So I tweeted the other week about how sad I was that an actress submitted to me asking me to consider her for "full or hip-pocket representation" and, as they say, the lines lit up. I got dozens of @talentagentla's... What's hip-pocketing? What's bad about hip-pocketing? etc etc.
Enough that I felt I definitely needed to expand.
First, let me make a point that "hip-pocketing" is a term that is going to avoid precise definition because (almost by definition) its going to mean different things to different people. At it's core it means that you are not actually a client of the agency, but someone there is keeping you in their "pocket", on occasion, when possible, when it suits them, possibly maybe submitting you. But usually people don't discuss this as a real concept, its more covert than that, so maybe this is why actors seem to be so in the dark.
Second, let me back up by explaining that there are a couple different kinds of agencies in town (another blog I promise)... but in a nutshell there are "one man department" types where a single agent handles their own personal client list for all projects and casting directors. And then, most common at the mid-sized and larger agencies, there are departments with multiple agents who all share one client list but divide the town by casting director or projects, so that each agent is responsible for the client list of their entire department on the projects they cover. The concept of hip-pocketing normally surfaces at this type of agency because in these agencies one agent cannot bring on any client they want, ALL the agents that would be submitting this client need to be on board or that client wouldn't be submitted to the entire town.
SO let's say a tv/film agent at a large, prestigious agency becomes aware of an actor that her fellow agents won't consider, probably due to a lack of credits. But this agent sees a different picture, she thinks this person could make it if given the right opportunities. Unfortunately because she works in an agency where all the agents need to be on board to sign a new talent, she can't just decide on her own to actively submit this actor (and even if she did, since she doesn't cover all the casting directors or projects it would be a limited slice of the town acting on her own).... Still... once in a while something does land on her desk that seems perfect for that person and she does try to get them in. Maybe this results in An Audition. Once. Or twice. In the hopes that they'll just book it and now the agent will be able to pitch the actor to the other agents with more authority. Voila: a hip-pocket! (Another nice version of the hip-pocket is the "friend with a special skill hip-pocket"-- like I might submit an amazing jazz guitarist that I'm friends with everytime I see a breakdown for real jazz musicians (which is going to be a rare thing, but when I see it, I gotta go for it).
That is a best case scenario, but that's also pretty rare and this is a reality blog. Some "hip-pockets" are not so well-intentioned....Some of my favorite classy examples: maybe an agent (or assistant!) works out a favor with a casting director to get a club promoter an appointment (audition) so they can get in that persons club next time they go out. Or maybe the agent is hitting on someone and trying to impress them. Or, a hip-pocket could be a Jr. Agent that doesn't cover their own projects yet but wants to have someone to hold onto (as they also don't have clients yet) and hasn't realized how almost impossible it is to represent someone without everyone being on board. But maybe the worst is a one-man department who "hip-pockets" someone... how offensive is that? That's basically saying the person solely responsible for their client list doesn't want to actively submit an actor, just keep 'em thinking they *might*.
SO whatever the case may be, the "hip-pocket" is a vastly inferior status to being a full client of the agency because even with a well-intentioned agent you don't have the full agency actively working for that actor... and even the agent doing the hip-pocketing is not going to be actively watching out for said actor because they are supposed to be submitting and pushing the real clients. Being hip-pocketed is *nothing* like being a full client at that agency.
Now some of you are thinking, well hey, better than nothing! Well fine, if the alternative is in fact NOTHING. But remember, you can't freelance (have more than one agent) in Los Angeles. So a regular agent that is interested in really signing you won't be ok with you also having your Hip-Pocket agent occasionally throwing you out on things, so a hip-pocket only is possible for those with zero rep. And an actor would have to be pretty silly to value an occasional submission over trying to find an agent that really wants to sign them and submit them on everything to everyone everyday!
So a bit of advice: If an important agent is interested in seeing you develop, the best thing you can do is drum up all the work on your own you can with another agent (sorry other agent) and keep them updated on your progress. Don't wait for someone that can't sign you to help you. And don't write to an agent asking them to hip-pocket you... yech!
The good news is next time someone brags to you they are being "hip-pocketed by someone at William Morris" you can yawn and say, really? How fabulous. And yawn again.
(point of clarification: If you have an agent that didn't have you sign a contract that does NOT mean you are only hip-pocketed by them. Some agents don't make you sign a contract, its an individual agency preference, but they still represent you with full commitment and expect the same in return. If someone offers you representation, that's a pretty good sign you are not a hip-pocket ;) But if you have concerns, you should ask your agent to clarify.)