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STRAIGHT FROM THE AGENTS MOUTH - PJ CLARKE FROM JEEP MANAGEMENT

How long have you been an Agent?

Ok, I’m just doing the math now. So I’m turning 50 next year, so what’s that… 29 years. On and off for 29 years. I have done bits and pieces in between… I’ve worked in advertising agencies, casting agencies, event companies, juggled my own career in amongst that, but on and off being an agent over 29 years.

When you say your own career, what’s involved in that?

I come from a performing background. I was a musical theatre artist. I was also a commercial dancer. I did a lot of film and television. I also worked as a young model. I come from a performing background, which makes it a lot easier being an agent, having a better understanding, when I’m looking after people with the same kind of careers.

In regards to your performing, what age did you start dancing and singing?

Well, long story short, I was the brother who would go and watch his sisters in dance class for many, many years. As a young kid I was put into agencies were I did a lot of modelling and television work, from the age of about 12, but I didn’t start dancing until I was about 16. A week after I started classes, I started working professionally as a dancer. I just had a natural ability, obviously I had to work really hard at it, and coming from the Western Suburbs of Sydney, I had to jump onto many buses and trains to get into the city to go and do classes. I would do three classes back-to-back, then jump back on the train and head back out west again. I had to work really, really hard because I wanted to be in the top 10 choices of artist in an audition of 100. I wanted it bad enough that I didn’t really care what I had to do to make that happen.

That actually leads into the next question. With your background, including the advertising agency, events management etc, has that helped you as an agent?

100%, because a lot of those people that I used to work for back then, are now my clients, and I now  supply artists to them. Or they are working in other kind of capacities in the industry. It gave me a really good insight in the industry and made my really well connected as well as made me to think outside the box, rather than just waiting for the casting to come in. It has really made me think about how to market artists into different areas. It gave me a lot of business skills, which has helped me today as an agent, knowing how to market my artists, knowing how to produce entertainment, how to run myself as a business. I also pass along all of these skills to my artists as well, because these days the talent is one thing, but the business skill is what helps drive those artists to a successful career.

How long have you had Jeep Management?

It was about 2009 that I started it, so it’s been about 9 years.

Is Jeep the first Agency that you have owned?

No, I had an Agency called Mannequin many years ago. I then sold my share in that business, went out and I was performing and freelancing. Then I went to Brent Street and I developed their first Agency called Detour in about 1998. I ran that for many years. After leaving there, I went back out working for different companies again. Then I created my own Agency (Jeep) in 2009.

Wow. I didn’t know that you started the Agency in Brent Street.

Yep, they gave me four walls and a phone. No pre-existing business, I just hustled and created something for them. Detour, especially in the early 2000’s was one of “The Agencies” that everyone wanted to be part of.

Would you class your Jeep, to be a small, medium or large agency?

Well, it is quite a big operation. We have roughly about 130 artists that we look after. However we have four bookers looking after all of those people. Plus we have two junior bookers and operation staff to assist the bookers as well. It’s a team of six people that are looking after those artists careers. We also have Forward Management, which is our other new baby to the market, which is for more profile artists from film and television, stage and influences. So we have taken a bit of a new direction earlier this year and we need those staff to facilitate looking after these artists and their careers and the bookings that we have coming through.

How many artists do you have in Forward Management?

I think we have about 15, so it is a really small boutique management and we only want to keep it small. Like I said it is profile artists from music, television and stage that are doing exceptionally well in their careers. We also have a couple of presenters as well.

How did that come about?

Basically, I wanted to ensure that I was growing with the artists who were gaining more of a profile. They needed to be put under a different umbrella so that they weren’t getting lost in an agency that everybody assumed was about dancers, commercial talent and musical theatre. We wanted them to have a more exclusive management team behind them. Otherwise, there are other boutique agencies they could have gone too. We want them to feel more specialized and little bit more looked after. It’s got the same type of team, just a different brand that we market differently.

What are you looking for in new talent?

Business skills number one. We only do one intake per year and we just recently auditioned over 850 artists all over Australia. We have narrowed that down to 20 people in the mix that we are thinking of meeting, to discuss their path and to decide if we are going to like them. We also just released about 20 people that were on the books to make room for these people. These people weren’t making money, weren’t being proactive. They were people that “woulda, should, coulda”. At the end of the day these people weren’t making us money and nor were they doing anything about it. So we needed to make room for young kids that want the opportunity and are willing to work for it. I want hard working artists that are willing to commit to what we need.

