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The Working Actor

Commission Explainer, Hairy P.R.

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Commission Explainer, Hairy P.R.
DEAR JACKIE:

I want to get an agent and a manager, but I'm confused about how much of my pay they would get. I have heard that managers usually take 20 percent and agents take 20 percent sometimes and other times they take 10 percent. Does that sound right? Why do they take different amounts on different jobs? That's confusing.

I also know that one of the main things you get a manager for is so they can get you an agent. But what if I get an agent first? Do I still need to pay the manager as much, since I got the agent on my own? I mean, if I get the agent myself and then he gets me jobs, why would I pay the manager any of that money? I don't get that at all.

How about if I get myself an audition and a job? Do I get to keep all of that money, since I got that gig myself? I just don't understand why a manager or agent would get a cut of something they didn't do any work to get me. It doesn't seem fair.

—Unfair
Los Angeles



DEAR UNFAIR:

Let's first address typical commission percentages, and then we'll get into what working with a representative is all about.

A manager usually takes a 15 percent commission on anything you earn, even if you book the job on your own or through an agent. However, because managers are unregulated, there is no cap on what a manager can legally ask for.

Agents, on the other hand, must be licensed and bonded by the state in which they operate. Different states cap agency commissions at different levels. In New York, for example, agents are limited to a 10 percent commission on all work their actors do. In California, however, the state caps commissions at 20 percent. Happily, the Screen Actors Guild caps agent commissions at 10 percent, so any SAG work you do can only be commissioned at 10 percent. This is where the confusion comes in for California actors. Legitimate, law-abiding agencies can take a 20 percent commission on nonunion acting work in California. Actors outside California and New York need to check with their state's department of labor for the local regulations.

As for paying a commission on work you got on your own or to a representative who wasn't involved in landing you a particular job: Yes, it is fair and expected. Your relationship with your representative goes beyond your bookings, no matter how rare or frequent those are. In a good actor-agent relationship, the agent submits the actor frequently and sells him or her to casting directors on various projects. No, not all of those submissions end in an audition, and not all auditions end in a booking, but the assumption is that the agent is working on your behalf whether you book a role or not. He or she is submitting, advising, and selling you all the time. The same argument can be made for a manager, who should be working in all kinds of ways on a daily basis to grow your career. From your representatives' point of view, is it fair that they get paid only when you, the actor, book a job? Shouldn't they get paid for all the submitting and selling they do?

Fortunately, state and union regulations prohibit talent representatives of all kinds from charging actors up-front fees. An agent or a manager may not charge a fee to represent you, submit your photos, introduce you to casting people, hook you up with "their" photographer, or in any way manage your career. They can be paid only a percentage of the income you earn from your employment in the acting field. Ideally, this should be a bargain, and your overall relationship with your rep should be worth the commission you pay after booking a job. If it isn't, it's probably time to look for a new rep.

Finally, before you head out to land both an agent and a manager—meaning you'll drop 25 percent on commissions out of the gate—take the time to examine whether you need both at this stage in your career. Many actors choose to work with only one rep. The question of what suits an actor best is complex and the answer will differ depending on the actor's goals, but don't assume that more is better. Bear in mind, too, that getting a good rep is easier said than done. You'll likely have your hands full simply finding a suitable agent or manager, so worrying about commissions may be premature. For now, identify your specific immediate and long-term career goals, research reps you're interested in, and go from there.



DEAR JACKIE:

I'm modeling on "Hair Battle Spectacular" on Tuesday of next week. I told my friend, who is a director, and he recommended I notify all my industry contacts. But I'm having second thoughts! Since I'm modeling and not acting, I'm afraid my contacts won't take me seriously. Then when I have something to tell them about—say, a TV show or Web series that is acting-related—maybe they won't check it out (or take me seriously) because of what I last told them about. Is it appropriate to email people in the acting industry about modeling on TV?

—Bri Knickerbocker

via email



DEAR BRI:

While there's nothing inappropriate about emailing industry contacts about your television appearance, I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense. If you're selling yourself as a serious actor, a reality show probably isn't a good selling point. Yes, there are some exceptions—that one girl from the first season of "Survivor" who got a ChapStick commercial out of it, if I recall—but generally actors do reality to make a few bucks, not as viable self-promotion.

If you were doing legitimate modeling work, you could reach out to agencies and casting folks who work with commercials and print ads, but I'm not sure if this is the right fit for that either. I watched some of "Hair Battle Spectacular" online, and it seems like the show's hair models are thematic—kids, break dancers, people who look like vampires—as opposed to, well, people who look like models.

Additionally, as it's reality TV, you won't know how you come across until you see the episode. Reality producers do all they can to create drama and excitement on their shows, even if that means using comments out of context or making someone look bad. Have you heard the expression "Frankenbite"? That's a fabricated sound bite, pieced together by editors in postproduction. In other words, out of hours of recorded material, editors can create entire sentences you never spoke. If it were me, I'd want to check the episode out before telling anyone about it—even my friends.



