Talent Agents and the Implications of Actor Placement

Constructing Artists’ Value Through Television Drama

Les agentes artistiques et les enjeux du placement des comédien·ne·s. Construire la valeur des artistes par les fictions télévisées

Los agentes artísticos y los desafíos de emplear a actores y actrices. Construir el valor de los artistas y ponernos a trabajar en las ficciones televisivas

Delphine Naudier

Translated by Daniela Ginsburg

Translated from:
Les agentes artistiques et les enjeux du placement des comédien·ne·s


Electronic reference

Delphine Naudier, « Talent Agents and the Implications of Actor Placement », Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods [Online], 6 | 2020, Online since 30 April 2020, connection on 01 March 2021. URL : https://revue.biens-symboliques.net/428

This article analyses what is at stake when talent agents place actors in television dramas and series, the production and consumption of which have gained increased cultural legitimacy in France over the past ten years. I will examine the mechanisms of valorization used by agents to arrange these placements and to defend the interests of their clientele. Next, I will analyse the stakes and customs surrounding these placements in terms of professional socialization within the context of the industrial organization of work. Finally, I will look at how the competition created by movie actors’ entry into the space of television redistributes symbolic and material profits within the job market for television series. Drawing on interviews with agents, I will explain how the television series genre has gained increased status in the job market for actors over the past decade.

Cet article analyse les enjeux de placement des comédien·ne·s dans les fictions et séries télévisées, genres dont la production et la consommation ont gagné en légitimité culturelle en France depuis une dizaine d’années. On saisira d’abord quels mécanismes de valorisation sont activés par les agentes pour construire ces placements et préserver l’intérêt de leur clientèle. Ensuite, on analysera les enjeux et usages de ces placements en termes de socialisation professionnelle ajustée à une organisation industrielle du travail. Enfin, on examinera comment la concurrence engendrée par la présence des comédien·ne·s de cinéma dans l’espace télévisuel redistribue les profits symboliques et matériels sur le marché de l’emploi des séries télévisées. Il s’agira de comprendre, à partir d’entretiens réalisés avec des agentes artistiques, comment le genre sériel a été revalorisé sur le marché de l’emploi des comédien·ne·s pendant la dernière décennie.

Este artículo analiza los desafíos de emplear a los actores y actrices en las ficciones y series televisivas, géneros cuya producción y consumo han ganado legitimidad cultural en Francia desde hace una década. Para comenzar, mostraremos cuáles son los mecanismos de valorización movilizados por los agentes para construir dichos empleos y preservar el interés de su clientela. Luego, analizaremos los usos de esas plazas en términos de socialización profesional, ajustada a una organización industrial del trabajo. Finalmente, examinaremos de qué manera, la competición engendrada por la presencia de actores y actrices de cine en el espacio televisual, redistribuye los perfiles simbólicos y materiales en el mercado del empleo de las series televisivas. A partir de entrevistas a agentes artísticos, el objetivo es comprender cómo el género serial es revalorizado en el mercado del trabajo de los actores y actrices durante la última década.

Since the 1990s, research on audio-visual works of fiction has focused on various activities, including the work of television screenwriters (Pasquier 1995 ; Chalvon-Demersay & Pasquier 1993), technicians (Le Guern 2006), and producers (Brigaud-Robert 2011), demonstrating to what extent the chain of cooperation (Becker 1982) that structures these collective activities of production is affected by major tensions between artistic and economic constraints on the one hand, and power relations as each professional territory attempts to defend its autonomy and legitimacy on the other hand (Pasquier 2008). While recent works in France on television series have analysed divisions and hierarchies of labour in the organization of productions (Mille 2013, 2016) and have explored the emergence of new figures such as showrunners (Esquenazi 2010) within the segmentation of professional territories1, in France, no study has yet looked at how talent agents contribute to the placement of artists on television programmes. This will be the focus of the present article.

Fig. 1. Advertisement for Season 2 of the French Series “Call My Agent” (April 2017)

Image 10000000000002800000016C35C9EB5E.jpg

© Les Dessous de scène

Talent agents represent the interests of their artist clients, negotiate their projects and remuneration, and participate in finding them work. They are paid a ten per cent2 commission on all the wages and other forms of compensation they negotiate for their clients (Lizé, Naudier, Roueff 2011). Thus, their work consists in showcasing their clients’ symbolic and commercial value (Naudier 2015 ; Roussel 2017) within a professional context defined by intermittence, whereby different temporalities (the short term nature of projects, where job offers depend on the economic context of the moment, and on the material or symbolic factors that make it necessary to invest in them; and the long-term temporality of a career as it takes shape) are entangled with uncertain production possibilities that link a career to projects and projects to a career (Pilmis & Cardon 2013: 45).

