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C0-operative Agencies

Almost all actors’ co-operative agencies belong to the Co-operative Personal Management Association (CPMA), which was created in 2002 to promote co-op agencies in the profession, encourage the highest professional standards, and represent the interests of co-op agencies to outside bodies, such as Equity and Government departments.

Actors represented by co-operative agencies run the agency themselves, through a democratic structure, and work as unpaid agents for each other. Some co-ops employ a co-ordinator or administrator (who is not an actor). Co-op agencies are non-profit making and surplus funds are put back into the business. Co-op agencies began in the UK in 1970. Since then, many more have been established and thrive. Co-ops access the same casting information as conventional agents and suggest actors for jobs, negotiate contracts and fees, take commission on jobs, and advise and promote their clients to casting directors (CDs) and others.

There is often a fee to join a co-op, which is refunded when you leave. Other, non-refundable, fees may be charged. There could also be a voluntary monthly levy to cover office costs, co-ordinator’s fees, etc. Co-op members work in the office (typically two to four times a month), attend business meetings (usually monthly) to discuss aspects of running the agency, oversee the work of other co-op members (often with CDs) and consider the work of applicants.

You quickly learn how the industry works by working as part of a co-op, which can be very useful for newcomers and those returning to the profession. You are in contact with many industry professionals, which could help you get work. You get support from other actors in the agency, some of whom will have a lot of experience. You know which jobs you have been suggested for and can monitor them. You have more influence over how you are represented and can be more pro-active in your career. You can say which type of work you will or won’t do, without fear of being asked to leave the agency. Usually, more than one person decides who to suggest for a job. Many CDs acknowledge that co-ops often know their clients much better and can sell them with honesty and confidence. Co-ops have smaller lists of clients, tend to avoid clashes and commission rates are lower.

However, you should be aware that there can be drawbacks to being part of a co-op. As with conventional agents, standards vary. A co-op is only as good and professional as its members. Can you be sure that other members are working as hard for you, as you are for them? Continuity can be a problem, with so many people involved. Although co-ops with a co-ordinator may have an advantage on this point, measures such as detailed note-taking and not changing negotiators on a contract still need to be taken. CDs also tend to send breakdowns for major TV and film roles to the top agencies in the industry, but other parts will be sent to good co-ops.

To join a co-op you need to be a good agent (not just a good actor), committed, reliable and keen to support fellow actors. You must be able to use a computer and learn the programme the agency uses. You must be prepared to get on the phone, talk to CDs, and sell your clients with knowledge and conviction. You must be able to make intelligent and credible suggestions for roles. Think about personal commitments, such as doing non-acting jobs to earn money, and expenses, such as travel to and from the office, and joining/training fees.

If you are thinking of applying, first ask if applications are being considered. Many co-ops, like conventional agents, do not accept e-mail applications. Check CVs and photos on the agency’s website to identify potential gaps. Send your photograph and CV. Say why a co-op agency interests you and stress skills and any contacts which could be useful. Co-ops usually want to see an applicant’s work, so send a showreel or details of the show you’re in. Co-ops tend not go to drama school shows or showcases, unless someone has expressed interest. To find out more about the agency, talk to members and ex-members. You might want to know when the agency was established, if any ex-members have returned, the extent of their contacts with CDs and theatres, the range of casting information they receive and whether they belong to the CPMA, which has a code of conduct. Equity particularly welcomed the creation of the CPMA for this reason. If the co-op is interested in your application, you will be interviewed by all available members. If offered a place, you will usually have a three to six month trial period. After discussion to see how both sides feel, you may be offered full membership.

Please visit www.cpma.coop for further information.

 




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