Just like actors perform to evoke a reaction, the talent agents who represent them can be passionate, stubborn, loyal, and cunning, but they use these qualities to convince directors that their client, the actor, really is the character that he seeks.
Tracy Christian not only represents a talented client list which includes celebrity entertainers like actors Michael Kenneth Williams, from HBO’s “The Wire,” former “Cosby” kid Lisa Bonet, and rapper/actor Busta Rhymes, but she considers them family.
But 12 years ago, when friends told her that she would be a perfect talent agent, Christian wasn’t convinced. As the owner of a promotional modeling agency that signed temporary beauties for trade events such as car shows, she felt “like a pimp.” She wanted to try something different, but she didn’t feel educated enough and was extremely intimidated by what she initially saw as a profession for knowledgeable and culturally sophisticated white men.
She wasn’t entirely wrong. An internship at Hollywood’s most prominent agencies lasted only two weeks. She quit when she discovered that of several hundred agents, only one was African American. Also driving that decision was the fact that the only women she saw were receptionists, and there were very few black clients.
But the short experience taught the San Francisco native more about the talent agent industry, and she realized her fears stemming from inexperience were unfounded and this was a business that she would not only enjoy but succeed at.
She then found an apprenticeship at a boutique talent agency that represented classically trained actors such as those who attended Julliard and Yale. Her previous experience managing models had been extremely lucrative–not only putting her through college at California State University in Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, but also allowing her to purchase rental property before the age of 20.
However, knowing that the industry required that she “pay her dues,” she took a significant pay cut earning less than $400 a week to work the job. Christian, a history major, became a full fledged agent six months later –a feat that generally takes three to six years–and she ended up working for the company, which she declines to name, for almost eight years. Now as an agent at Don Buchwald and Associates, Christian, who won’t tell her age, but says she attended high school in the late eighties, earns well into six figures.
Increasing diversity behind the scenes in Hollywood, has been a challenge of the industry for decades. BlackEnterprise.com spoke to Christian to learn more about how interested African Americans can get a foot in the door without breaking a leg.
BlackEnterprise.com: As a talent agent, what is it that you do?
Tracy Christian: I’m in the sales industry but my wares are artists. My job is to convince decision makers — producers, studio execs, casting directors — that they need to hire my client. Once I get the offer, then I have to negotiate the job’s parameters and fee structure. I keep my client list small and I only represent actors who I intend on representing for the next 20 years; people whose talent consistently blows me away.