Actors are mainly placed in projects within three domains: television, cinema, and theatre. While theatre is still seen as a noble art, cinema is the goal for most artists, whereas television generates the most projects. According to a number of converging statements, cinema is the sector that pays the best, followed by television and then finally theatre, considered a “poor relation” (Interview, agent, 2013). We must thus consider what is at stake in the process of placing actors in television productions within the context of the “ennoblement” of television series (Glevarec 2012) and of the discursive consensus, expressed by artists, by entertainment media, as well as by public policies, according to whom the boundaries between television series and movies have become blurred as a result of the increased quality of television programmes (McCabe & Akass 2007). It is said that circulation between these spaces of production has become fluid, and the hierarchical differences between television and cinema reduced, indicating a “heterogeneity of orders of cultural legitimacy” (Glévarec 2005). To test these claims, we must first examine the mechanisms of valorization agents use to construct and justify their actor placements. Next, we must analyse the implications and professional practices surrounding these placements from the point of view of agents. Finally, I will show how, since the 2010s, competition from movie actors has redistributed symbolic and material profits across the job market for television series, which is dominated by the tension between fears of downclassing and the benefit of upclassing.

This study is based on more than 150 semi-structured interviews carried out in France with talent agents, their assistants, directors, screenwriters, actors, heads of casting agencies, producers, and lawyers. The interviews focused on professional trajectories, placement practices, and employment negotiations in the various sectors. I also observed three Parisian agencies of different sizes and reputations. Although these observations were short term (about a week at each agency) because of resistance to any prolonged outsider presence, they were bolstered by many interviews conducted at the work site. These lasted several hours each, and some were repeated over the course of several years, thus providing the study with ethnographical details. In fact, a number of transactions were made in my presence, principally by telephone or email, and commented, at my request, by the respondents. In general, agents continued to work during our interviews, which were often interrupted by assistants, the telephone, or impromptu visits from clients. These interviews were supplemented by artists’ accounts of their relations to agents and to their profession, published in the written press or made during radio or TV interviews. This research continues my work on the historical sociology of talent agents (Naudier 2018a).

1. Constructing Professional Legitimacy in TV Drama

Given the heterogeneity and multiplicity of television programmes and of the interlocutors involved in television networks (artistic directors, television programmers, independent and public production companies), talent agents became a necessary presence in the television job market in France, as in many other Western countries. The indispensability of agents is obvious: in 1994, two-thirds of television actors already had agents, and having an agent is even more common among television actors under 30 than among those over 50 (Menger 1997a). Moreover, the number of actors has increased fourfold since the 1980s, reaching 30,000 during the 2010s. The agent’s role is to represent her3 clients’ interests to employers and financers, with whom she maintains relationships of acquaintance. Agencies’ “reputation work” (Zafirau 2008) involves making their clients’ CVs visible on the agency website, a process that allows them to build name recognition in connection with a physique, and to thus distinguish actors and actresses from their rivals.

Making “a name” for an artist within this “economy of singularities” (Karpik 2011) depends on an “innovative combination of several principles of evaluation or registers of action” (Bessy & Chauvin 2014) within a “configuration of intermediation” (Naudier 2018a). Thus, the work of placement and its corollary, the creation of exchange value, are based on various mechanisms of valorization that seek to produce and spread “conventions of quality” (Bessy & Eymard-Duvernay 1997) by certifying the value of their clients. Here, an artistic project is “a profession, a job, and a product at the same time” (Cardon & Pilmis 2013: 46), each aspect of which is apprehended through the lens of quality.

The perceived level of quality sets “prestige” programmes apart from those considered “low-end”—although, if it has a long enough run, a show considered to be of lesser value can still be a good placement for actors. Over the course of my interviews, a discourse emerged that can also be found in the media: in France, there is a “television that is in the process of modernizing itself, [with] high quality, super well written, super well done series,” and it is in the process of replacing a television, which was “mainstream, somewhat traditional and somewhat old-fashioned” (Interview, agent, 2018).

While it is easier to access the space of television production than the space of movies, audience response—whatever the role in the cast—is the major criterion for deciding whether to maintain or cancel a programme. In this context, three mechanisms of valorization are at work when an actor or actress enters the space of television: the first is based on the audience, the second on the constitution of a capital specific to television, and the third on the creation of a capital that can be converted in the space of cinema.

