Sunday, October 13, 2013

Agents and Good Practice


Please read and pass on to all professional, union or pre-union talent you may know.

An agent work for you, not the other way around.

You hire an agent, not the other way around. Too many beginning actors are subservient to agents, begging for representation and taking abuse just to be "listed". In reality you are the talent that has the potential to make you and the agent money. You are the valuable asset in the relationship. You need an agent who believes in you and will work for you, not against you or make you feel like their employee.

Agents who "demand" or "require" or "belittle" or "set rules" are not working for the client. If they suggest, without being specific on a vendor, or teach, without asking for money for classes, they are working for you.

They are your tools, for you to decide on, at your expense and for your career.

Remember there are tools you need to provide to your agent so that they can represent you. These tools are changing rapidly, with seasonal differences in photo requirements, on-line auditions, video postings, sites to  advertise your services (many agents pick up the tab, but if you are asked to pay it should be an optional expense in your marketing budget), and many other trendy practices or expectations. You need to make the decision to have these tools ready, when you can afford them and as a decision of your own budget, career, and priorities.

Agents can expect you to make auditions they book for you. If you cannot make the, then you need to inform the agent as soon as possible. They also expect you to be proficient and represent yourself and and agency in the most professional light. Again, this is your choice and your training, your career and at your expense, so agents may expect but they cannot require or demand.

If you do not provide the tools needed, then it is time to talk with your agent to change representation, or work out a time table so the agent can take the actions you hire them for appropriate to where you are at a given time.

Never pay an agent.

They are paid from a percentage of your income. You should also not be required to use specific vendors for photos or videos, to attend 'seminars' or classes where your agent makes money off the presentation, or to earn points to remain on their list.

The acceptable amount for film, television and commercial work is ten percent of your income on the project. This could be ten percent of the top of a mark-up of ten percent. It should never be more than ten percent. There are agents out there who take double, tripple and even ten times as much without the talent's knowledge. To avoid this, agents are required to disclose the full nature of the contract with the producer, including up front dollar amounts.

The agency commission rule, enforced in union projects, ensures that agent shave a vested interests in negotiating more than scale pay for their talent. That is only way for an agent to earn additional money on an actors talent, by raising the pay level through negotiations.

Agents should make money only when you earn money under contract.

Agents should not own or operate a school, photography business, casting company (background casting is exempted) or operate any other business that takes money and resources from the talent they represent. Use of such facilities should be prohibited, as there is an inference that by taking classes at an agent owned business, having your photography done there or in any way patronizing a business even partially owned by an agent, you are improving your chances to be represented by, submitted by or in some way cast through that agent or agency.

Former agent Vic Perillo writes, in his book "The Actor and The Craft of Acting":

--> Under the guidelines set forth by the talent Unions AFTRA, SAG and ACTORS EQUITY agents must not recommend photographers for their actor clients as it reeks of kick back fees paid back to the agent...The same holds true of agents recommending specific talent coaches, classes, workshops and schools. Follow the money, and you will find the ways the agents receive fees, rent or kick backs for every actor they refer.... Today video had joined with photography as a way for agents who ignore ethical requirements to line their pockets with the money of every would be actor in the market."

While there have been a loosening of SAG regulations and a tendency of looking the other way, discussions at the national level have not changed the basic regulations concerning franchised talent agencies or the ethics of agents double dipping in any way.

Agents need to make money. The acceptable method is to earn it by landing us work, off a percentage of our income (a mark up or cut of gross earnings).

Many Nevada agencies also represent talent in the modeling, convention and other areas of the industry, package non-film projects, represent personal appearances, work in "casting" background talent and provide escorts or other services for visitors to Las Vegas. In other states the laws and practices will differ, with the rule being a choice between those other revenue streams and representing actors.

SAG cannot regulate any areas other then television, film, commercial and industrial production. If you work in those other areas you should work with your agent as you would a manager and make decisions on how and what they are paid in compensation for helping you to seek and gain work. If you work in film, television, commercials or industrials, you should commission your agent, the agent you have signed a SAG agreement with. In most markets one agent per catagory is allowed, but in others you sign with a single agent and need to file both the theatrical and commercial contracts with the Guild.

Agents should not be sponsoring events where actors pay money and the agent makes money off of actor’s investments. 

This includes classes, seminars, talent books and other “tools of the trade”. Other companies where your agent does not have a direct stake should provide such services as needed. It is a question of ethics and potential conflicts of interests.

You would be represented for you talents and your marketability, not your willingness to shell out money “for your craft” benefitting an agent. It is a question of ethics.

Talent agents for actors should focus on and make money from a actor's career, instead of having other distractions tying up time, effort and keeping them from representing and marketing their talent.

But businesses need to stay afloat.

A real quandary.

How far to you bend ethics, SAG franchise guidelines, and personal integrity?

Ask yourself if another business, vendor or even fellow actor might benefit from the dollar you “invest” and if perhaps the quality or direction of their product may be more to your benefit in the long run?

In California some of the restrictions discussed above are  law.  The newest legal addition protects talent from being asked to pay money upfront for representation, as reported in SAGWATCH:

SAG provides a list of agents, information about franchising and some notes on dealing with your agent at SAG.ORG.

KCRW's The Business featured the topic of agents and mangers pay as part of a broader story on scams and California's attempts to rein in those scams.

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