Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Talent quest began with Gloss

TV show's call for extras was the beginning of a business that has lasted for 25 years.

Technology has transformed the talent business, says Shelley Taunt. Photo / Greg Bowker
Technology has transformed the talent business, says Shelley Taunt. Photo / Greg Bowker

As the 1980s TV show Gloss beamed into Kiwi homes, 20-year-old Shelley Taunt was creating a business filling the scenes with extras.

At the time she worked for a music promoter, so when South Pacific Pictures phoned wanting people to fill out a bar scene, she dived into her contact book.

"Musicians were perfect because they didn't have full-time jobs and musicians are always looking for money."

Within a month, Taunt says, she was managing regular bookings - "10 on this day, 15 on that day" - and her talent agency was born.

"Back when Gloss started there wasn't an agency around that did extras.

"There was the infamous Robert Bruce, with the Robert Bruce Ugly Agency, but he represented the actors, the Temuera Morrisons of this world."

She created Extras, a niche agency providing talent in the background of film, television and commercials, before evolving to include lead talent and renaming the company Talento.

Looking back on 25 years in business, Taunt says the industry's demands have evolved.

No longer do advertisers always want model-like good looks, says Taunt, instead preferring everyday people from mixed ethnic backgrounds, or those with quirky, unusual appearances.

"Quirky is in, quirky is what they're after. The quirkier the better half the time, so we're always looking for new faces, we're always looking for that face that is different."

Scouting for fresh talent means keeping an eye out at all times, whether it's at a pop concert or down at the hardware store, but Taunt says a long track record and good reputation means most new listings come from actors submitting photos and CVs.

While some agencies have a "closed book", she says Talento's position in the market and focus on commercials, presenters and children means constantly supplying new faces and ensuring her talent pool doesn't get stagnant.

Having just refreshed her website, Taunt says technology has transformed the way she does business. The black and white headshots, couriered CVs, castings coming in by fax and constant phone calls that were a feature of her business have been replaced by online searchable databases, emailed briefs and scripts.

"We used to have seven phone lines and six staff manning the phones whereas now it is all digital and can be handled with a lot less staff obviously."

On a day-to-day basis, Taunt and her three staff are managing the acting careers of more than 500 people. She is paid on a commission basis and gets paid only when her actors are in work.

"You do have to make hay while the sun shines, basically, and you do have to be aware that like a lot of businesses it's between a 10- and 11-month year.

"January can be almost non-existent."

Contract negotiations are a balance between helping a client and working to ensure actors get paid properly, particularly when a role with high exposure can rule out future work.

"Just protecting their best interests, not letting them do a lower-paid job that will cut them out of something bigger that might come up for them."

Taunt's was one of four agencies that came together to form the New Zealand Actors Agents Guild, recently merged into the Actors Agents Association, to protect and promote actors. "You notice in our business it's a very easy business to exploit people and a lot of agencies come and go and do that and they'll say 'give me some money and I'll make you a star'."

While Gloss' run ended in the late 1980s, Taunt still has some of those first talent signings on her books more than two decades later.

And she is still booking actors to sit on barstools, filling out the pub scenes in the television series Nothing Trivial.

- NZ Herald

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Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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