Ingrid French to me, is a name that inspires a boutique feel, so I’m not surprised that she was destined to own her own business. When speaking with her, I can hear the air of professionalism, kindness, and dedication in her tone that her clients have connected with over the years, providing them with encouragement and that upscale feeling that lets them know they are in good hands.
Tell me a little bit how you got started in talent management!
I started in this business working first as an assistant at a talent agency and really loved it… I have a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina, but came to New York just because I love New York and wanted to live in New York, and then ended up answering an ad looking for an assistant in an agency and decided after my first day that that was exactly what I wanted to be doing, was working with talent.
I loved it. I pretty much immediately stopped interviewing for the journalism jobs that I had been interviewing for and was like, “I really want to do this.” I stayed there. I loved it. Worked at that agency and then another, and then after a few years decided to take some of the clients that I’d been working with and… began to manage them, and so then I opened my company. That was in 1999, so it’s been quite a while now.
You’re definitely very experienced! And it’s nice to see the different paths that people take, that not everybody necessarily has to have a theater background to get into this industry, but that you can just have a love for this and get into it in unexpected ways.
It’s funny. I minored in theater in school, but never with a desire to perform, really wanting to be able to read plays and get credit for it. I always loved theater and film and television… but just thought it was more of a hobby or passion. Then once I realized I could work on the other side of the desk, and get to work with these talented artists and be a part of the business from that side, I really fell in love with it, and realized that it’s always what I wanted to do, but just hadn’t had a chance to experience it.
Wow. That’s great, and very fortunate that you just found something that you love and it really took off.
It is. It’s really interesting. I think that all the time, how that one decision to apply for this ended up being a life-changing opportunity, career path changing everything. That was really, really great. It’s definitely been something that I really have enjoyed, and still enjoy, and really love doing.
… I love working with a smaller group of clients, and getting to work with them in all areas. When I was at an agency, you were on one side or the other side, and you worked with a set group of clients and in a particular area, and with the select set of casting directors.
I always felt like the style in which I like to work was more wanting to help and advise actors, and look at their career path as a whole, and really help strategize, and work to bring about opportunities, to help them in every area that they wanted to work in.
Once I started realizing that as a manager and working for myself, I have the freedom to work in whatever capacity I want to, and really look at the big picture. That’s what drew me into management, and what I still really like about it to today is being able work with the clients that I manage in all areas of the business that they work in and do that with their agents and the other members of their team, and be able to work collectively as a group for these talented artists.
I’m curious. What proportion of clients would you estimate come from submitting to you directly versus you reaching out to talent because you saw a production and you’re interested in them, and you approach it that way? What do you think the difference is there?
I don’t get a ton of talent from submissions without some sort of industry referral, or recommendation, or agent referral, or casting referral. I don’t find many people just from cold submissions. It’s generally referral-based.
I many times reach out when I see people. A lot of the people I see are through showcases or workshops that I do or attend. I guess it’s a combination in that, they’re often showcasing their work or presenting their work in some capacity, but then it’s usually been a referral by somebody, or we share something in common from that.
If I see somebody and appreciate their talent or think we might be a good fit, or feel like they might be a good fit for my office, I’ll definitely reach out that way and just start a conversation.
Interesting. Speaking about that, about whether somebody is the right fit… How do you decide, if you’re able to describe it at all, whether or not a person is the right fit for you to manage?
There’s a couple things. First and foremost, their talent. It’s that that I respond to first, so when I see somebody that I think is amazingly talented and not only talented, but talented in the way that I’m so excited by what I’m seeing, that I want to talk about their talent to casting directors. I want to submit them, and…I want to spend hours and days of my life talking about [them] and emailing about their talent and ability. When I get really just professionally excited about somebody’s talent and abilities, that’s usually the first step.
Then, second step is thinking based on who else is on my roster. Are there any conflicts, would they present a conflict type-wise to somebody that I’m already working with or presenting to casting directors, or for opportunities? Then when I get a chance to sit down and talk with them or Zoom with them to get a feel for their personality, how they see themselves, what their goals are, what their vision is for their career.
Many times just after initially seeing somebody’s work, I will begin to see, this is what I could see them doing. This is where I think they’d be great. Then if their personality and mine seem to be in sync, if our visions are aligned, then getting a chance to chat with them about what they’ve done on their own, what they’re proactively doing for their career, what their future goals are, and making sure that all that seems to be a fit. Usually when the talent, the personalities, the goals, the vision, and the trajectory moving forward align, then I feel like, “Okay, this is a good opportunity for success for both of us, because we all seem to be aligned on these fronts.”
