So You Want to be in Pictures? We’ve Got the Inside Scoop

Jai Khanna with Republic of Brown CEO Geetanjali Dhillon
Jai Khanna. Photo by Collin Stark.

This Sunday night is the Academy Awards, Hollywood’s biggest night of the year.  A night actors/directors/producers work their entire careers to reach.

But, we’re making this easy for you. We got people. And our people called some people who got us in front of Jai Khanna, talent manager at Brillstein Entertainment Partners in Los Angeles. Jai gave us the inside scoop on how to get started in the business including some projects currently casting.

RoB: What is Brillstein Entertainment Partners?

JAI: Brillstein is a full service management and production company with offices in Beverly Hills and New York. We manage talent (Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, Natalie Portman, Mark Ruffalo and Gwenyth Paltrow), produce TV shows (Sopranos anyone) and films, including Eat Pray Love and The Departed.

My roster of clients includes those with success in both television and film, including Michael Weatherly (NCIS), Carmine Giovinazzo (CSI NY), Tiffani Thiessen (White Collar), Maulik Pancholy (30 Rock), Navi Rawat (Burn Notice), Parvesh Cheena (Outsourced) and Irrfan Khan (The Namesake, upcoming Spiderman).

I’m also producing five films which are in various stages of development, with two set to shoot in India, specifically River of Gods, based on the acclaimed novel by Ian McDonald.

RoB: What does a manager do, in layman’s terms:

JAI: In general, the role of manager is to guide the career of artists.

We are essentially the quarterback of the team that consists of an agent, lawyer, publicist and accountant. We streamline the process for artists, so that all information is funneled through us. This way we can keep the bigger picture in mind. Our daily responsibility is to keep the goals on track, focused and unified. It’s a close relationship – we communicate with clients on a daily basis to make certain that their best interests are represented.

RoB: What’s the difference between a manager and an agent?

JAI: The main difference is that agents are there to procure employment. Managers are there to guide clients through the decision making process, as well as oversee them during production and distribution.

Agents solicit material from studios and networks. They then bring it to the team to decide on the best direction. The manager is the captain of the ship, helping the client decide on the next best career move, while overseeing the lawyer and publicist.

RoB: Help us out now. When do you need one vs. the other or both?

JAI: An agent is the first member of the team…in my opinion. Actors with limited experience need opportunities…this is the role of the agent. When situations become more complicated, where projects are overlapping, and important facts are falling between the cracks, bringing on a manager to help navigate these waters is helpful. At times, management can be overrated. Value has to be added. Some clients enjoy managing their daily affairs, answering the multitude of calls, etc, while others want to focus on their craft and leave the logistics to others. Again, management makes sense, when there is something to manage. (This is why we love Jai – to the point!)

RoB: Are you seeing changes in Hollywood for South Asians? More opportunities?

JAI: Yes, it’s a great time for South Asians in Hollywood. There is a misconception that Slumdog sparked sudden interest.  Current changes are happening because there is a wealth of talented Indians, pure and simple. It’s not a fad, or a trend. Indians are being given a shot to audition for non-Indian roles, and they’re nailing it. You can’t deny the hard work, the training and the pedigree. As a strong work ethic has helped Indians to become doctors, techies, and engineers, it’s also translating to the arts.

RoB: What is the self defeating behavior you see in actors?

JAI: They need to understand the math. Pure and simple. It’s a business first. As a representative, they pay us 10% commission, where my company will take 7%, and leave me with 3%. after taxes, I take home approximately 1%. In short, I expect clients to be doing 99% of the work. A self defeating behavior is to expect your reps or outside forces to make or break your career. They need to look inward, be proactive, work on their craft 24/7, hit the gym, take voice lessons, network, write, produce, direct…overall be creative and show your talent in various forms or outlets. It will be recognized and rewarded.

RoB: What tips would you give someone looking to break into the talent side of the business?

JAI: 1) Immediately, start working with a coach. Whatever you learned in drama school, was fine as a basic foundation, but work with someone who has been in the trenches here. There is an art to auditioning. Don’t take a quick fix workshop on a weekend. Acting is like a muscle, you need go keep working on it for it to build and grow. A weekend workshop is throwing away money. In reality, there are worthy coaches in the game, and some not worth the money. Go see John Kirby, Nancy Banks, or Aaron Speiser.

2) Get headshots, but the not the boring one in a studio, with the white border. Get something different, more natural, and in color. Thousands of pictures are circulated daily..make it interesting and above all else, make it real. Be sure that it looks like you. The worst thing is to walk into a room, and you’re not the picture. Check out Bjoern Kommerell and Collin Stark. Both are editorial and fashion photographers, but they shoot in a very natural way, to get the real you, and more relaxed.

3) Pick up a part time job. Put the ego aside, and wait tables, work nights, etc. Have some sort of income while you’re hustling. It’s too apparent to see clients who are desperate for money. They never score at auditions. Pursue this career for the love, and the money will follow. Live in reality and be sure to pay your bills and survive. You’ll make bad decisions if you’re motivated by the money.

4) Hit the gym….and not once a week. Create a consistent schedule, and keep the body (and mind) fit. Stay toned and lean. It will pay off and show. When roles appear that need a certain look, you can’t cram fitness.

5) Get a pet. It’s easy to get self absorbed, and obsess about missed or lack of opportunities. Keep things in perspective and work on taking care of something else, besides stewing in your insecurity. Have some responsibility to something outside of yourself. It will give you purpose, structure and companionship. It can be a lonely road….but an unconditional loving partner can pave a calm path.

RoB: What’s your favorite place for a business meeting in LA?

JAI: My local lunch place, Kate Mantilini’s, where the head chef stops by to say hello. This always tends to impress and advance the business dealings at hand. 

RoB: If cops eat doughnuts, what do agents eat?

JAI: Each other.

But, we’re not fierce like that and we like to share so here are a few casting opportunities. We’ve listed the casting agent. You and your agent can do the rest.

We also like 838mediagroup for headshots. Disclaimer, they did a photoshoot for Republic of Brown. See our pictures here.

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