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The Working Actor

Area Code, Time Management

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Area Code, Time Management
DEAR MICHAEL:

I was just asked by a Los Angeles casting director if I was a "local hire." I replied, "I live in New York," which probably was a dumb answer. What's "local hire" and how should I respond?

—Survival of the Thinnest

New York

 
 
DEAR THINNEST:

If you're visiting L.A., meeting casting directors, and they ask whether you're a local hire, they're asking whether the project's producers would have to pay to fly you to L.A. and put you up in a hotel if they cast you.

Here's why they ask the question the way they do: According to Screen Actors Guild rules, if producers cast an actor who lives in another city (for example, the production is based in Los Angeles and the actor lives in New York), they're automatically required to provide housing and first-class transportation for that actor. They can't ask the actor to pay for those things, and the actor can't offer, as both of those discussions would be violations. So, "Are you a local hire?" has become code for "Can we say you live here, so we can cast you without having to pay for travel and lodging?"
 
Your answer, "I live in New York," will be taken to indicate that you're not willing to be a local hire and that they would indeed need to pay for your transportation and housing, making it less likely they'll cast you, since you'd cost them more money than a local actor.
 
Technically, the idea of local hire is for actors who divide their time between two or more places (for example, those who are bicoastal). But even actors who live in one place often make themselves available as local hires in other cities to increase their work opportunities, particularly if they have friends they can stay with and frequent-flyer points they can use for transportation, or if, like you, they're already visiting the "local" city.
 
So here's the real question: If offered a role on an L.A. show, are you willing to fly yourself out and put yourself up? To answer that, you first have to figure out whether it's worth it financially. I've been a local hire away from home more than once, and in one instance, while doing a recurring role on a TV series, I found I was spending more money on transportation and hotels than I was making on the job! I had to have my agent take a hard line to get the producers to pay for my travel and accommodations. But if your pay, minus expenses and commissions, is on the plus side, that's another story. You may also want to consider whether you feel this version of "local hire" stretches SAG's policy too far beyond its intent to suit your ethics.
 
If the circumstances are right and you can make it work, being available as a local hire can be a good idea. In your case, if you're still in L.A.—or if you can easily and affordably get back—I'd consider contacting the casting person and correcting your answer.
   
DEAR MICHAEL:

I have an opportunity to possibly add a manager "to the team," as they say, but I'm unsure about it. When is a good time to add a manager? And how would you suggest I approach my agent? I don't want my agent to feel that I think they're not doing enough for me or something. And who knows? A manager may even help me in getting work.

—On the Fence

Los Angeles

DEAR ON THE FENCE:

I think it's great to add someone to your team, as long as the new team member pulls his or her weight. There's a lot of discussion among actors about when the right time is to add a manager. Generally, I think the timing is right when you find the right match. I wasn't looking for a manager when I met mine, but I liked him so much that I decided to go with him, and I'm glad I did. He was a great asset to my career growth. When we parted years later, it was only because I was moving back to New York. If you've met a manager who you sense has the clout, drive, connections, savvy, and interest in you to make a difference, I wouldn't worry about the timing.

I'm of the thinking that it's good to have more people working for you, as long as they're working for you. True, having a manager means you'll be paying a lot more in commissions (typically, an additional 15 percent), but remember: If you're paying commissions, it means you're working. And if having a manager leads to more work, it's worth the additional percentage.
 
I also wouldn't worry about your agent's feelings. You're trying to run a business, and you have a right to do that as you see fit. Most agents understand that. True, agents don't usually like managers, but if everyone ends up making more money as a result of the addition, you'll be surprised how quickly that tension can dissipate. Just explain to the agent that you think this move will help all the way around. Assure him or her that the decision doesn't indicate a lack of faith on your part. You might also remind the agent that these days, given the hit that show business has been taking as a result of the nation's troubled economy and our various union strikes, you need all the support you can get.
 
Here are a few caveats: Monitor things closely to make sure the manager isn't just passing along appointments from the agent, letting the agent negotiate, and then taking a commission. That does happen. Most likely, your manager and your agent will both try to make it seem as if they're the ones doing the work. If you're not sure whether the manager is improving your career, don't be afraid to have discussions with him or her about what he or she is doing on your behalf. Just be sure to approach those discussions in a casual, nonaccusatory way.
 
A manager is there to help shape your career and keep you moving according to the big-picture, long-term plan. He or she should be advising you, moving you into new markets, making sure you're with the right agents, and making sure the agents are submitting you and pushing you for the right projects. A good manager can really give your career a boost. A bad one just drains your income.

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