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The Working Actor

Stuck in Rep, Pay to Play

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Stuck in Rep, Pay to Play
Dear Michael:
It was with a mix of relief and sadness that I recognized the agent in question in your recent column ["Arrivederci A******," Oct. 29, 2009]. Because, unfortunately, I'm signed with him.

Okay, call it a moment of weakness. I got excited that someone—anyone—would want to sign me as a client. However, I've found that the agent in question leaves much to be desired, despite getting me a couple of decent auditions. When I met him, I told him I didn't need to be his most famous client, but I did want to be one who gets work. Maybe that's too much to expect, of him or of myself, but I feel that given my abilities, it really is reasonable. And this being my first experience with a real agent, or what I thought was a real agent, I thought, "Okay, this must be how it works." I should have listened to my gut.

I could go into detail about the red flags I've experienced with him, which are not unlike those addressed in the original discussion, plus myriad others that should have sent me running away. However, my concern is: How do I extricate myself from this person and not destroy my future job prospects or my chance at legitimate representation in the industry? Do I just let the contract lapse or do I send him notice that I want to end the contract immediately?

—Regretful Client
via the Internet

Dear Regretful:
I'm so sorry my column solidified your suspicions about your agent. I'm sure that's disappointing. But I understand the mindset that led to signing against your better judgment. I think it's a common and serious problem with actors: In our desperation to nudge our careers along, we sometimes settle, ignore instincts, or tolerate things we shouldn't. The question is: What do you do to correct those faulty decisions?

Let's take a look at your concerns about moving on. First of all, I don't think leaving an agent like this is going to hurt your career. I think staying with an agent like this may hurt your career. As for repercussions, even if this guy wanted to deliberately undermine you as revenge for leaving him, I'd hazard a guess (and please remember, I'm only an advice columnist, not a psychic, so I could be completely wrong on this) that he doesn't have the kind of industry clout to have much effect. Who is he going to tell? Who'll listen to him? Besides, I doubt you're the first client to leave, and I'm sure he has better things to do than spend his time trying to destroy former clients' careers.

In truth, contrary to our strange actor mythology, there's no great showbiz list in the sky from which our names can be permanently stricken by offended agents and casting directors. No one can "see to it you'll never work in this town again."

So, if I've successfully dispensed with that fear, then it boils down to two options. Plan A: Start looking for a new agent and make the switch once you find one. If you go this route, you may find it opens more doors to be able to say you're looking to change agencies rather than just looking, like everyone else. Plan B: Just leave the agency. Normally I suggest waiting until you've found new representation. But if being with your current agent is worse than not being repped, you should pull the plug and move on.

Whenever you decide to sever the relationship, do it simply and with as little emotion as possible. Send a nice, lightly worded letter, thanking him and telling him you've decided to work with someone else. Don't make it a big deal. It's just business.

Now, having dealt with a lot of crazy people in my life, I know there's a possibility he won't react well. Here's my advice: Don't get drawn into the craziness. Stay cordial, professional, businesslike, and dead calm. If he yells, say, "I can tell you're upset. Would you prefer to talk later?" If he says, "You'll never work again," just say, "Well, I certainly hope that's not true." Stay neutral, no matter what. Thank him for his help. Wish him well. It's not your job to teach him what he's doing wrong. Even if it's a rough departure, you'll be so relieved when it's done.


Dear Michael:
I am a working actor in New York City and have been working pretty consistently over the past three years. Last month I received a callback from a "reputable" company in New York City with a producer who was looking to do a short shoot. The caveat was that once you were cast, each actor would have to raise the money in order to star in this film. Now, the producer was someone who had made a name in the industry, but the concept of paying hundreds once cast (which was needed immediately) didn't sit right with me, so I declined. The theory was that it was a "West Coast thing." Is there truth in this and I'm not aware? And should actors be expected to pay for the production of the film? Seemed odd. Thoughts?

—Doubtful Actor
New York

Dear Doubtful:
No, this isn't a West Coast thing. In fact, it's not anything I've ever heard of. Getting cast should not be contingent on an actor's willingness to invest financially in the project. And in fact, I'm fairly certain there are rules against making such a demand. My hunch is that you made the right move. Good for you for following your instincts.

Unfortunately, there are scams at every turn in our business, and it falls to us, the actors, to use our good judgment—and our Internet research skills—to weigh and evaluate each opportunity, unless it's from an obviously legitimate source. I find that a good general rule of thumb is that old, timeworn truism: "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is." And we can add that if it seems too easy, it's probably not legit.


Dear Readers:
Remember, the questions we answer in The Working Actor are from real people like you—actors, students, amateurs, professionals, anyone seeking advice related to the acting field. So, if you have a question, query, dilemma, puzzle, inquiry, or curiosity, don't hesitate to write to us at TheWorkingActor@gmail.com. We may include your letter in a future column, which might help fellow actors with similar questions. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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