Robert Attermann, C.O.O of Abrams Artists Agency, Explains the Business of Acting, the Entertainment Industry and the New Digital Celebrity.
Through Abrams Artists Agency, I booked my first commercial for Coca-Cola, landed my first writing job for Paramount with Bakula Productions in L.A., and was given the privilege to photograph rising, TV actress Diane Guerrero for my first magazine cover, so, it’s no wonder that I’ve run into Robert Attermann a few times throughout the years. Robert is the C.O.O of Abrams Artist Agency and one of the nicest, down to Earth people that you’ll ever want to meet. This is a man that has been involved in blockbuster movies, gigantic theater productions starring his extraordinary talent, and that has changed the lives of undiscovered talent and turned them into household names in all genres of the entertainment industry. I caught up with Robert to talk about how someone “makes it” in acting, writing and the fast growing digital world of entertainment. Listen up, aspiring performers, this guy knows a thing or two about showbiz!
I met you years ago when Abrams Artists Agency was on Madison. How did you go from talent agent to C.O.O of one of the largest talent agencies in the world?
After graduating from Syracuse University I took a job in the mailroom at International Creative Management. I was promoted a few months later to assist an agent in their talent division. Two or three years later I was approached by a small agency and became an agent. While working there, Harry Abrams of Abrams Artists Agency contacted me and offered me a job as an agent in the Talent Division, and eventually I became Head of that Division. A few years later I became V.P., then moved up to Senior VP/Managing Director. Then, two years ago, Abrams Artists Agency in New York and Los Angeles started working closer together and I became the C.O.O/Managing Director of the entire company.
What makes Abrams Artists Agency appealing to talent?
We take an approach that isn’t just about booking jobs – we’re very managerial in style, and careful about who we represent. We guide our client’s careers and secure projects for them that enhance their profiles and reputations. We also have become diversified – both functionally and geographically. We have offices in Los Angeles and New York, and we have grown to represent not just acting but many more aspects of the entertainment industry, a diversification that helps us represent some of the finest, most talented people in their professions.
Does Abrams Artist Agency have a niche for a particular genre when it comes to talent?
There’s not a specific genre or “type” – our clientele come from a wide range of fields of acting: from classically trained actors to those with a commercial background, and, increasingly, talent that is discovered in the digital field. Our focus is on building careers and helping actors achieve their goals to success.
How do you search for new talent and procure promising new artists?
We are constantly in the field looking for exciting new actors. We visit colleges and school presentations, attend shows and workshops and theater and drama programs throughout the country. We go to professional theater productions, watch TV and go to the movies regularly – hoping to find talent that literally “jumps off the screen.” We also maintain very close relationships with casting directors, producers and directors.
What’s the most commonly asked question by potential clients?
People still want to know, more than anything else, “How can I get an agent if I have no work to show, and how can I get work to show without having an agent?”
The majority of our clients come from trusted industry referrals. Most often, these are from well-respected managers, attorneys, and, increasingly, even agents outside of the U.S. Being referred is always better than a blind submission. That said, usually without material to watch, there is no way to know if someone can act – and that’s the most important thing to know. But in an era of YouTube, Vimeo and social platforms, there are more opportunities than ever for an actor to generate work individually and show agents why they should say “Yes” to representing them.
Is that the only way to “break in”?
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. One of Abrams Artists Agency’s successful long-term clients was signed on the basis of a single commercial. But it doesn’t happen often. It’s a tricky business, and patience is often just as important as persistence.
Why are digital celebrities important to Abrams Artists Agency?
The growth of digital entertainment has been explosive. Just three years ago, there was almost no activity in this space. Today hundreds of millions of young people are turning to digital channels for a huge portion of their entertainment. We’ve moved quickly from simple “influencers” to legitimate celebrities, and it’s no surprise that the entertainment industry has taken notice. The industry has begun creating books, movies, TV series and every conceivable form of entertainment into vehicles for these celebrities, who have huge followings even though they have not followed the “traditional” trajectory into the business. Abrams Artists Agency has quickly become one of the most accomplished and innovative agencies working to help ensure smooth, successful transitions for these celebrities.
