for being part of all this. The community in Tuscaloosa was small, but was packed to the brim in talent. A lot of those guys are doing big things now. This experience really left a huge mark on my life.
So after graduation I moved to New York (because that’s what you do when you graduate and have no clue what you want to do next) and here I found myself drawn back to the music scene, but it was a whole different ball game. It was much more cutthroat. There were fewer opportunities for budding talent and all in all less interest from the locals. I took some time to just exist and work and soon enough, I became very close friends with a stand-up comedian and it was there at his first show that I saw that I felt the thirst. I felt the desire to immerse myself into the business of entertainment.
The first internship I applied for was where I am now. Headline Talent Agency.
Roberts: How long until you became a Junior Agent?
Jordan: The day I started interning at Headline, I knew that it was a natural fit. The speed of it, the intensity of it, the personal service that is demanded of me, that was something I really felt inspiring. I was hired on as an assistant after a few months, and a year after that, I was promoted to Junior Agent. With becoming a Junior Agent, I have taken on much more responsibilities. My day to day is typically a ton of pitching (On phone and email), developing clients brands, information gathering, and even some negotiating of deals with the owner of Headline overseeing my work.
Roberts: There are a lot of talent agencies in New York City. What makes Headline Talent stand out?
Jordan: Headline Talent was founded by Erica Bines who has worked for such companies as United Talent Agency and for the CEO of The WB. The other Senior Agent at Headline, Lisa Lawrence started out in advertising and then worked for the Vice President of Motion Picture Talent at William Morris-Endeavor. Having worked at the big agencies, Erica and Lisa came to the conclusion that they wanted a more hands-on approach to the business. They wanted to foster a small roster of incredibly talented actors who they can develop into super stars.
We only sign people that we can have a personal connection with. Actors that we understand what they are about outside of what they can do on stage or screen. When you have that connection, I truly believe that you can more effectively pitch them and their brand. Many other boutique agencies in New York take on hundreds of clients and mainly just submit them online. We want our actors to feel that they are being developed and pitched in a proactive way. This is simply impossible unless you keep a small roster of unique individuals.
From day one, I was trained to pick up the phone and be fearless. We cover projects and casting offices in New York, Los Angeles, Canada, and everywhere in between. Outside of the US, we have clients in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mexico, etc. We do not limit ourselves to the opportunities.
Also, very important to our success has been the structure of our office. Typically at an agency, each agent has their own clients they handle. At Headline, we share all of the clients, and instead divide up the projects. Because of this, every one of our clients have three agents covering them at all times.
Roberts: How do you guys stay ahead of the game?
Jordan: We are constantly paying attention to what is being developed and what is selling. There are over 50 television shows being shot in New York. These numbers are skyrocketing. Also, there is the online content phenomenon. These talent powerhouses are developing crowd pleasing concepts from their living rooms. These concepts are being made into tv shows and film. We are not looking to fill our roster with people who can just play certain roles; we are looking for people who can create something different and truly entertaining. It is our responsibility to keep aware of the ever changing tides and approach the business with an open mind.
Roberts: What are some words of wisdom you can give to people who want to become agents or actors?
Jordan: If you want to be an agent, be ready to start at the bottom and be prepared to hear ‘No’ a lot. Success does not happen overnight and your previous experience means very little, if anything at all.
This is also true of being an actor. As Erica, the owner of Headline, frequently says, “you are as only good as your next job”. You are your own business. Don’t ever sit around and wait for the opportunities to come to you. For the actor, the most important advice I can give you is- you can never truly play someone else if you do not truly know who you are. Before you can paint the picture, you have to know and respect the canvas.
For the future agents, my advice is that you should never represent an actor that you don’t truly believe in. From your first day of interning to retirement, you cannot sell something that you do not believe in whole heartily.
And, for God’s Sake, be fucking fearless.