How to Know if Your Agent Is Ripping You Off on Commission

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

“Do you take 10% of this?”

Clients ask me that all the time. And I’m not just talking about beginners; I’m talking about experienced actors.

As you know, agents get 10% of what you earn. So if you’re making $5,000 for one week of work, we take $500. That’s simple math. But here’s the thing: When you’re on a shoot, there are other ways for you to make money besides the agreed-upon compensation. In those situations, I find actors rarely know what their reps are allowed to commission. 

So, let’s go over some of the more common fees, payments, and penalties that you might receive on a film or a TV show.

Agents are not allowed to touch the following:

  1. Per diem: On overnight shoots, actors receive $60 per diem. That money should cover any expenses you might incur while you’re on location, especially on the days when you’re not working.
  2. Meal penalties: When you’re on set, the producers have to feed you every six hours. If they’re late, they have to pay you $25 for the first half-hour and $35 for the second, and it keeps going up from there.
  3. Wardrobe and prop allowances: If you supply your own clothes or props, the production has to pay you for the right to use that stuff. The amount depends on how much material you’ve provided and how long they need to use it.
  4. Relocation allowances: If you live in Los Angeles and you book a series regular role on a show that shoots in another city, you’ll have to relocate for the duration of the shoot. The amount is negotiable, but you’ll probably receive between $5,000 and $10,000 to cover your expenses.
  5. Forced calls: When you’re working consecutive days, you must be allowed 12 hours of rest between the time you wrap and the time you’re called back. If the producers violate this break period, they have to give you an additional day’s pay. (This one can put a lot of money in your pocket if you’re on an extended shoot.)

READ: How to Get an Acting Agent

On the flip side, agents are allowed to commission the following:

  1. Overtime: There’s no limit here. If you receive some, we take some.
  2. Fitting fees: There’s a good chance you’ll have to go in a few days early so they can fit you for your wardrobe. The rates vary by contract, but they’re based on the amount of time you’re there.
  3. Character fittings: You’re going to make a lot of extra cash if you book a role that requires prosthetics. For example, let’s say you’ve been cast as a monster in a horror movie. That’s great, because they’ll probably need to create plaster molds of your body and special contacts for your eyes. That takes time, and you’ll have to go in for multiple sessions. 
  4. Rehearsal pay: This is rare, but commissionable.
  5. Looping and ADR: After you wrap, you’ll usually have to go back at some point so you can re-record some of your lines.

Now, please understand that mistakes happen. Agents are (usually) human. So if your reps commission the wrong item, point out the mistake in a gentle tone, and I’m sure they’ll correct it right away. They might even force a smile when they do it!

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 14 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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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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