- Jenna Fischer,
star of "The Office"

The Big Reveal
Agent Tony Martinez speaks volumes about the industry in his new book.

by Jackie Apodaca

Tony Martinez says he intended his book, An Agent Tells All, to read like a conversation. "What I really wanted," he says, "was the book to feel like you and me are hanging out at a bar having drinks, talking." Well, he got his wish. The book is funny, personable, and written with a casual air that is quite inviting. As I read it, I repeatedly interrupted my husband, who was trying to work nearby, and made him read excerpt after excerpt. We laughed out loud at the way Martinez turns a phrase or points out the absurdities of the business. Laughs in a "how to" book? You bet. Here are some quick excerpts from the chapter titled "Tools of the Trade."

Martinez on the "don'ts" of headshot photography: "Don't use props. I've seen pictures of actors holding guns, tennis racquets, pets, and I once saw a shot of a guy eating pasta. We all laughed at that one. Then we threw it out. Just say no to props."

On the "don'ts" of resumés: "Don't be overly creative. Blue eyes should be listed as blue, not aqua. And, to this day, I have no idea what "flaxen hair" looks like."

And, from the chapter called "Getting an Agent," the finer points of submissions: "You should never mail your material to an agency without addressing it to a specific agent. This is a common actor mistake. If you don't make it out, "Attention: Tony Martinez," it will stay in the agency's reception area with many, many others. Eventually, when hell freezes over, someone with free time will wander by and take a look. It's much more efficient to target an individual agent. Anything with my name on it will end up on my desk. That makes it a little harder to ignore. The package will get opened. And that's half the battle."

The book lives up to its fresh introduction, in which Martinez clarifies that it's not written for the mega-stars. "I wrote this book for those of you who are just starting out in your career," he writes. "I also wrote it for all the actors who have been struggling for years and just can't seem to catch a break. I didn't write this book for Tom Cruise. He seems to be doing just fine."

Martinez admits to Back Stage West, "I never had any intention of becoming an agent." About 12 years ago, after spending time in New York working as a line producer, he decided he wanted to come west. One night, while he and a friend hung out in a Hollywood bar, he noticed a want ad for a job as an agent's assistant. His friend felt he should apply, but Martinez wasn't eager to be anyone's assistant. They flipped a coin to decide what he should do. Suffice to say, he lost the toss.

Martinez landed the job and worked for two years as an assistant at Paradigm, a major Hollywood agency that represented such clients as Andy Garcia and Kenneth Branagh. After that he took the leap and became a licensed, fully franchised Hollywood talent agent. "I just thought it would be a great day job to learn the industry," he says. "but without meaning to, I fell in love with the business. I like working with actors, and I realized that this was something I wanted to do." That was 10 years ago, and he hasn't looked back.

Of course, it's not all fun and games. "The hardest part of being an agent is that a large part of my job is saying no," Martinez says. "I meet terrific, talented actors every day who deserve representation, and I have to say no to them. The truth is that no agent can sign every talented actor they meet; your client list can only be so large. If it gets too big, you can't do your job effectively. So, that's not fun." Still, it's not hard to see that Martinez enjoys the idiosyncrasies of the business, and the rewards are great. "I have clients on my list who make a lot of money and work consistently, and those types of deals are cut and dry: You get them done and move on to the next one," he explains. "But when you are dealing with a young actor, a 22-year-old girl, and you just helped her book her first job as a one-day guest star on a series, and she breaks down in tears, it is wonderful. Knowing that you spoke to the CD and convinced them to trust you to meet this young girl, and then she books it. You don't make a hell of a lot of money on a one-day guest star, but it's such a great pleasure to be part of that process."

For those of you who have read your share of "how to make it in Hollywood" books, you know that many of them just repeat the same old, tired clichés. Much of the advice is general, and some of it is just plain wrong. Some books are outdated before they're even published. Martinez feels your pain. "I wrote this book because I have a lot of actor friends," he says. "I see the books they buy and, quite frankly, with a few exceptions, I'm appalled by what's out there. There are a lot of books written by people who have no business giving advice to actors." He thought someone currently working in the industry, a successful agent perhaps, could easily do better. He was right. An Agent Tells All is informative and up-to-date, as well as being a good read.

Still, this book, like any, has its audience. It is targeted to actors who are just getting started, and it may not be revolutionary to those further along in their careers. And yet there are details, from an agent's perspective, you might not find elsewhere. The excellent chapter on pilot season, for example, takes you step by step through the process of auditioning for and landing a role in a pilot: detailing the casting process, testing, the roles of networks and studios, and even the "test deal agreement." It is a clear and detailed window into what, for many, has long been a mysterious process.

Tips and tools aside, Martinez hopes his book gives actors extra confidence. "I want actors who read my book to walk away with the understanding that they have more control over their careers than they may have realized," he says. "I think actors in L.A. sometimes feel helpless. They feel like they're so close to the industry, and yet they're still far away from it, and I understand that. When I came out here I felt the same way. Even though I was working at a cool company like Paradigm, I felt, like, 'Okay, I'm talking to movie stars, and I'm going home, and I can't afford to feed myself. I'm so close to the industry, but I'm not really a part of it yet.' But you can take charge. That's what I did. That's how I ended up becoming an agent."

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