How and why did you determine that digital and new media was an area the agency should explore?
The traditional model of starting out an entertainment career by “breaking in” to established forms of entertainment has been completely upended by the rapid rise and huge popularity of digital entertainment. Today, a talented artist can move from obscurity to fame almost instantly, and as we saw this happening more and more frequently, we felt we could create a new practice at Abrams to work with digital artists. We began our Alternative Media and Digital department in early 2014, and the growth has been remarkable.
How has the landscape changed for digital artists in the last few years?
On the surface, everything appears to be different. New, phenomenally successful celebrities and personalities can seem to pop up overnight. And while the path to success for them has changed a lot, the basics haven’t: They still need to understand the business, they still need to have a sure and steady hand to guide them through the meetings and the deals. They need to have trusted representation, and that’s what we’re all about.
Has the agency changed its commitment to “traditional” representation?
For nearly 40 years, Abrams Artists Agency has worked with artists and performers in almost every type of entertainment, and our commitment to “traditional” avenues like film, TV, commercials, voiceover work, literary and publishing, and branding and licensing remains as strong as ever. In fact, it’s because of our strength in those more traditional areas that we are able to take a “digital” celebrity and help them build and grow a career that crosses over from “new” media to “traditional” media. We see our longevity, our expertise and our commitment to traditional media as our biggest asset for new-media talent.
How important is branding and licensing to the agency and to the artists?
It used to take a very long time for talent to build a public image that was strong enough to attract consumer-oriented brands and companies, but now that can happen very quickly. Almost every traditional brand – especially those seeking to attract a younger audience – want to understand the digital space and get digital artists working for them. So branding and licensing has become even more important to us and to our client
Are commercial actors taken seriously?
Of course! Commercials are often the first professional work that actors get in their careers, and commercial work is a wonderful stepping-stone for them. Commercial work helps actors learn about the camera, about auditioning and casting, and keeps them sharp and energized. The Commercial Department works symbiotically with our Theatrical Department to attract and maintain clients.
How has the landscape changed for commercial clients over the years?
Commercial work has become increasingly competitive because of the huge volume of non-union work – which is an area that we don’t work in. That said, commercials have also become more well-crafted, well-directed and, as a result, attract a lot of wonderful, prestigious actors. Commercials have also become more diverse in casting, which is a huge shift from the 1970s and 1980s, when commercials sought a very specific “look.” Now, everyone who is talented can be “commercial.”
What are the differences between working with on-camera/print and voiceover clients?
While the on-camera/print department might need a broader range of types to fill specific visual requirements, by and large the talent we draw from is similar and both require excellent actors with strong credits and solid improv training.
What do you look for in literary clients at Abrams Artists Agency?
It starts with the words on the page. Everything else follows. The most important aspect of what we do is, simply, the talent of our authors to write and create amazing works. They have unique voices that make them different from everyone else.
For our writers who work in film, TV and stage, it’s important for us to be involved at the early stages of development and production – as an agency, it helps us create the “360-degree” approach we pride ourselves on, which allows us to share information about projects and see potential opportunities for all of our clients.
What is most exciting about working with literary clients?
To be one of the first people on the planet with whom an artist shares his or her creation is a real honor! We are able to be involved with the creative process, and to actually impact individual projects then see the final work.
What makes the Abrams literary division unique in the world of literary representation?
Our goal is to service our clients with integrity, vigilance and thoroughness. We also take a “360-degree” approach that has us exploring opportunities within our own different divisions that are suitable for writing, directing and producing clients. Abrams is a large agency with both a West Coast and an East Coast presence – but the feel of a specialized agency.
Raz, here is the quote: “It used to take a very long time for talent to build a public image that was strong enough to attract consumer-oriented brands and companies, but now that can happen very quickly.”