1.1. Legitimacy Through the Audience

Within the space of television productions, there is high job turnover as a result of the constant need to fill programmes with new faces. Therefore, the cost of entry to this space being rather low, agents tend to place their clients—especially the youngest ones—on television shows, since network audiences act as accelerators of fame:

“In the movies, in order to become well known, you have to do either a film that sells millions of tickets, or else a small film that all the critics love. There’s no guarantee that after starring in a movie you’ll be well known. Far from it. But after a series like that4, 3 or 4 million people will have seen you in each episode, so yeah, that’s a bit of fame.” (Agent, Interview, 2nd of 3, 2013.)

Nevertheless, although audience response allows artists to become well known, using the audience to make major judgments turns out to be a double-edged sword. Within the economic strategies of programming, the logic of casting, which consists in creating an obvious connection between an artist and a character, reaches its limit. The flip side of the audience response criterion is that the product (the programme) becomes more important than an actor’s job:

“I picked up XX who had a recurring role on [television series]: they [the network and the producers] threw him out like he was trash… They weren’t getting high enough ratings, so they decided to make a change and hire a woman instead of him… And they threw him away like a dirty old sock and now no one wants him on TF15. Now when we propose him for other series, they don’t want him. And I don’t know what I’ll be able to do as far as the other networks… So now all of a sudden he’s not working, although he worked a lot for a long time. Because one day someone decided to kick him out, now no one wants him anymore.” (Agent, Interview, 2013.)

Thus, the importance of financial criteria increases the risk that a job might end; agents must factor in this risk as they “sell” artists from one project to another with more or less ease. There are other criteria of quality in addition to audience size and format: for instance, there is a hierarchy of broadcast times (the early evening being the most coveted time slot because it has the most viewers). Indeed, networks invest different amounts in shows depending on their broadcast time and target audience. From the point of view of agents, within this economy based on making bets, reducing the uncertainty surrounding future jobs consists in anticipating an actor’s placement, even if it means lowering his or her fee, if he or she agrees:

“I saw the first images, there’s going to be a buzz about it, so if it goes well, it will bring me other things… I know very well there’s going to be some press around this! […] It’s a prestige piece from TF1 directed by a film director, with two stars […] with movie people so it’s going to be a prestige evening. I know perfectly well it won’t go unnoticed, and that it’s going to be a great night and it’s certainly going to be presented at La Rochelle6, that it’s going to get attention. […] We have to go, you can’t not go when it’s this kind of product.” (Agent, Interview, 2013.)

Greatness by association, achieved through theoretically efficient pairings and by accumulating markings of quality (filmmakers, stars, supporting roles, festivals, press, “prestige” pieces, etc.) is part of showcasing an actor’s name, which hangs on the uncertain reception of the “product.” Dealing with the vagaries of job offers leads to choosing strategies that ensure profitability in the medium term, by building media capital specific to television.

1.2. Network Mobility: Television Actors

Agents must adapt to and work with the characteristics of networks—the first criteria they take into account in considering television placements for their clients. Whether they are dealing with a network known for its audiences, such as, in France, TF1, or for its cinematic reputation, such as Canal+7 or Arte8, or for having an aura of “quality,” such as the public broadcast networks, the valorization of artists is achieved on the basis of distinctive criteria specific to each network. Media capital is expressed in three modalities that allow for a wider-ranging or narrower career—what I will call network mobility. This mobility is tightly linked to whether an actor is cast in a regular role, a recurring role, or as a guest star. It exists within a televisual space where media capital, linked to name recognition through audience ratings, can be mediated by agents.

Series regulars are hired to “hold down” a show and to “carry it” on their shoulders. Landing such a prominent role is a plus, but, according to several agents, only if the actor “gets out in time.” These roles procure symbolic benefits and can even guarantee professional advancement by leading, for example, to production credits, or to the opportunity for an actor to write or direct certain episodes. The image of the hero or heroine whose schedule is filled with days spent filming a series is the price of television glory. Brokerage means negotiating so that an actor is “sheltered from need while also building up reserves” but without “being locked in a role” (Interview, agent, 2013). The imprint of a flagship show, such as certain detective or family shows, closes the door to many jobs, in particular when an actor’s identity as a “TV Series Hero” (Chalvon-Demersay 2011) replaces his or her name: for example, among the most popular shows of French television in the 1990s and early 2000s, Roger Hanin has become “Navarro9,” Mimie Mathy has become “Joséphine ange-gardien10,” and Véronique Genest “Julie Lescaut11.” Then, his or her career may be limited to jobs on the same network, as this actor notes:

“If you really are a TF1 star, you’re not going to go work on France 212, or, rather, if you’re a star on France 2, TF1 won’t want you.” (Actor, Interview, 2012.)