These artists are all different as we have a Musical Theatre department, Commercial Dance Department, we have Vocalists. We have actors. We also have creatives as well. With the auditions we are looking for emerging young artists. We are not looking for everyone to be exactly the same as each other. We want diversity. We are looking for people who are strong in what they do and they are industry ready. Top of their game. Highly driven hard-working artists that we can mould and can help develop and mentor. Artists that we feel are ready to be put out into the market for our clients. Having said that, if an artist came to us and they are already established and have a reputation and client base, and they knocked on our door in the middle of the year, we would most likely open our doors for that person obviously. It would be wiser for us to put on one of those types of established artists then five other kids. As an Agency, we are trying to keep it at a level that we can maintain and we can look after. Also, just because an artist is on our books, it doesn’t mean that their position is always going to be there. They have to work for it even after they are accepted into the agency. They have to be proactive, they need to go out and do classes, they need to keep on building their CV, and they need to be out there networking. They need to get in amongst it! We can only do so much as an Agent. We can market them, we can get them on the map, but they have to do the hard work because at the end of the day when they are in an audition room, it’s a competition whether they like it or not.

How closely do you work with the talent on your books? To expand their craft, to improve themselves?

We give them lots of advice. Everybody is different, so we have different conversations with each artist. Every couple of months I sit down with each artist and talk about their direction, what they are wanting to achieve, their goals. Then we map out my suggestions and what I think they might need to do to work towards obtaining that goal for themselves. I play a very integral part in our team, mentoring them personally along the way. I’m there to support them when things are going great and they are on “Cloud 9” and I am also their when things aren’t going well and they have hit “rock bottom”. It’s really important as an Agent to really get involved. You need to know how their head ticks. And you need to have that really good open and honest communication with each other in order to have a successful relationship.

What advice would you give to artists, whether they are dancers or musical theatre, when they are looking for an Agent? What should they be looking for, what should they be trying to avoid? What should they do for themselves to be more proactive in getting an Agent?

Number one, be realistic about their path. To know their path.  If they want to be in musical theatre, they need to be industry ready, they need to be great singers. You need to be just as good a singer as you are dancer, as well as an actor for musical theatre. If you haven’t had singing classes, you wouldn’t be going down that path, you’ve still got a lot of work to do.

The thing with being a dancer you need to make sure that you are versatile, in your craft. With film and TV, as an Actor, you have to be proactive doing classes, you have to get the training on your CV. I guess if you feel like you are ready, in the direction you are looking for, then you have to shop around for an Agent, which is suitable for that direction and the opportunities you are hoping to achieve. My next suggestion would be that they contact the MEAA, which is our industry union. It is a union for Actors and Performers. They have the whole complete listing on their website of all the reputable Agents and what they do. Basically they have all of the contact details there.

The next thing would be to make sure that they have a suitable headshot, CV (which is professionally outlined) and also an intro letter to introduce themselves to an Agent. The letter should outline who they are, what they are looking for from representation and do they have any upcoming auditions or times to meet that Agent. The Agent will then advise you what the situation is, what their process is. Also to make sure that you have links to your work as well as a showreel. If you don’t have a body of work and a showreel, do some self-tests of yourself singing or dancing or acting, or whatever you are all about, so that the agent can assess when they are reviewing your submission.

I find as an Agent that a lot of young emerging artists don’t know how to write a letter. They have really bad skills in communicating what they are all about and what they are looking for and end up giving a lack of information to the agent. As an agent we don’t want to have to navigate around too much and going to-and-fro with correspondence. It’s best to have everything up front, ready to go. Sometimes we even get emails asking for us to send information about the agency when we have a website! I find that a real waste of time [laughs] because everything is on there. You really have to do your research with an agent. Make sure you are following their social media, looking at their clientele and who they represent. And then you have to make that decision for yourself and be realistic, and ask your self “is this agency suited to my brand as well?” I think research is power, knowledge is power. It’s a very important thing to do before you start knocking on the doors because you don’t want to make that first impression to be a lasting bad impression. Some agents may have too many people on their books and can’t take any more people on. A lot of young artists have to realize that there is an over-supply of artists in this country, for limited work opportunities as well.

So if you are a young emerging artist looking to connect with an agency, they are looking at recruiting people who are industry ready, who are going to walk in the door and represent the agency well, in the way they are groomed, the way they speak, the way they present themselves, as well as their talent being at a competitive level. They really want you to be just ready to go.

Do you deal only with the Australian market or do you deal with the US market as well?

We don’t actually deal with the overseas market. We align ourselves with other Agencies overseas in the US and the UK. They pretty much assist our artist in putting together their appeals if they are trying to get a Working Visa for over there and to advise them on what agencies are most suited to them and how it works. We do play an integral part in getting them connected and helping them land themselves on that map. So no, it’s not our game over there. As much as we know some creatives over there, we aren’t connected to the industry. They get an agent over there and we look after the stuff over here.

