The Financial Realities of Being an Agent

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Comedian Jackie Mason once said, “Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money.”

Yes, I love me some cash too, but there are times when dealing with money can be a major pain in the ass. To prove this hard-to-swallow point, I decided to keep a log of a typical day at the office, highlighting moments when financial issues made my agent blood boil.

10:25 a.m. My assistant wants a raise. This day is off to a bad start.

12:15 p.m. The mail has arrived. Based on the shape of one particular envelope, I can tell right away it’s a check for one of our clients. That’s usually a good thing, but it turns out the payroll company screwed up. The actor has a loan-out, which means all compensation has to be made out to his corporation. This check is made out to him as an individual. That’s not going to work because accepting the check will create tax problems. So I have to call my client with the bad news and then I have to contact the payroll company so they can issue a new check. This means nobody, including me, will get paid for another two weeks.

2 p.m. I just had lunch with a low-end manager who wants to create a relationship with my agency. When the check arrives, it just sits there, like a turd in the pool. After a few minutes, the manager finally asks if I want to split it down the middle. I’m stunned. This woman has been chasing me for weeks, and it’s on her to pay for the meal. That’s standard industry protocol. The one who invites is the one who pays. I’m dying to call her out on this breach of conduct, but instead I bite my tongue and toss some money on the table. I will hate myself later for doing this.

2:40 p.m. My assistant is late coming back from lunch, and I have to answer my own phone. I think she’s trying to make a point.

4:10 p.m. Our business manager just sent me an email about a client who hasn’t been paying us on residuals for his television work. As an agency, we always file the correct paperwork to make sure the money comes to us first, but actors have the right to bump those forms. I like to believe most actors are pure of heart, and their motivation for doing this is all about financial need. And that’s fine, but you still have to pay us. In this case, I’m the point person, so it lands on me to get the money. When I call, the client acts surprised. It turns out he just received the residual (lie), and he’s mailing me a commission check right away. I’m sure he would’ve done this even if I hadn’t taken the time to remind him. I’m also sure that Fox News has never told a lie.

5:20 p.m. I represent an experienced character actor who just booked a one-day guest star on a network show. The casting director wants to know his quote. It’s $2,500. She informs me there’s no way they can afford to pay that much. Will he accept $2,000? I groan and promise to call back after I speak to my client. This sort of thing happens all the time, and it makes me crazy. No one’s honoring quotes anymore. I don’t even know why casting directors bother to ask.

6:15 p.m. An actor I passed on two weeks ago just burst into my office, foaming at the mouth. He screamed, “Sic semper tyrannis!” and made a sudden move toward me. Luckily, my assistant was there to take him down. I really need to speak with the owner about getting her that raise.

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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