The competition between networks is refracted at the level of artistic careers. Many actors thus participate as “guests” with small roles on other one-off shows or series from the network. The artist’s name is then preceded by “guest starring” in the opening credits to distinguish him or her from lesser-known artists in the cast. Mobility is therefore mainly internal to a network. Being marked by a major role and by the network’s image guarantees a steady stream of television work, but also reduces the space of outside possibilities.

A second form of network mobility has to do with recurring roles. These roles are part of the wider cast that extends beyond lead roles and includes supporting roles (the protagonist’s spouse, child, parent, colleague, friend, etc.). These jobs, which entail only a few days of shooting, are less defining, but open the way to a more fluid network mobility. The “name” of an actor who plays such a role is, in fact, a commodity that can be monetized with respect to casting heads who sometimes oversee recruiting for other series and have credibility with the production companies of other networks. The result is that the programmes in which actors participate are streamed online, downloaded, and featured in the media. For example, actors who cut their teeth on public network series as part of so-called “ensemble” casts made up of multiple recurring roles—for example, A French Village (Un village français)13—may be hired for series such as Spiral (Engrenages)14 or The Bureau (Le Bureau des legends)15 on Canal+ or may even land starring roles in programmes on other networks. The artist’s name and recognition from other networks, production companies, and casting directors open the door to other French television shows. It is his or her reputation as a good actor that ensures he or she will find work on other television series.

Finally, a third form of mobility is made possible by internationalizing one’s career. Thus, television dramas that are widely exported16 can be catalysts for acquiring work in the English-speaking world or as part of programmes co-produced with other countries. This is what happened with one actor cited by an agent: his career began with a role on a young adult series on TF1 in the late 1990s, which was picked up by Netflix; he then performed in a few series on France Télévision before joining some of the most successful shows on Canal+ and eventually being recruited onto English-language series.

“Playing the part,” signing on to a second, or sixth, season guarantees a salary, whereas lining up one role after another in different TV series, and joining the cast of a “prestige” production shapes an actor’s image and creates potential for mobility within the audiovisual space. This mobility can allow an actor to access the space of cinema, a focal point for most artists.

1.3. Media Capital that can be Converted into Film Roles

Although playing recurring characters and being labelled a “television actor” can temporarily “zap” an actor’s professional opportunities, on the other hand, some formats open the way to movies, as this agent emphasizes:

“It’s better to do small, funny vignettes because then the movies will come looking for you, since these days a lot of comedy films are in development, so they are always looking for funny people to bring into movies.” (Agent, Interview, 2018.)

Short programmes such as Un gars, une fille17 are cited as examples of formats that can serve as springboards to get into commercial cinema. In this way, the increased visibility of an actor’s name on the small screen can facilitate access to the job market for film, and can even lead to an actor orienting his or her career towards arthouse cinema, as the stars of Un gars, une fille, Jean Dujardin and Alexandra Lamy, for example, have done. Subjecting oneself to this criterion of media selection, gambling on a reduction in economic uncertainty, can thus serve as a lever in promoting one’s career.

Within this economy of singularities (Karpik 2011), an actor’s name, built on television regular appearances (in talk shows, weather broadcasts, or comedy shows) allows circulation between various professional spaces. Television series are thus like window displays that function as strategic scouting sites for accessing movie work. Young actors try their luck there, and production companies keep watch over them. “Format doesn’t matter as long as you have work” thus sums up the everyday work of placing actors. Constructing such mobility between different spaces generally means changing agencies and joining organizations where agents convert television popularity into film roles. It then becomes a matter of converting media capital built on television into symbolic and artistic profit in order to cross the border into the more prestigious field of cinema. In addition to building up the media capital attached to a name, landing a role on a series involves professional implications and customs that stem from professional socialization and the internalization of the rules of the trade within a logic of industrial production.

2. The Implications and Customs of Actor Placement on TV Series

The implications of actor placement, where material and symbolic interests are intertwined, are expressed in multiple combinations that lead to projects in one or more sectors of dramatic work. These combinations are shaped by an actor’s personal aspirations and the horizon of possibilities, since these project-based careers (Menger 1997a) are indeterminate and uncertain (Menger 2005, 2012; Pilmis & Cardon 2013). For actors, each placement is an opportunity to network and to capitalize on encounters over the long term.

