How the International Film Industry Is Driven By People Behind the Scenes7 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson has been in the news a lot lately — not just for her latest blockbuster Black Widow, but for the lawsuit she filed against Disney for the film’s release. Johansson might be a huge movie star but, like many other actors, she is merely the face of a much larger team.
In the international film and television industry, actors are supported by a team of people who work behind the scenes to make their careers possible. This includes managers, agents, and publicists, who each play a different role but ultimately rely on one another to keep the show running smoothly.
This is the case not just in Hollywood but all around the world, including places with growing film industries such as Taiwan and South Korea. And the growth of these industries can be credited in part to the mutually beneficial relationship between actors and their team, which helps encourage the individuals to work harder for the benefit of the whole team. Actors are allowed to focus on acting while those who help manage aspects such as booking and publicity will be motivated to help make the actor more and more successful so that they too can reap the benefits.
In this piece, we give a crash course on who these people are in the industry, what they do, and how the global film industry is affected by their roles.
Managers do exactly what the name suggests — they manage. They help talents, such as actors, to map out their future and can stay with them throughout their entire career. In fact, managers often do not have many talents under them. Instead, they prefer to work closely with a few actors or even just one actor. They also handle aspects such as income and scheduling.
Although what they do sounds similar to what agents and publicists do, managers take on more of an advisory role. For example, they may not be directly involved in contract negotiations but they can advise the actors on their contracts.
Samuel L. Jackson put it best in his masterclass on acting: “Managers have relationships that agents don’t have — relationships that allow you to meet writers, producers, and other people that aren’t just based in a specific project. These are people who are planning to do things, who could put you in their plans. They can connect you with writers who can write specifically for you. And they do put pressure on agents to produce and bring you more work. Or they’ll help you find an agent who can do that.”
Managers, on average, take 15 to 20 percent of their talent’s income. Naturally, the better a manager is at making their talent successful, the more their talent earns, and therefore the more managers earn too.
Agents are who you call when it comes to business and making money. They are responsible for helping talents book and land their jobs. For actors, this means looking for casting calls, sending in audition tapes, or booking in-person auditions for their talent to attend.
While a manager might advise their talent on their contracts, it is the agents themselves who are on the floor negotiating and securing the contracts. Another key difference is that while managers often have close, personal connections with the few talents that they manage, agents typically work for bigger agencies and can handle dozens of talents at any given point.
Agents are usually paid on a commission basis, which means that the more jobs that they secure for their talents, the more they earn. It’s a win-win for both parties.
Publicists manage everything publicity and image related for their talents. Their job is to make their talent look good and boost their likability so that they gain more fans and support. The more popular an actor or actress is, the more likely they will be cast in movies. When stars hit a certain level of fame, sometimes their name alone is enough to sell something.
Publicists can help their talent to handle the media, send out information to the press, arrange interviews, plan publicity campaigns, and even manage their social media accounts. Want that interview with Jimmy Kimmel? Call your publicist. Media is asking you tough questions you can’t answer? Call your publicist. Publicists can be just as responsible for an actor’s image as the actor themself.
Unlike managers and agents, publicists can be paid by the hour based on how much work they do for their clients. This still benefits both parties because the more effort the publicist puts in, the more they are paid and the more that they can do for the client.
Regardless of the roles that each person plays in the team, the success of the actor trickles down the line to the rest. Despite having different responsibilities and being paid in different ways, managers, agents, and publicists are all connected in their relationship to the actor they represent.
Looking back at Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit, she is fighting for not only better wages for herself but also for all the people who rely on her. Her manager, agents, and publicists are all depending on her paycheck and Scarlett Johansson is simply putting herself out there on the frontlines of the fight. There is a reason why others in the industry are backing her, including fellow Marvel stars. Any actor who cares about the team behind them making their career possible would do the same.
There are lessons to be learnt here for places where this system is not the norm. It may seem like common sense but there are actors who do not follow this system and are made to take on all three roles on their own. These actors have to juggle the various responsibilities and cannot solely focus on honing their craft. They will also be limited in their capability to perform all three roles at the same level as those who specialise in each role. Understanding the importance and benefits of having this dynamic between an actor and their team can help us understand how the film industry has continued to flourish on the international stage and how people within the industry can be incentivised to go above and beyond.