Friday, December 26, 2014

Agents and Managers

By Art Lynch

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

A few quick notes. Union actors should pay commission only to union agents. If you are submitted by a non-union agent you do not owe them a commission. 

A well-known agent, speaking at ActorFest, an annual seminar sponsored by Back Stage West in Los Angeles, once described a manager as someone who she could call and find out the availability for and interest in a part she was submitting an actor to audition for. With established personalities, the same speaker said, managers “take on all the business responsibilities” to help the stars spend more time “working, relaxing and enjoying their money.”

Managers are not needed, but can be useful, as long as they are legitimate, do what they promise to do and are someone you can trust and do business with. Investigate and do your homework before trusting your career to any manager.

At the same seminar, another speaker advised that beginning actors should select managers who can help them “scrub off the barnacles, polish the silver,” prepare them for the industry and “introduce them to the right agents and producers.”

A common feeling at these seminars appears to be that until you are rich and famous, or at least working all the time, managers may not be necessary if you can handle your own business affairs (like contact notes and so forth) and make the same solid decisions for which you pay a manager.

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But another way of looking at it is that an agent is worth 10 percent and a manager whatever percentage you pay them (the generally accepted rate is between 10-15 percent), because if they are doing their jobs, you will be making money. If you do it all yourself and make nothing, what good is saving 10 or even 25 percent? A manager worth his or her salt will become a friend to your professional career, and be knowledgeable and skilled enough at networking to be able to both prepare you and to open doors for you. Your success or failure is your own responsibility.

A manager advises, directs, introduces you to the right people and helps you plan and manage your career. Agents, let alone managers, are not necessary to act, but are useful in assisting in the many business aspects of the industry. Agents are good for keeping an eye out for work, submitting for auditions and selling your talents to buyers. Managers are good for knowing industry trends, individuals and the marketplace. Credible managers should not be asking more than 10-15 percent of your income for their services. Performers should also be wary of those who are requesting alternative forms of compensation, such as a retainer or going to hourly fees for service rates. There are no restrictions on managers in Nevada and SAG franchise regulations limiting agents to 10 percent do not apply to managers, who are not under SAG or AFTRA supervision or jurisdiction.

While in many states agencies are required to have special bonded business licenses and go through specific legal screening, some, including Nevada, talent managers do not have to do much more than print business cards. A standard business license is all that is required to call oneself a manager. For this reason, be careful about using or selecting managers. As with photographers, it is best to shop around and check references.

Here are a few things to look for or ask:
Why do you wish to manage me?
What do you see as my assets?
What do you see as my shortcomings?
Who are your clients?
How may I contact them?
What are your qualifications to be a manager?
What sort of business license do you have?
Are you bonded or licenses in other ways?
Are you listed with the Better Business Bureau?
What services do you provide for specific clients?
What is your fee structure?
What is your honest evaluation of my potential?
How much time and money will it take to get me there?

Also test their general knowledge of the industry. If they know less than you do, it is generally a red flag.

Never pay an agent any upfront fee. 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 10 percent of your income on the project. 

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 exempt in Nevada) or operate any other business that takes money and resources from the talent they represent. Use of such facilities is 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, or from which he/she is benefitting financially, 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 has 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."

Agents need to make money. The only method should be by landing us work, off a percentage of our income.

SAG agents are bound by SAG rules in all areas where SAG has exercised jurisdiction, such as TV, film, commercials, industrials, etc. If you work in 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 with whom you have signed a SAG agreement. In most markets, one agent per category 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 allow their names to be used to advertise or sponsor events where actors pay money and the agent makes money off of an 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 interest.

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

Talent agents for actors should focus on and make money from an 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; it’s a real quandary.

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.

First posted 8-2-2009

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