Jessica Schwartz was full steam ahead with her career in fashion when a twist of fate—or, more specifically, an ankle—derailed her path. “I had an injury with my foot, and it was so bad that I had to pivot because I couldn’t carry clothing racks,” she recalls in an interview with Casting Networks. Having grown up in Los Angeles loving all things entertainment, she took a chance and moved to New York to work for Malissa Young, the founder and CEO of BICOASTAL MGMT.
Seven years and another leap back across the country later, Schwartz is now talent director for BICOASTAL, having heralded the opening of its LA office. Here, Schwartz breaks down all things representation, from how to get an agent to how you can become one.
What is your official title and what does that role entail?
I’m the talent director of the office. I do everything—I meet the talent, I close deals, I submit on casting, I work on people’s portfolios. I usually have the help of an assistant, but I really make it my business to know all my clients. There’s definitely a level of personal relationship that happens at BICOASTAL and I think people truly value our communication style.
How do you typically bring on new clients?
You can apply to be scouted on our website. We get a lot of submissions that way, but I also have learned from my boss Malissa about scouting people at random places, like on the street, a restaurant; one time it was somebody I sat next to at a movie theater.
What are the boxes you’re checking when you are considering a potential client? Is it a hole in your roster you’re filling? Or are you just inspired by individual talent?
For me, it’s about the looks and the talent. When we meet someone, I look for people who really know how to follow directions, have follow-through, show that they can be great communicators, that they have the eagerness to do this. Also just overall, they need to have a positive attitude. Since COVID, I know it’s so hard for people. We used to have people audition every day and now it’s self tapes and they’re all waiting to hear if they get a callback. We really try to keep the morale going. Getting in the room is itself a win. We are the biggest cheerleaders you’ll ever have.
What can a prospective client do to make themselves competitive?
It’s really important to stay current on how to submit to an agency. We really encourage people to follow instructions exactly. It’s great for us to have your updated materials, such as headshots, a voiceover reel, things that we can look at during our meeting to see if we’re a good match. We also give guidance if somebody is newer, who doesn’t know how to do any of this at all.
Can you share some of that guidance?
We try to pair our talent with either a great commercial headshot photographer or a fashion lifestyle photographer, really narrowing down who would be the best fit for our client. We also take very updated notes based on talent feedback: How do you feel about being submitted for a commercial for fast food? How do you feel about being submitted for a commercial for marijuana? It’s up to the talent to be as open and honest with us as possible, and that’s all we ask going into our partnership.
Once you have signed a client, what can they expect from their relationship with you as their rep?
I use this word quite a bit, but it’s “cheerleader.” The best part about my job is seeing the end result of someone completing a self tape, getting a callback, booking a job, getting a casting. They can expect just really open and honest communication. We always give feedback if we get it. It’s also really important to know that as an actor or as a model, they can come to their agent and be like, “I feel like that wasn’t the right fit for me,” or, “I feel like that was an amazing audition, how do we do more like that? How do we capitalize on this? How do we keep the momentum flowing on that?” Then we can be the middleman and represent them exactly the way they want to be represented.
There are very different types of agencies out there. In general, how should talent figure out which agency is the best fit for them?
Talent should definitely look at the agency’s website, and honestly, look at their Instagram. At BICOASTAL, we believe in every size, every body, every ethnicity, every gender—that is the message of our agency. You can always ask people who are currently represented by the agency for their feedback, too. They’re working with us every day. Talk to those people as referrals.
Flipping around the line of questioning a bit, what is the advice you’d give someone who wants to pursue your line of work and get into the representation side of things?
Jump on in. Start with an internship. It’s an incredible business, I’m lucky to be an agent, to be able to bring people closer to their goals. I always tell my clients, “Your wins are my wins, your losses are my losses.” I’m here to celebrate everything with them.
What is one misconception about agents you want to clear up?
People shouldn’t be afraid to have an agent. We’re here to champion and help guide you through breakdowns and auditions. We really help look over the contract for a commercial or a usage for, let’s say, a nonunion print job. We are literally here to provide a service so that you can feel that you got the best deal. I just really think at the end of the day, you cannot go wrong with having representation.
What is your No. 1 piece of advice for how to find a talent rep?
Please, don’t ever be afraid to just try. I feel like so many people are afraid to put their heart on their sleeve, but just give it a go. I have literally scouted people who had never, ever acted or modeled. It’s been one of the joys of my life.
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This interview has been edited and condensed.