DEAR JACKIE:

I want to get an agent and a manager, but I'm confused about how much of my pay they would get. I have heard that managers usually take 20 percent and agents take 20 percent sometimes and other times they take 10 percent. Does that sound right? Why do they take different amounts on different jobs? That's confusing.

I also know that one of the main things you get a manager for is so they can get you an agent. But what if I get an agent first? Do I still need to pay the manager as much, since I got the agent on my own? I mean, if I get the agent myself and then he gets me jobs, why would I pay the manager any of that money? I don't get that at all.

How about if I get myself an audition and a job? Do I get to keep all of that money, since I got that gig myself? I just don't understand why a manager or agent would get a cut of something they didn't do any work to get me. It doesn't seem fair.

—Unfair

Los Angeles



DEAR UNFAIR:

Let's first address typical commission percentages, and then we'll get into what working with a representative is all about.

A manager usually takes a 15 percent commission on anything you earn, even if you book the job on your own or through an agent. However, because managers are unregulated, there is no cap on what a manager can legally ask for.

Agents, on the other hand, must be licensed and bonded by the state in which they operate. Different states cap agency commissions at different levels. In New York, for example, agents are limited to a 10 percent commission on all work their actors do. In California, however, the state caps commissions at 20 percent. Happily, the Screen Actors Guild caps agent commissions at 10 percent, so any SAG work you do can only be commissioned at 10 percent. This is where the confusion comes in for California actors. Legitimate, law-abiding agencies can take a 20 percent commission on nonunion acting work in California. Actors outside California and New York need to check with their state's department of labor for the local regulations.

As for paying a commission on work you got on your own or to a representative who wasn't involved in landing you a particular job: Yes, it is fair and expected. Your relationship with your representative goes beyond your bookings, no matter how rare or frequent those are. In a good actor-agent relationship, the agent submits the actor frequently and sells him or her to casting directors on various projects. No, not all of those submissions end in an audition, and not all auditions end in a booking, but the assumption is that the agent is working on your behalf whether you book a role or not. He or she is submitting, advising, and selling you all the time. The same argument can be made for a manager, who should be working in all kinds of ways on a daily basis to grow your career. From your representatives' point of view, is it fair that they get paid only when you, the actor, book a job? Shouldn't they get paid for all the submitting and selling they do?

Fortunately, state and union regulations prohibit talent representatives of all kinds from charging actors up-front fees. An agent or a manager may not charge a fee to represent you, submit your photos, introduce you to casting people, hook you up with "their" photographer, or in any way manage your career. They can be paid only a percentage of the income you earn from your employment in the acting field. Ideally, this should be a bargain, and your overall relationship with your rep should be worth the commission you pay after booking a job. If it isn't, it's probably time to look for a new rep.

Finally, before you head out to land both an agent and a manager—meaning you'll drop 25 percent on commissions out of the gate—take the time to examine whether you need both at this stage in your career. Many actors choose to work with only one rep. The question of what suits an actor best is complex and the answer will differ depending on the actor's goals, but don't assume that more is better. Bear in mind, too, that getting a good rep is easier said than done. You'll likely have your hands full simply finding a suitable agent or manager, so worrying about commissions may be premature. For now, identify your specific immediate and long-term career goals, research reps you're interested in, and go from there.



DEAR JACKIE:

I'm modeling on "Hair Battle Spectacular" on Tuesday of next week. I told my friend, who is a director, and he recommended I notify all my industry contacts. But I'm having second thoughts! Since I'm modeling and not acting, I'm afraid my contacts won't take me seriously. Then when I have something to tell them about—say, a TV show or Web series that is acting-related—maybe they won't check it out (or take me seriously) because of what I last told them about. Is it appropriate to email people in the acting industry about modeling on TV?

—Bri Knickerbocker

via email



DEAR BRI:

While there's nothing inappropriate about emailing industry contacts about your television appearance, I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense. If you're selling yourself as a serious actor, a reality show probably isn't a good selling point. Yes, there are some exceptions—that one girl from the first season of "Survivor" who got a ChapStick commercial out of it, if I recall—but generally actors do reality to make a few bucks, not as viable self-promotion.

If you were doing legitimate modeling work, you could reach out to agencies and casting folks who work with commercials and print ads, but I'm not sure if this is the right fit for that either. I watched some of "Hair Battle Spectacular" online, and it seems like the show's hair models are thematic—kids, break dancers, people who look like vampires—as opposed to, well, people who look like models.

Additionally, as it's reality TV, you won't know how you come across until you see the episode. Reality producers do all they can to create drama and excitement on their shows, even if that means using comments out of context or making someone look bad. Have you heard the expression "Frankenbite"? That's a fabricated sound bite, pieced together by editors in postproduction. In other words, out of hours of recorded material, editors can create entire sentences you never spoke. If it were me, I'd want to check the episode out before telling anyone about it—even my friends.

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