That makes a lot of sense. Sometimes it’s just about a feeling, about some kind of chemistry…
Yeah, not necessarily about credits or experience, but I just… You see something, you get a sense of, “I think this is going to be somebody that’s really going to be amazing.” That’s always exciting. That’s one of the things I love most about what I do.
Absolutely. Is there anybody that comes to mind that you had that initial feeling about that was a big success story of yours?
Oh man, there are quite a few of them. I feel like… One of my clients now who’s done several series and films. I met him when he was three years old. He came into an acting class of mine and told me a joke. It was like an off-color humorous joke that I think he got from his dad, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I was like, “This kid is going to be amazing.” Eleven years later, he’s been doing amazing things…
… I think that’s always fun when you have somebody like that, and then the flip side of it is I meet people that I think are amazing and going to do things, … the talent’s there, but they don’t have that drive and ambition to keep at it every day because the talent is a huge part of it, but there’s that whole other part of it that…
You’ve got to make it to the auditions. You’ve got to do the work. You’ve got to study, you’ve got to train, you’ve got to show up, you’ve got to be on time. You got to get everything in on deadline. There’s just so much… besides the talent, that factors in… all that has to align in addition to the talent.
What do you think… and this isn’t a job interview or anything, but I’m just curious. What would you say that you bring, Ingrid French brings, to your clients that other talent managers don’t?
I would say… a level of experience and professionalism that you don’t always find. I think in this business, you’re only as good as the relationships you have. I have worked so hard over the past twenty plus years to really cultivate meaningful relationships across the board in this industry. I think that that’s something that my clients benefit from on a day-to-day basis.
I really do like to find the balance for my clients in working for them to bring about financially rewarding jobs, but also artistically fulfilling jobs, because I find that without striking that balance, it’s difficult to find fulfillment in this. I think you need to be artistically fulfilled as well as financially rewarded for the work that you’re doing. I like to help clients find that balance.
I think I’m also understanding that as an actor, you still have a life. I think my clients would say that I’m easy to talk to and communicate with, and that they can open up and share things, and that we know enough about each other that I can talk about them in great ways for pushes and pitches to casting people. I have a good sense of who they are and what they want to be doing, and what their strengths are and how best to relay that to casting directors and directors and producers. I think that I’m a good listener. I know and listen to what they want, what their goals are and really help them try to reach it. I feel like that combination of… I also am a hard worker. I love it and I work hard, and I think that that’s something that my clients would say.
They know that when they email me, when they call me, when they reach out, when they need something, they know they could get me, that I’m there and that I’m happy to help them whenever and however they need it. I feel like it’s a stabilizing thing to have, when you’re a performer and things are being thrown at you all the time from all different directions, to just know that you have that one person in your corner that’s there and that will help handle anything that gets thrown at them in the course of everything that they’re doing.
At this point, we break off a bit to discuss the good fortune of doing what you love, the necessity of not just working hard but playing hard too, and the never-understood decline of Blackberry phones. I’m filled with positivity, but also yearning for just a little bit of dirt…
What about any terrible experiences in this industry that you learned from that were eye-opening in this business for you?
I think since I started in this business, I have operated under the assumption that people are who they say they are and do what they say they’ll do. There have definitely been times during the course of my work that people have proven themselves not to be trustworthy and not to be taken at their word. It’s always disappointing. I think that those experiences are definitely things that I’ve grown from, realizing that… people can present one way and ultimately be something very different.
I think that there have been times where that’s been disappointing and frustrating, but it happens in not just this, but every business, every area of life.
Then there are other times where you… I’m working with a client and I’m so excited for them and their career, and then they just sort of lose the drive and lose the passion. That’s really hard because sometimes, it’s been years that we’ve worked together, and they just decide to go a different direction…
That can be a tough thing too, but from that, I feel like I’ve learned to appreciate the journey and not always look to the destination, and that helps reframe how that feels when that happens.
What do you think is something that you would want actors who are seeking management to know, that have never had a manager before, and they’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed about getting started?
