How to Pay Your Agent

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

Let’s talk about commissions.

I’m a theatrical talent agent and I earn a living by taking 10 percent of all the money my clients make working in film and television. That’s the standard amount. There are no exceptions.

For the sake of clarity, I’m talking about movies and scripted TV shows. Nonunion commercials are commissioned at a different rate, and it’s my understanding the rules are different for print. I don’t represent people who make a living posing for the pages of an L.L. Bean catalog, so I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Guys like me get 10 percent, and you should understand how this process works before you start working with an agent. So let’s go over it, one step at a time:

When you sign with my agency, I will ask you to fill out a check authorization. This is a form that I file with production companies when you book a job. It allows their payroll department to send me your earnings, instead of having them go directly to you. That check is then deposited in a Client Trust Account, which we keep at our bank. After that, I deduct my standard commission and forward the balance to you with a copy of the original statement.

Why do agents do this? Is it a trust issue? Wouldn’t it be easier to let the money go straight to the client who can then send us our 10 percent? The answer is NO. We follow this procedure because life is too short to chase money. On the rare occasion when the payment does go directly to the actor, it always takes them forever to send in our commission and when they finally do, they always get the amount wrong or they forget to include the statement. This causes major issues for my accounting department. It’s just easier if the money comes to us. It’s also the way business is done in this industry. If you don’t like it, go work in a cubicle.

The other reason we use check authorizations is because we have to make sure our clients have been paid correctly. You would be surprised by how many errors mainstream production companies make. I’m talking about missing meal penalties, turnaround fees, overtime, and other lovely deal points your union has negotiated for you. We can address these problems more quickly if the money comes to us first.

By the way, I probably shouldn’t tell you this but you have the legal right to bump your agent’s check authorization. All you have to do is tell the production company you want the money to go directly to you. And the time to do this is when you’re filming, not after you wrap. This is a great way to get paid faster. It’s also a great way to piss off your agent.

Now let’s discuss the concept of scale plus 10. By definition, scale is the least amount of money you can make when you’re working under a union contract. So if the job pays scale, the production will tack on an extra 10 percent to cover your agent’s commission. This is standard operating procedure and something you should know if you want to be an informed actor.

And that, boys and girls, is how 10 percent of your income ends up in my pocket. But considering how crazy my clients make me, there are days when I can assure you, it’s not nearly enough.

Like this advice? Check out more from Secret Agent Man!

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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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