2.1. TV Series as Professional Gateways

The work of valorization performed by agents occurs at every stage of an actor’s professional life; agents try to stay as close as possible to their clients’ aspirations, which they assess on the basis of what is possible. Being placed on a television series is an integral part of aspiring actors’ socialization, and even serves as a kind of ‘paid learning’ according to one agent. Indeed, for the youngest actors, the television job market, where the codification of jobs is highly stereotyped, is particularly open (Menger 1997b). Thus, some private networks ask agents to show them ‘beautiful’ young people, especially young women, as this agent emphasizes:

“Everyone knows that at [privately-owned network], for series, they usually want beautiful people, and if they are choosing between two actors or actresses, one of whom acts better but is less pretty than the other, they will choose the prettier one!” (Agent, Interview, 1st of 2, 2013.)

Agents’ pragmatism, informed by their experience and the descriptions provided by casting directors, leads them to categorize their clientele according to the job offers they receive from networks. For example, during one of my observation sessions at an agency, an agent showed me the face book of her clients and pointed out those that matched the profile sought by a major private network that insists on actresses who are beautiful, thin, and mainly white18. She told me that such physical types contrast with “mugs”—faces, including men’s, that are less smooth and less fitted to the expectations of certain major networks, but that can be placed on series on Canal+, for example. Initially, agents seek to place their actors everywhere, sending them to every audition so that they become well known. The next step is to get them noticed by a casting director and recruited for a production, the first mark of professionalism.

2.2. Getting Paid to Do One’s Job

Minor roles on series that are not very selective in casting usually mean just one or a few days of shooting. Participating in these “products” allows actors to do their jobs—both in terms of networking and in terms of dramatic work—and get paid. Pierre Deladonchamps, a well-respected arthouse actor19, recounts his first steps on series that were considered “kind of dumb” (Familles d’accueil, Central nuit, RIS police scientifique:

P. Deladonchamps: “My very first casting, I got the part, and that was encouraging. He [my agent] was happy to have chosen me, I was happy to have been cast, and it was [the series] Famille d’accueil on France 320 […] That’s where I cut my teeth. And this kind of work is really important for an actor because you might think it’s not prestigious, it’s kind of dumb, it’s too mainstream, too this, too that, but at the same time, for us, it’s an opportunity […] it taught me my craft. At school you learn with your friends, from a text, but there are no cameras, you don’t get paid, and there’s no pressure.” (Interview, France Inter Radio, 2018.)

Thus, this kind of work is pivotal to becoming recognized as a professional actor in a sector where unpaid work is integral to the job (Cardon & Pilmis 2013), and it allows actors to accrue hours and thereby obtain the status of “intermittents du spectacle” (entertainment industry contract workers) (Menger 2011; Grégoire 2013; Katz 2015); it also allows them to prove their worth, which agents can use in negotiating their next contracts. Furthermore, these jobs socialize them in the industrial logics of production.

2.3. Incorporating the Logic of Industrial Production

The length of shoots for television shows is quite short: a fifty-two-minute episode can be shot in ten days and a ninety-minute programme in twenty-one days, which means actors must acclimatize to an intense work pace. Participating in a shoot and having a successful on-screen appearance means proving one’s capacity to adapt to the budget and time constraints of these productions:

“I find television work to be important for actors to learn the profession. The advantage, and the difficulty, is that in television you don’t have time, you have less time […] you have to be quick and efficient, you have to be good the first time. On the contrary, if you’re not good, it’s immediately obvious, and for this, I think that’s also a useful experience.” (Agent, Interview, 2015.)

These shoots are competitive tests. Placing young clients in the cast of a series is an integral part of the approximately two-year trial period during which actors have a chance to stand out from the crowd (Pilmis 2008, 2013). Adjusting to the standards of the industrial organization of work is a factor in gaining the label of “good actor” and being recognized as a “pro” (Boussard, Demazière, Milburn 2010). Rehearsals and read-throughs ahead of time are rare. Actors must shoot on a “just-in-time” basis, in particular when it comes to daily soap opera shows:

“Whether we like the story or not, it doesn’t matter, but I find that when an actor is good, he will always manage, even if the text isn’t… well… at the very least you can say ‘He’s not bad!’ and if he succeeds on Plus belle la vie21 with a text that’s not that great, given the difficulty of shooting—because they shoot really, really fast—well then to the contrary, you can say this is an actor who will succeed on other stages. So now it’s no longer such a negative thing.” (Agent, Interview, 2013.)

Displaying “good” technical know-how on programmes considered to be of lesser artistic quality is, paradoxically, advantageous to practising one’s craft in this context. These shoots are like professional training sites where artists must incorporate both material production constraints and the work of dramatic art. Successful series such as Plus belle la vie have thus gained legitimacy, including among young screenwriters, who join their writing teams in order to make a living and to strengthen certain writing techniques (Mille 2013) so that they might themselves one day develop television series or even write for movies. Such apprenticeships within the space of series contribute to the development of the various discourses on the blurring of borders between television jobs and cinema jobs.

