Sunday, June 15, 2014

10% commission and no more

It has become standard practice, but none the less unethical practice, for agents charge more than 10% on work done by the talent they represent.

An actor should never pay more than ten percent commission to an agent. 

In most cases it is plus ten percent on top of the base pay, but when paid over scale in some portions of the country the commission come out of the actors base pay. 

This is called good practice and allows talent to earn a living and pay the other needed bills and expenses of their craft as they see fit.

The ethics are simple. 

Actors who work for pay are doing so as all or part of their living and need the funds they earn with their talents. 

They need the funds to pay their own family bills, and to pay for the costly training, head-shots, reels and other tools of their trade. 

Agents who take more than ten percent are taking from the actors ability to provide the very skills and tools that allow the agent to market their talent, and earn money in doing so. 

To charge more than ten percent is short sighted and profit centered, not in the long term interests of the actor or the agency.

Managers may charge as the manger sees fit (maximums governed by state to state regulations or laws), but should not duplicate the agents role in the ecosystem of the industry (although the trend seems to be in that direction).

Most managers charge ten to twenty percent, however if they handle your funds (services include business manager) commission may range from twenty to thirty percent (California capped at 25%). 

Managers are not suppose to submit talent for actual auditions, except in an advisory capacity. They are not to be commissioned for the submission of talent to auditions, but can take a portion of talents' gross income, as regulated by state law.. Managers in Nevada have no bonding or controls, other than a standard business licence.

Agents must have agency licenses in most states, including a bond and regulations that govern what they can and cannot do and when, agency conduct and practices, and other business parameters. These vary widely by state. 

In Nevada agents must have a full employment agency license, allowing them to large portions for non-union (union agreements with agencies limit the percentage to ten percent on union jurisdiction work). This, in part, is why agencies tend to favor non-union talent and non-union projects. The commission structure encourages the use of non-union talent.

Agents do submit talent for auditions and should develop relationships with casting directors, producers and other in the industry, to maximize their efforts to promote talent.

Agents should earn their living based on the commissions for achieving a livable wage and volume of work for the talent they represent. 

Agents may become signatory agencies for SAG-AFTRA, agreeing to additional protection for actors and good practices. The union has no jurisdiction over the practices and does not regulate managers. To find out more click here.

SAG (SAG-AFTRA) talent may only pay commissions to union franchised agents. There is the option of obtaining work without an agent, however no funds should be paid to a non-union agency.

The Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA (SAG-AFTRA) require that all actors work only though union agents for all film, television, commercial or covered work.  This does not apply to conventions or modeling except for rare per project AFTRA contracted work.

A second reason talent agencies in Nevada tend to favor non-union talent, is that the bulk of their income comes from modeling, convention and other work, and they have a vested interest in keeping those who work in those industries employed, including as "actors."

In Nevada all agencies focus on all forms of industry work, with their strongest economic dependence on the modeling or convention industries, celebrity special event representation and other niche markets. Actors are a secondary form of income, often due to a passion for actors and for talent. Acting commissions alone in Nevada rarely provide enough income to keep an agency doors open.

Managers may charge additional fees for services, governed only by the state or local governments where they operate.

Do not pay an agent for services, other than your commission.

In Nevada agents may also work as casting directors as long as it does not conflict with SAG-AFTRA franchise agreements. They often work in background casting as well as roles. Talent interested in background work should register with agents as well as with local casting companies and Central Casting for background positions.

I must note, before we end, that there are specific areas or agencies (none of which are in Nevada) where other commission scales or other ways for agents to earn a living are under consideration and discussion between the union and its franchised agencies. 

For now, stick to the hard fast rule of you do not pay your agent any more than or in any other way than a ten percent commission on work they find for your or set up an audition for you as talent.

For additional information:
On actors, acting and union

Feel free to contact SAG-AFTRA agency relations about the use of union agents or if you are interested in seeking an agency franchise. Click here.

If you have questions feel free to contact me or the Nevada SAG office.

-Art Lynch

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