Starting out as a secretary for talent tycoon Richard Stone over 30 years ago, Vivienne Clore now runs her own agency, representing dozens of actors, writers, stand ups and presenters.
“I never set out to be an agent,” explains Clore. She found herself at Richard Stone’s agency after replying to an advert in a newspaper.
Success, she says, has everything to do with your personality. “You don’t have to have gone to university to learn how to deal with people,” Clore insists. A successful agent must have the ability to listen to people, an ability to communicate with clients and producers, and an ability to negotiate deals on behalf of clients.
The role of an agent is complicated and varied. For each client, an agent plans a career – where will they be in six months, a year, five years? Then the agent will use their own contacts – as well as any contacts the client may have brought with them – to get them work.
“Agents often think they’re best friends with their clients but it’s basically a business relationship” Clore warns. “It’s an interesting relationship but – OK, I’ve worked with Jo Brand for 30 years, so yeah, we are friends – but underlying it is always business.”
It is by no means an easy career. Agents work long hours. Clore is on call to her clients 24 hours a day. “I have no idea why someone would want to be an agent,” she says, sounding almost offended. “I’m not sure they know what they think they want to do. I think they think it’s glamorous going to the theatre or to TV studios or on location – which it isn’t!”
“On a day-to-day basis, you are suggesting people for roles. You’re chasing auditions and meetings. You’re inviting producers, casting directors, etc to come and see your clients working. And you’re negotiating ferociously brilliant, amazing deals that no other agent could possibly do. We just do it all!” she jokes.
— vivienne clore (@Vivienneclore) October 14, 2016
No nonsense negotiations
Recent television trends, she says, have made life harder for agents. With more content going online, budgets are shrinking, that means talent fees are shrinking which in turn effects an agent's cut. “Anybody starting out today has got a really tough time because the money has diluted into nothingness.”
You have to negotiate harder than ever to get good deals for your clients, however diminished budgets mean that fees are fairly non-negotiable. “I always ask the client if they are prepared to walk away from [a deal] and if they are then I can just go ‘shove off.’”
Being a hard negotiator is part and parcel of being a good agent, who often have a reputation as clinical, uncaring and manipulative, however Clore disagrees with this. “Those are the bloke agents” she jokes. It’s all about being civil, she maintains.
Clore has a no-nonsense approach: “I get back to people really quickly, no matter what they’re asking for. And I don’t really bullshit.”
Starting out as a secretary, she remembers how people treated her on the climb to the top, and how their attitudes changed when she became an “allegedly successful" agent. “I thought, you treated me as a non-person last year. What’s different?”
She is proud of her courteous reputation. She will always reply to anyone who write in seeking representation. However, she admits that nine-and-a-half times out of ten, it leads to nothing.
“If I don’t like someone or I don’t get them then it’s not going to happen” she says. “I spend more time working than I do anything else.”
It would be a mistake to read courtesy as weakness though. You don’t become one of the leading agents in the UK by being a soft touch and Clore is not to be trifled with. She is surprised to hear of her positive reputation: “I thought I had a reputation as a ferocious old bag – which I don’t mind” she laughs. “I don’t care if people like me. I’m very self-sufficient. I’m much older. Because I’ve been doing this so long, I do what I do, and if you don’t like it, suck it up.”
Twitter is like a bank. You deposit your thoughts and it pays virtually no interest
— vivienne clore (@Vivienneclore) October 17, 2016
Taking on Twitter
To counter any reputation of ferocity, she launched her excellent Twitter account, consisting of terrible jokes, pictures of her dogs, and conversations with just about anyone. “I partly do the stupid Twitter stuff so that I am more approachable. In fact, I’ve picked up clients because of that.”
Getting started in talent representation is not easy. If you are lucky, Clore says, you’ll get an internship or a junior role within an established agency, or an agent will agree to mentor you, however these positions can be exploitative. She warns that “agents will pick [interns] up and then say ‘you’ve done your three months. Please go away.’”
Clore takes a different approach. One of the members of her small team initially started out on the office switchboard before going on to assist the team in tackling deals and managing clients.
Clore offers a word of comfort to those who are looking to get started as an agent: “We come in all shapes and sizes, and a lot of agents bullshit the hell out of everything, but you just want an agent to be honest, whoever they’re talking to – whether it’s the people working for them or the people they want to get to work with them.