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The Working Actor

It's Indie Mail, Commission Impossible

It's Indie Mail, Commission Impossible
Dear Michael:

Things are going pretty well. I found a "survival job" in a nightclub, and despite my graveyard shifts (which have changed my sleeping hours to 6 a.m. till early afternoon), I can still do my fair share of working on my craft and career during the day. I'm taking an acting class and, of course, trying to read every decent book about acting I'm advised to by my peers. I have an agent, but I take it upon myself to submit myself daily through Actors Access and L.A. Casting.

I haven't been sending my headshots to many casting directors or directors lately, but I want to start again. I'm targeting people in the independent film industry for the moment. After making some phone calls, I realized it didn't make much sense to send my headshot and résumé to production companies unless it's for a specific project that I know I would be good for. So I guess I'll check IMDb Pro daily too, to see what's new in preproduction. But I'm also planning on sending my headshots to the directors.

Here's my question: Does it make sense to send my material to a director's agent or representative if I cannot find his or her company's address? Will the agent transfer it? I tried to find the answer to my question on the Internet, and I asked other actors, but I had no success.

—Mail Man

Los Angeles

Dear Mail:

It really sounds like you're doing great: being proactive, staying on top of things, looking for new inroads. So good for you! As for your question, yes, if you're unable to find a director's address, it makes perfect sense to send your materials to the director's representative. Now, I can't promise that an agent or manager will forward those materials to the person you're trying to contact. That part will always be beyond your control. But why not send them anyway?

If you're targeting a specific project, mention the project in your cover letter and the specific role if you have one in mind. If you don't know the characters, you can reference the type of role you think you'd be right for. (For example, if it's a war film, you could say, "I'd be right to play one of the soldiers.")

Bottom line: The agent may not pass your materials on. But so what if he or she doesn't? What have you lost? It may be a long shot, but it couldn't hurt.

Dear Michael:

I was looking at some paychecks for an AFTRA TV show I did, and I realized that I pay my manager 20 percent. My manager is unusual because he works under an agent's license. It's weird. And then I did some research online and saw that agents usually take 10 percent of the gross, and that if there's an agent's fee (which there was), that's negotiated into the salary; they shouldn't take anything additional. Is this true? Because if it is, that makes me feel ill.

I went back and looked at my contract, and it says I pay 20 percent of the gross on nonunion jobs, 15 percent for union. Isn't AFTRA a union? I also saw that the manager takes a percentage of residuals for five years after you leave. Is that normal?

If it isn't normal, I realize I should probably consider leaving him, which scares me already, because I'd have to do the whole mailing-and-meeting process all over again. Part of me says to stay and gain some more credits, make a reel, get new pictures, and then seek new reps. The other part of me feels like I'm getting ripped off and should trust my talent more and just get out there and get a new agent sooner rather than later.

But what do I know? I have nothing to compare this to. I've been here for a year and a half. I don't know if I'm being sent out a lot, because I've never been repped by someone else.


Los Angeles

Hey, Overpaying:

Here's what I know: Standard commission amounts are 10 percent for agents and 15 percent for managers. Anything else is unusual. Managers also get 15 percent of residuals on any job that starts while you're with them. And you do continue to pay those even if you split up. That's the standard arrangement. If agents negotiate their commission into your contract (a practice commonly called "plus 10"), then that's their commission. You don't pay on top of that.

So, okay. Now you know what's normal.

The 20 percent commission on nonunion work in your current contract isn't shocking to me. I imagine the manager is thinking that, since nonunion work pays less, he needs to take more to get a decent commission. Obviously, he's not thinking about the fact that you'll make less. But there you go.

However, if you're saying that you don't have an agent but that your manager is negotiating "plus 10" into your contract, then you should only be paying the remaining percentage (5 percent or 10 percent, depending on your deal with your manager) beyond that.

As I see it, there are two main issues: 1) You're paying more than the standard 15 percent commission on certain jobs, and 2) Your manager has taken even more in commissions than your contract with him calls for. These issues should both be addressed.

As for staying versus going, that's pretty simple: If you can get a decent agent, you should. Most people with managers also have agents. Once you find an agent with whom you feel solid (work with him or her for a while before deciding), you may decide to drop your manager. Under no circumstances should you drop your manager before you have other representation, unless your manager is doing something abusive, illegal, or damaging to your reputation.

This time of year is always slow, and this year has been slow in general. (I didn't have a single pilot audition. Not one.) That makes it hard to judge based on how much you've gone out. How you feel about the relationship is more important. If the rep is good for you, gets you, likes your work, and is doing all he can, that's a lot.

Finally, don't be afraid of your manager. If you're unsure about his commission policy, have a meeting. Make him explain it to you. And if you think it's not fair, say so. Maybe you can renegotiate those percentages. For what it's worth, I'd do just that. Get him to agree to 15 percent across the board and ask for a new contract reflecting the change.

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