Skip to Main Content

Talent Agents and Scouts


The wide variety of careers that exists in the film and television industries today evolved gradually. In the 19th century in England and America, leading actors and actresses developed a system, called the "actor-manager system," in which the actor both performed and handled business and financial arrangements. Over the course of the 20th century, responsibilities diversified. In the first decades of the century, major studios took charge of the actors' professional and financial management.

In the 1950s, the major studio monopolies were broken, and control of actors and contracts came up for grabs. Resourceful, business-minded people became agents when they realized that there was money to be made by controlling access to the talent behind movie and television productions. They became middlemen between actors (and other creative people) and the production studios, charging commissions for use of their clients.

Currently, commissions range between 10 and 15 percent of the money an actor earns in a production. In more recent years, agents have formed revolutionary deals for their stars, making more money for agencies and actors alike. Powerful agencies such as Creative Artists Agency, International Creative Management, and the William Morris Agency (now called William Morris Endeavor, or just Endeavor) are credited with (or, by some, accused of) heralding in the age of the multimillion-dollar deal for film stars. This has proved controversial, as some top actor fees have inflated to more than $20 million per picture; some industry professionals worry that high actor salaries are cutting too deeply into film budgets, while others believe that actors are finally getting their fair share of the profits. Whichever the case, the film industry still thrives, and filmmakers still compete for the highest priced talent. And the agent, always an active player in the industry, has become even more influential in how films are made.

In the 1960s, a number of models became popular celebrity figures, such as Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy, and Varushka, who were noted not only for their modeling work but also for the image and lifestyle they portrayed. In the early days of the fashion industry, models were the products of modeling schools, which also monitored their work schedules. However, as the industry grew and individual models became successful, models often needed, and relied, on someone to manage and organize their careers. Thus, modeling agencies developed to fill this niche. Ford Models Inc., an agency founded in 1946 by Eileen and Jerry Ford, was one of the first modern agencies devoted to promoting the career of the fashion model. The agency made fashion history by negotiating the first big-money contract between model Lauren Hutton and Revlon. Today, Ford Models is an industry leader, employing many talented agents and scouts internationally to represent hundreds of the world's top models.

Sports figures, like movie stars and models, have become internationally recognized figures, renowned not only for their athletic prowess, but also for their charismatic personalities. Like movie stars, athletes began to realize the need to have talented representation—or agents—to protect and promote their interests during contract negotiations. In addition, today's sports agents handle most, if not all, aspects of a professional athlete's career, from commercial endorsements to financial investments to post-retirement career offers.

Related Professions