Considering how small the market is here in Australia and the amount of people that want to have a career as a dancer and performer, how realistic is it that people are going to be able to do it full time, be it Commercial dancing, musical theatre etc?

It depends if you are at the top of your game. I mean, there are definitely people that make a complete living out of the industry. Whoever you need to be diverse, you need to make sure you have a few “ace cards” up you sleeve. Just being a commercial dancer is always going to pay the bills, so you need to delve into doing camera course so that you can attach opportunities in Film and Television, commercials and movies and so forth. Or be able to sing so that you are able to go into musical theatre as well. You need to give yourself every opportunity to be working. Sometimes in the market there isn’t that dance work that we would love. The great thing with our Jeep Artists is that they are very diverse. When we are looking for artists they need to be diverse, not just pretty. They need to be talented and other skills up their sleeve. I think it’s a really important life skill to get under your belt at an early age, knowing that you need to have options for yourself. You need to have a goal plan, if one thing isn’t going to work, you have something else to back it up. Also as an Agent we can’t predict what is going to happen 3 months, we don’t have a crystal ball. Everything kind of unfolds in very short notice and you just always have to be on top of your skill sets, ready to rock n’ roll when the brief come and the castings and auditions.

How important is the headshot for an artist?

A professional headshot for an artist is really, really important because it needs to connect with a client that we are submitting. When they see your headshot, that’s the first time they are seeing you and their first impression of you. It could be a deal breaker whether or not you are actually invited in for a television casting or potentially even a preforming casting as well. That photo just needs to represent you well, professionally. In regards to film, television and theatre, they want a blank canvas, they don’t want anything “tricked up”. They (casting directors) want to look at you and think that they can imagine casting you for various roles.

If you are going down a modelling career path, you want to have it more stylized, with fashion and makeup etc. A headshot is everything. I find sometimes that we are submitting people all the time for film and TV, and some people just don’t have any luck based on their headshot. We always suggest to them that it is time to think about getting a new headshot if the current one is not working for you. The headshot definitely can’t be too retouched, because we find with our clients, when they walk in the door and they don’t look like their photos, it is detrimental to us and our reputation and also for the artist as well. We are wasting our clients time too if the artist walks in and they look nothing like their headshot. It’s really important to make sure you are true to what you are all about as well.

How important is Social Media for an artist these days?

Social media is very important. From an Agents point of view, when people are actually approaching us for representation, and we are interested in representing them, a lot of the time our team will jump onto their social media accounts and run our eye through to get a vibe of what their personal style is, the way that they present themselves and manage themselves in an open arena, because it gives us a lot of information. It’s almost like a mini website where we have insight into that person’s life. Especially when people are on Facebook, not holding themselves the best and writing things that don’t reflect well on them, makes us hesitant and raises red flags.

I look for people that have a very good understanding of how to drive their account, composition of photos, what works well for their brand and are doing really well in gaining the followers. Also sometimes artists are advertising brands, whether its makeup or sports brands or clothing brands and are now wanting to align with artists who are impressionable and are in a certain demographic (in regards to their followers). We are getting a lot of work now based on those people because they look great, they are relatable to a certain audience and they are really great at posting their own pics etc. People can say that they don’t like it (social media), but if you are not part of it, it’s something that I think all artist need to start developing. I mean, it can take people a couple of years to work out how to do it right for themselves. It’s an open market and you’ve got to “be in it to win it”! You have to move with the times. I know artist here and overseas that have been booked for a job primarily because they have a massive following, and we know that a client can leverage from cross promoting their products more by that artist posting on their account as well.

Last question. What advice would you give any artists coming into the industry? Coming straight out of school hoping to follow some type of creative path.

I think to pursue and further their training. That’s really, really important. When you come straight out of school you are most likely not at your peak. There are actors in Hollywood going into movies still going to class all the time, because they need to keep “in the game”. Be motivated, have a goal plan. Maybe even knock on doors and work for event companies or agencies or casting agencies. Get an understanding of how the industry works and to kind of educate themselves. It might help them to understand what direction they want to go in. A lot of people out in the industry aren’t going to go out there and be performers, however there is a reason why they are all connected to the industry and love. Maybe quite possibly they might be more suited to working behind the scenes where they are still involved in the industry they’ve always wanted to be in and may find a lot more financial security. It will give an artist more understanding and if they want to one day start up their own business as a choreographer or an agent or a producer etc, then they can see how things work from the ground up. I have found that a lot of the artists they have delved into working behind the scenes a little bit along the way are the ones that have the longevity in the industry. They have a better appreciation of the industry as well.

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