Published on August 25th, 2015 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Esther Cohen
Multi-faceted Vancouver talent agent Esther Cohen has lived and breathed entertainment for most of her adult life, first in music – highlighted by performing as an interpretive dancer alongside Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean on the Spinal Tap & A Mighty Wind: Unwigged & Unplugged Tour – and now as a talent agent for film and television.
A graduate in acting and producing from Langara’s Film Arts program, Esther Cohen works with some of Vancouver’s brightest stars as part of the Carrier Talent family.
We spoke to Esther Cohen about her journey into the talent agency realm and some of the dynamics that go into the actor and talent agent relationship.
Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about you and what you’re up to these days?
I’m Vancouver born, and I grew up in a very artistic family. I’m trained in music, theatre, dance, the whole lot. These days, I’m spending my time riding my bike on the sea wall; in ballet classes; playing guitar and singing in Rock & Roll bands; competing in karaoke competitions; watching live music; painting abstracts on canvas; learning how to cook; doing photography; picking and eating berries; and watching a lot of sunsets. Aside from all that, I am a Talent Agent at Carrier Talent Management. Do I have to talk about work?! Work consumes 90% of my life, though as you can see, I make time for plenty of other interests.
What is a typical day like for you as an agent?
I arrive at the office, tea in hand. I open the blinds to sunshine pouring in through my windows and spilling all over my desk. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Just wait.
Then I turn on my computer, where I am promptly bombarded with a hundred or so emails from clients, casting directors, breakdown notifications, actor submissions, etc. I spend the day responding to said emails, and the hundreds more that come in throughout the day. I answer phone calls, from all of the above mentioned. I submit my clients on breakdowns, and make my pushes to get them auditions. I phone & email out said auditions.
Then my associate and I have a pow-wow, where we discuss whatever the heck we want… work, or non-work related. Let’s call these ‘therapy sessions’. And I drink some more tea. I update my client resumes & sort through their new headshots. And I take meetings with new potential clients. But my day doesn’t end there.
After work, I’m usually out scouting talent at showcases, or at theatre shows. Or I’m out meeting industry folks (Directors, Producers, Actors and such) at events like Tuesday Night Live, Celluloid Social Club, Cold Reading Series, Raindance Vancouver, and going to Canadian film premieres hosted by the First Weekend Club. It’s all non-stop really. But I love it. It’s fun.
For actors who are seeking representation, what are the three most important things that they should look for in an agent?
Someone who they can trust enough to communicate openly and honestly with.
Someone who can share their vision & be on the same page with in regards to their career.
Someone who is excited about working with them… enough that they take the time to go out and see all their shows!! (I go to see all my clients whenever they’re performing anywhere!).
What do you look for in a potential client?
I look for all sorts of things.
I look at every submission that comes in. I’ll look at their resume to see what sort of credits and training they have. For me, someone who is continuously training in acting classes is my favorite. Because I know they are working hard, investing in themselves, and they’re constantly learning and improving their craft.
Other things I take in to consideration is what type of ‘look’ they have, and can I ‘sell’ them? And do they conflict with any of my current clients on my roster?
I’ll also take on people that have special skills. I’ve got a magician. As well as several musicians, who I’ve managed to get some really exciting roles on some major productions. This year I’ve gotten a couple musicians working with George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Crowe.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being an agent?
Helping actors achieve their dreams. When I was training as an actor, I remember thinking “If only someone would just give me a chance, I know I could do it!” It can be tough for some people to find an agent who believes in them. But I might see something special in someone that nobody else sees, or that nobody else is willing to take a chance on. And now I am that person who is giving these people those chances. It feels good. I get just as excited as they do when they book a movie or TV show. It’s team work. It’s a win for both of us.
What’s the biggest misconception about being an agent?
That we’re all old stuffed shirts. Well, maybe some of them actually are – I don’t know! But it’s funny, when people ask me what I do, and I tell them I’m a Talent Agent, I always get the funniest reactions.
People are like “Really?! But you look so young, and you seem so cool! I always thought agents were like stuffy office people!”
Whenever I meet with new potential clients they always tell me I’m so down-to-earth and easy to talk to. And I am! I’m just a regular person like everybody else. I like going out and doing fun things. Just because I’m an agent, doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to have fun too!! But I work my ass off at everything I do. Including work.
What made you decide to get involved with the agency side of the entertainment industry?
Oh man, I get asked this question all the time.
Long story short, I was working part time in an agent’s office as an assistant, because I figured, as an actor (I had just graduated from theatre & film school), it’d be beneficial to learn what goes on behind the scenes with agents & casting directors etc.
So I did that for a year, at which point the company I was working for at that time (a different one than the one I’m with now), asked me if I’d be interested in working full time as an agent with my own roster. By then, I had seen enough behind the scenes to know how tough it can really be to make a living as an actor. And I’m not talking about having to work hard –I’m ok with working hard. I’m just talking about the nature of the industry. It can be done, but the industry is different now than it was 20 years ago. I was seeing people who had been at it for 15 years still struggling to make a steady living at it.
So at that point I decided to take the other route and become an agent. I have no regrets. I love my job. Ask me for the long version of the story when you see me in person. It’s much more interesting! Hahaha.
In your opinion, what is the current state of the Canadian Film & Television Industry? And where do you see it going in the future?
Well, we’ve got some pretty big productions in town right now. A lot of Hollywood A-listers are bringing their projects here. It’s pretty wild. That said, I wish we didn’t lose so many roles to U.S. actors. There’s plenty of great talent in this city.
As for the future, I hope I only see it grow. I feel like everything in this biz is somewhat unpredictable. It’s like gambling, really. But that’s what makes it exciting, I think. It’s always changing. But yes, I hope our industry here in Canada continues to grow. We have such a hard-working, passionate community of people in this industry. We have a lot to offer.
What books have been influential to you in your career thus far?
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s about resistance, and breaking through those blocks that a lot of artists and creative people face.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is another good one. It’s more of a workbook.
I’ve also done a lot of reading from Deepak Chopra & Eckhart Tolle, which helps with finding balance, calm, and peace, (amongst so many other things) which is so important, especially amongst the craziness that this industry can bring.
Where can people find out more about you?
Our thanks to Esther Cohen for speaking with us!
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