We can observe that over the past ten or so years, competition for TV jobs has increased due to an influx of actors who have already established a reputation in film. Profiting from a name established in cinema and transferred to the space of television has a paradoxical effect: the legitimization of the “series” genre in fact downclasses actors whose specific capital is only attached to television. In contrast, recruiting well-known film actors to television contributes to the prestige of these series. The distribution power of networks thus induces their heads of programming to set up castings that include only “names from theatre or cinema,” as one casting director explained to me, so that they can then announce a “chic” programme whose “names” suggest the quality of the series.

3. Competition From Movie “Names”

Since the economic crisis of 2008, the polemic against movie stars’ salaries—a polemic launched by the distributor Vincent Maraval in the French newspaper Le Monde on 28 December 2012, following the spectacular failure of several high-budget feature-length films whose high-profile casts did not generate box office profits—productions have been obliged to revise their budgets by capping salaries and shortening the length of shoots. However, since the 2010s, public policies have been established to promote French television series, which face stiff competition from English-language shows. Transformations in technology—in particular the development of digital platforms such as Netflix, OCS, and Amazon—have contributed to increasing the quality of French series intended for export. In addition, the growing power of broadcasters, including traditional television networks, which are themselves subject to competition from these platforms, has led them to become involved in producing television series. They are now recognized cultural practices in expansion in France (Donnat 2009).

The distinctive strategies television networks used to build the legitimacy and originality of their programmes, translated into increased production resources allocated to certain formats, for example, the fifty-two-minute format. Networks also hire well-known, established filmmakers (Tonie Marshall, Éric Rochant, Cédric Klapisch, Thomas Lilti, etc.) for television series which now occupy time slots that were reserved for feature films: over the past ten years, series have out-performed films in terms of viewership on French television. The increased value of series also stems from the participation of established film actors. The territorial division of labour becomes blurred as competition increases within television, to the detriment of those who have built up capital specific to that space.

3.1. The Downclassing of TV Actors

Joining the cast of a prestigious series with cinematic connotations adds an artistic supplement, so to speak, to an actor’s reputation. However, casting movie actors in principal roles that previously would have gone to television actors pushes the latter into secondary and tertiary roles. Top-level jobs become less accessible to them, for a reputation built in the cinema valorizes television programmes to the detriment of actors:

“Right now, we are dealing with unfair competition. When you show up with a rather well-known TV actor like I did with [actor with a recurring role on a series], who is a true TV actor with a TF1 series, he was presented to the network for two or three lead roles, but they went with [movie actor who played in successful comedies] [who] had never done television work.” (Agent, Interview, 2013.)

Since the early 2010s, relations of symbolic production (Naudier 2018a), which classify, divide, and establish hierarchies by constituting artists’ names as “monopolies of singularity” (Naudier 2018b) that can be converted within the various spaces of symbolic production have increased inequalities in status and salary, to the detriment of television actors. The job markets for movies and television are no longer closed off to one another, but this closure has been replaced by a polarisation of jobs. Under the façade of greater fluidity between the two spaces exists a relation that is asymmetrical in terms of actors’ ability to circulate and the directionality of that circulation.

3.2. The Dialectic of Professional Downclassing and Upclassing

The new trappings of this distinction in fiction are, as we have seen, carried onscreen by filmmakers and movie actors. However, before that ever happens, these projects are made concrete by various intermediaries—television networks, producers, and agents—who create information relating to their value (Bessy & Chauvin 2013). The work of media communication that surrounds these transfers contributes to symbolically enriching one category of television productions, and strategies to compensate for downclassing—which, until the 2010s, was implied by investment in the space of television—are now expressed in a collective effort to produce belief in the value of these programmes.

In the space of a few years, and in particular, following the model of the leap in quality of series from the United States, French television series have even become coveted objects that intensify competition between movie actors.

For an artist to “carry a series” in his or her name, to land the lead role, makes it possible for him or her to remain popular within a temporal order where the “dialectic of downclassing and upclassing” plays out (Bourdieu 1984: 163). According to a screenwriter, some agents order their screenwriter clients to create series for star actors who are “losing momentum.” Such orders often lead to the creation of “packages” (Bielby 1999), thanks to which agents can place several clients (screenwriters, actors, filmmakers) at once. Within this context of the reordering of legitimacies, what was a sign of down classing until the 2000s has become in the 2010s a token of staying active, even being “modern.” The “system of structural instability” (Bourdieu 1984: 156) of ratings allows those who can still capitalize on their names to become the guarantors of these programmes.

