Are Agents Good For Dancers?
YOU BET THEY ARE! Meet Julie McDonald, Super Agent!
Julie is interviewed by Grover in the presence of 35 young dancers at one of his Hollywood Intensives.
Grover: (to students) Twenty years ago, Julie changed the dance world by establishing agent representation for dancers. Thanks to her, dancers began to enjoy advantages they had never known before. (to Julie) How challenging was getting it off the ground? Did producers and casting directors embrace what you were doing?
Julie: Once they understood that I saved them time and money, it was clear sailing.
Grover: Half the job of casting was done for them...
Julie: It was and still is. For example…they tell us what they’re looking for. We pre-screen clients and send info about them. After they decide who they want to see, we go to work contacting clients with details about the audition. We confirm who’s attending and who isn’t. Outcome: the producers walk into the audition knowing they’ll be seeing the best dancers in town for their project. We negotiate contracts, we follow-through on rehearsal and on-the-set issues as they come up, and we distribute pay checks to our clients. Producers usually pay 10% commission on top of the salary. No cost to the dancer.
Grover: That’s a great service…did you meet any resistance in the early days?
Julie: The idea wasn’t as openly received by some choreographers who had their own methods of casting dancers. Over time, they, too, recognized the benefits of saving time and the opportunity to see new talent they might not have seen otherwise.
Grover: Speaking of new talent, you’ve got thirty newcomers right in front of you. They’re hearing your insights for the first time. What can they do now to start being considered for representation?
Julie: They can start by sending us a photo, a resume, and a few words about themselves.
Grover: What do you look for in the package?
Julie: I look for training on the resume. Based on that, we decide whether to invite the dancer to audition for the agency.
Grover: What kind of photos should they invest in?
Julie: Newcomers shouldn’t invest a lot of money on photos. If they do, they’ll probably end up spending double. Most agents have specific ideas on useable photos and might require you to reshoot them.
Grover: In other words, wait until you’ve secured representation?
Grover: IIs it okay to submit a snapshot the first time out?
Julie: For a beginner, sure. We’ll look at everything. Once a client is signed, we get into creating the package.
Grover: The right headshot becomes very important, right?
Julie: Yes, they’re your entree into auditions, but they’re also hard to do. Dancers think that they have to take great pictures right away, but sometimes it takes four, five, or six photo shoots before you finally figure out how to sit still and get great pictures. The image has to say, “This is who I am.” Finding that image can bring up a lot of stuff.
Grover: Is there a certain type of photographer a dancer should look for?
Julie: You’d better find a photographer you feel comfortable with, someone who’s going to help you relax and have fun on the shoot. If you interview a photographer and they’re making you feel uptight, don’t go with them. It’s really important that you find someone you have a rapport with. That’s key. For example, if you wake up on the day of your photo shoot and have a huge pimple, you have to cancel. You just do. You can’t go. You just have to call and tell the photographer, “I can’t come in. I’m broken out. I’m sorry.”
Pictured here with client Russell Clark
Grover: Let’s go back to the initial contact with an agency...
Julie: If you’re going to send an agent your resume and a snapshot, your picture’s got to be decent. You’ve got to like your snapshot. No matter what you send in, you’ve got to like it. You should even write a letter saying that you don’t have pictures yet, that you’re waiting to get an agent and this is what you have for now.
Grover: How about the resume?
Julie: If your resume says you only have training and you’re just starting out, that’s fine. If you’re young and just beginning your career you’re not supposed to have professional credits. Don’t make things up or fabricate your experience. Use your high school or college plays as credits. Your resume will grow as you do.
Grover: What about special skills?
Julie: Gymnastics, roller blading, martial arts…those things are used all the time. Musical instruments.
Grover: Social dancing, like if you’re a great tango dancer...
Julie: Social dancing is really important. But if it’s something you just sort of know, don’t include it. But if it’s something you’re really good at, it’s important to put it down. As you get a bigger resume, certain things drop off your resume as professional credits come on.
Grover: A resume can be overloaded, too.
Julie: You want a resume that a choreographer can turn over and give it no more than five or six seconds to scan. So if the print is teeny tiny and you’ve got a lot of stuff jammed together, the chances of being read aren’t good.
Pictured here with client Mary Ann Kellogg
Grover:What catches your attention?
Julie: Definitely, the training – I’ll look down and go, “Oh wow – Jerry Evans, Kevin Columbus, Todd Thompson, Doug Caldwell, Sally Whalen” That’s always a plus for me, especially if there’s ballet training.
Grover: (to the students) No one can fool an L.A. agent because most of them know who the strong teachers are.
Julie: (to students) How many of you are studying singing? (six raise their hands) That’s so important. Not that you have to be great singers, you just have to have two songs at your disposal. If you want to do musical theater you can get to Broadway from Los Angeles, but you have to be doing that voice thing. And you should be doing musical theater workshops. But all dancers should have two songs ready at all times, an up-tempo and a ballad. So if you’re asked to sing, you can pull your sheet music out of your bag and go, “Here it is.”
Pictured with MSA partner, Tony Selznick
Grover: Can a dancer make a career out of doing music videos?
Julie: You can't have a career doing just that. You've got to pursue other opportunities as well.
Grover: How much can you make on a music video?
Julie: You make Dancer's Alliance rates which are currently $250 a day for rehearsals and $475 a day for shooting. The rates are good, but most videos last only a few days.
Grover: Broadway dancers can work 52 weeks a year.
Julie: The base pay for a national tour is $1509 a week plus per diem. Plus pension and healthcare benefits. Music videos are non-union -- they don’t pay health or pension.
Grover: What about pop tours?
Julie: That’s where you can make some really good money. And if you’re with somebody major, you get to see the world first-class. There’s just nothing that could be more fun than that for a dancer. But only a very lucky few get to do pop tours.
Grover: Pay rates are?
Julie: $1500 to $2200 a week for a major artist, plus per diem, plus hotel. No pension or health insurance, but usually you get well taken care of.
Grover: Lots of options to think about. How important is union membership?
Julie: When you work in film and television and get your union card, you qualify for health insurance and pension credit. If you get Screen Actor’s Guild or AFTRA jobs in film and television, you get residuals. If you get commercials, you get residuals. Membership protects you in many ways. Getting those union cards is very important.