Commercial Agencies Closing: A Trend?

Fourteen hundred L.A. actors lost their commercial agents last week when DDK Talent Representatives and Abrams-Rubaloff & Lawrence put an end to their commercial departments. Both agencies pointed to the Screen Actors Guild's six-month commercial strike in 2000 as a major blow to their companies' financial health—a blow, the agencies say, from which the industry has not recovered.

Karen Stuart, president of the Association of Talent Agents, explained that the outlook this year has not been good for commercial agents. "I'm hearing some rumors about some other agencies who may be forced to narrow their commercial operations," said Stuart. "I know there is a great concern about the fact that there's only a year left on the SAG commercial contract. I think that everybody's a little bit nervous about that. I don't think it's a time that my member agencies are thinking about opening commercial businesses."

Stuart said her membership had complained that commercial production has been down by 10 percent for the first seven months of this year. Many blame this on the worsening problem of runaway and non-union production—trends Stuart feels were exacerbated by the strike.

"Without judging whether or not SAG achieved benefits with that contract," said Stuart, "I know that it has been since the strike that there is this trend toward global production and non-union production and that the problem for us domestically has gotten much worse."

Stuart said the problem was not only the work lost during the strike but also the residuals and renegotiation fees that were lost because so much of the work was non-union.

Richard Lawrence, owner and president of Abrams-Rubaloff & Lawrence, expressed a similar view. On Sept. 27 his agency closed its on-camera and voiceover division, which represented some 800 actors. DDK, which could not be reached by phone, closed its entire agency on Sept. 20, leaving some 600 actors without commercial agents.

"The bottom-line business issue was that it wasn't profitable," said Lawrence, "and it used to be. Watching that go by for a couple of years, seeing red ink, that gets one to start reevaluating. The strike of the year 2000 plus 9/11 didn't help at all, and the general shape of the economy has still not recovered. Commercial production in the city of L.A. using SAG actors seems to be way down. I think everyone would agree with that. I'm not the only one feeling this. But I'm one of the few that has acted on it so far."

Lawrence also said he was anxious because the Guild may be going into the next round of negotiations with the advertisers without the agents' franchise in place. The current commercial contract expires in October 2003.