I like to say to actors that finding a manager is just the beginning of the work that you’re going to be doing. I think even long before you have representation or get representation, you should be working your career as if it were a full time job. You should be self-submitting, you should be meeting industry people. You should be working on your materials. You should be training. You should be doing all of the things full time that you would be doing if you were a full time working actor. You may be working another job or two jobs or three jobs, but still putting in the time to do everything that you can do. When I meet somebody, some of the first questions I ask are, “What relationships do you have? What work have you done? Can I see your materials? Can I see your reel?”
Without that, you’re not going to be able to get representation.
All of those things, even before you meet a manager or things that you need to be working on and doing, and being able to present, and then when you are fortunate enough to find representation, your work starts all over again in a different way. Now you have somebody to work with you, but you’re still meeting casting directors, training… You know, with all of those other things you’re doing, working on your materials, you’re also submitting auditions and self-tapes, and going to auditions, and jumping on Zooms, and doing all these other things.
The work is just starting in that sense, or a new portion of the work is starting, but you still have all those other things to continue… to keep working at your craft and taking care of all those things that need to be done.
If representation for an actor doesn’t happen right away, that’s okay. There are plenty of opportunities that you can have as an actor before you ever have representation. One of those opportunities that you get perhaps through a self-submission might be the opportunity that garners recognition for you, that then leads to you finding representation.
So, would you say it’s normal for people to be in the industry quite a while then before they even have representation?
I think it is normal. I think it can also be a good thing because I meet actors many times where I’ll say, “You’re not ready for representation yet. You still haven’t gotten to a place in your career where your materials are ready to be presented to the industry. You still have work to do on this. You haven’t trained enough in this area. You haven’t…”
I think that you do need to do all those things before you have enough for a rep to present to the industry. When somebody… if somebody hears that “you’re not ready yet,” that’s okay. That just means there’s more work to be done. It doesn’t mean “no,” it means “not now.”
You want to always present yourself in your best light and make sure that when you are being presented to the industry that they’re going to respond in a positive way, and that it’s not going to be something negative when it could easily be something that you could fix by just making some changes to materials or taking that extra class or working on something.
I think the keyword there is “yet.” If they’re not ready for representation, would they leave your office feeling pretty good about exactly what they need to do before they reach that next step, then?
Absolutely, I’m always willing to offer advice on recommendations that I think could be beneficial to them. Over the years, I’ve definitely compiled lists of photographers and classes and editors and all kinds of things that could be helpful to somebody. When asked, I’m absolutely able to offer that kind of assistance and guidance.
It’s definitely something that I do for my clients, but if I’m meeting with somebody and we figure out that at that time it’s not going to be a go, I’m happy to give them some specific things that I would recommend them doing. If it’s somebody that I’m interested in, but I just feel like they’re not quite ready yet, I may say, “Here are some things that I’d recommend you doing and check back with me in six months or a year, and let’s see where things are.”
I’ve definitely done that before, and down the road, our paths cross again, and… things have changed on their end and they’ve taken advice, mine or others that they’ve encountered, along the way. Then timing-wise, it works out.
Sometimes it all comes down to timing.
It comes down to timing.
And what about people that want to get into talent management? What would you say to them?
I would say that it is one of the most exciting areas that you can work in. I have definitely had many people over the years pick my brain about what I think they should do. I’m always happy to give any advice. I’ve had wonderful mentors in my life, in this business. I think that because of that, when I have somebody that’s interested in working in management, I’m always happy to help or offer them assistance.
I think the two things that I always say are, “If you have an eye for wonderful talent, and if you have relationships in the business or are willing to put in the time to develop and cultivate those relationships in the business, then I think you can be successful as a manager.”
Other particulars we will often discuss, but I feel like really spending time getting to know people in the business… and many times managers come from other areas of the business, or it may be that this is your ultimate goal of what you’d like to work in, but you may work in a different area to begin with, or you may be lucky enough to be able to start off doing what you love, which is great.
I think one of the things about a manager… you can start managing if you have one client, so… and build from there. It’s not that you have to have a huge roster to start. You can start with your first client and build from there. I feel like it’s something that anybody can do.
Well, that’s very encouraging. Very encouraging!
Speaking with Ingrid is a great reminder to start where you are, and keep going until you get to where you want to be. If your path veers off course, and you end up somewhere unexpected, well that place might be even better than you could have imagined. Keep making connections, keep practicing your craft, and just, keep going
More about Ingrid French Management – https://www.ingridfrenchmanagement.com