Under the combined effect of morphological and economic transformations, the increase in the value and visibility of television series has heightened the competition not only between film actors to access television, but also among actors who have achieved legitimacy on television. “Carrying” or “belonging to” a series is now a factor in how actors are classified, and it contributes to establishing their value. Agents participate in this competition by working to transfer their clients from movies to television or vice versa, depending on where they are in their career. Thus, agents negotiate “bringing in” their movie actor clients for television series, some of these clients having had successful careers within a value regime where working on a series meant that one had fallen off professionally, as this agent emphasizes:

“The first thing I proposed to him was a series, and it was really hard to justify that. This is a 60-year-old actor, who has history, who had internalized the idea that ‘series are shit, it’s for the end of your career, for when no one goes to movies any more, when movie actors are recycled for television;’ he had lived with that image.” (Agent, Interview, 2014.)

As “strategists for fame” (Lizé, Naudier, Sofio 2014), agents work to create the mobility of the best-regarded movie actors towards television. They perform a work of persuasion that consists, in particular, in transforming a sign of professional downclassing into a sign that actors are continuing to do rewarding work when they join these now-coveted programmes. The mobility of actors from the big to the small screen serves to legitimize French television series, while the space of employability expands for this category of actor.

Conclusion: The Triumph of “Names”, Those Who Gain From the Ennoblement of Series

The value of TV series is produced within a socioeconomic context where the export of audio-visual programming is a matter of international competition. In France, several reports published after 200022 have pushed for public support for the creation of television series (via the intermediary of the Centre national de la cinématographie et de l’image animée, CNC). The Association française des critiques de séries (ACS) [French association of critiques of TV series] was created in 2015, and various festivals in Cannes, Paris, La Rochelle, and Lille, as well as conferences and scholarly publications, have contributed to the ennoblement of the genre, and to establishing a hierarchy between programmes.

The mechanisms of valorization specific to the television economy are profitable to a varying degree depending on the commercial segments in which they are situated. Within these strategies for professional integration, which mean that each placement on a project is a gamble to gain control over the uncertainty of an acting career, we observe conversions of capital from television towards movies. But these conversions include a hidden variable: mobility from an independent agency towards a larger organization. Known for their scouting efforts, small agencies recruit their clients from theatre classes and, thanks to their connections to casting directors, “raise” names by launching careers. But it is through large, “multi-headed” agencies (Naudier & Roueff 2013), which usually speculate on lesser names, that transfers towards movies are carried out. In this way, these agencies reshape the job market by procuring the best television roles for artists who have established significant fame in film. These agencies therefore have an interest in protecting the circulation between professional spaces in order to procure work for their clients. And thus, artists’ surface discourse on the dissolution of the symbolic borders between the series genre and the film genre in fact expresses competition between movie actors, which has shifted to the space of television. This discourse denying the division between professional territories by celebrating the free circulation of artists masks struggles to preserve a symbolically, temporally, and commercially dominant position within the space of series, the respectability of which is increasing with transformations in technology, in particular digital technology. Analysing the gradual reconfiguration of the space of series through the lens of actor placement reveals how asymmetrical the conversion of capital from one space to another actually is. Thus, as a mechanism of valorization, the mobility of movie names towards television acts as a lever that ennobles the genre of the television series to the detriment of television actors.

1 On the United States, see, among other references, Bielby & Bielby 1993; 1999.

2 Whence the title of the French show Dix pour cent (“Ten per cent”; English title “Call My Agent!”) broadcast by the French public service TV network

3 This professional group is dominated by women, who make up seventy-five per cent of agents and agent assistants.

4 The agent is referring to a series on the French public service television in which her client played the lead role.

5 TF1 is the leading private television network in France, it was created in 1975.

6 The television drama Festival in La Rochelle is dedicated to promoting French and international works of television drama. It was created in 1999 in

7 Canal+was the first pay-TV network in France, created in 1984; historically it has specialized in sports and film. It produces and distributes

8 Arte is a public French-German television network created in 1992 with a focus on European culture.

9 Navarrowas a detective series broadcast on TF1 between 1989 and 2007 in which the title role, Inspector Navarro, was played by French actor Roger

10 Joséphine ange-gardien[Josephine the Guardian Angel]isa comedy-drama broadcast on TF1 since 1997. Mimie Mathy, a comedian, became the leading

11 Julie Lescautwas a detective series broadcast on TF1 between 1992 and 2014, Véronique Genest was one of the first actresses to play a female police

12 France 2 is the leading public television network in France.

13 This historical series on the Second World War was broadcast on France 3 between 2009 and 2017.

14 This legal drama has been broadcast on Canal+since 2005. Since its debut, it has been one of the most exported French series.

15 This successful spy series has been broadcast on Canal+since 2015.

16 According to the yearly figures from the CNC (Centre national de la cinématographie et de l’image animée), the export of French film and television

17 This was a short-format show broadcast on France 2 during the 2000s before the 8pm TV news; it starred Jean Dujardin, who later turned to cinema

18 There are, in France, many ongoing debates about the under-representation of women in film and television, in particular older women (“the

19 In 2014 Pierre Deladonchamps received a César for Best New Actor for his role in Stranger by the Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du lac) by Alain

20 France 3 is the second public television network in France.

21 Plus belle la vie is a very popular French daily soap-opera, broadcast on France 3since 2004. See the article by Muriel Mille, in that same dossier

22 “Crise et relance de la fiction française” (Club Galilée, April 2010); “Pour une reliance de la fiction française” (CSA/SESCA, November 2010); the

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1 On the United States, see, among other references, Bielby & Bielby 1993; 1999.

2 Whence the title of the French show Dix pour cent (“Ten per cent”; English title “Call My Agent!”) broadcast by the French public service TV network France 2. This show, created in 2015, has cast light on the work done by agents, which had long remained in the shadows (Naudier 2014).

3 This professional group is dominated by women, who make up seventy-five per cent of agents and agent assistants.

4 The agent is referring to a series on the French public service television in which her client played the lead role.

5 TF1 is the leading private television network in France, it was created in 1975.

6 The television drama Festival in La Rochelle is dedicated to promoting French and international works of television drama. It was created in 1999 in Saint-Tropez and has been held each September in La Rochelle since 2007; some fifteen prizes are awarded there each year.

7 Canal+ was the first pay-TV network in France, created in 1984; historically it has specialized in sports and film. It produces and distributes numerous series.

8 Arte is a public French-German television network created in 1992 with a focus on European culture.

9 Navarro was a detective series broadcast on TF1 between 1989 and 2007 in which the title role, Inspector Navarro, was played by French actor Roger Hanin.

10 Joséphine ange-gardien [Josephine the Guardian Angel] is a comedy-drama broadcast on TF1 since 1997. Mimie Mathy, a comedian, became the leading actress and co-producer of the series.

11 Julie Lescaut was a detective series broadcast on TF1 between 1992 and 2014, Véronique Genest was one of the first actresses to play a female police chief onscreen in France.

12 France 2 is the leading public television network in France.

13 This historical series on the Second World War was broadcast on France 3 between 2009 and 2017.

14 This legal drama has been broadcast on Canal+ since 2005. Since its debut, it has been one of the most exported French series.

15 This successful spy series has been broadcast on Canal+ since 2015.

16 According to the yearly figures from the CNC (Centre national de la cinématographie et de l’image animée), the export of French film and television drama has been on the rise for the past seven years (CNC 2018: 24-25).

17 This was a short-format show broadcast on France 2 during the 2000s before the 8pm TV news; it starred Jean Dujardin, who later turned to cinema and won an Oscar for his performance in Michel Hazanavicius’s 2011 film The Artist.

18 There are, in France, many ongoing debates about the under-representation of women in film and television, in particular older women (“the disappearance of the 50-year-old actress”) as well as about stereotyped parts related to body type and skin colour. See the collective book Noire n’est pas mon métier [Being black is not my job] written by a group of actresses formed by French actress Aïssa Maïga (Collectif 2018).

19 In 2014 Pierre Deladonchamps received a César for Best New Actor for his role in Stranger by the Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du lac) by Alain Guiraudie.

20 France 3 is the second public television network in France.

21 Plus belle la vie is a very popular French daily soap-opera, broadcast on France 3 since 2004. See the article by Muriel Mille, in that same dossier.

22 “Crise et relance de la fiction française” (Club Galilée, April 2010); “Pour une reliance de la fiction française” (CSA/SESCA, November 2010); the report published by the Chevalier mission, “Fiction française. Le défi de l’écriture et du développement” (CNC March 2011); and “Créer en France un festival des series de renommée internationale (report submitted to the Minister of Culture and Communication, Audrey Azoulay, March 2016, by Laurence Hertzberg, Iris Bucher, and Anne Landois).

Fig. 1. Advertisement for Season 2 of the French Series “Call My Agent” (April 2017)

Fig. 1. Advertisement for Season 2 of the French Series “Call My Agent” (April 2017)

Delphine Naudier

CNRS/Centre de recherches sociologiques et politiques de Paris – Cultures et sociétés urbaines (Cresppa – CSU)

© Presses Universitaires de Vincennes 2020