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Manager Maulings, Back Pat

Dear Tombudsman:

I don't know what it is with these management companies, but so far I've had no luck with getting paid after booking and doing work. In November of 1997, I booked a non-union commercial for Superior Beer, which went to foreign markets, and I was supposed to receive two buyout fees of $1,350, plus 10 percent agent fees. After several weeks, I called the agency and they told me my manager had been paid. I called him again and he gave me at least three stories. At one point, he told me his venture capitalist had mailed me a check. Till this day, he still owes me $1,350, plus interest for all the months he has not paid me.

After leaving that manager, I signed up with another one. In December of last year, I did a print job. After not getting paid, I called my manager who told me the production company hadn't paid her yet. I went to the photographer and she gave me copies of the checks she'd sent my manager-one was for $300 plus 20 percent and the other for $250 plus 20 percent. I faxed the manager the proof I had of her getting paid and she hasn't made any attempt to pay me since. I want to know what legal action I can take against these people.

Tony Acevedo

Los Angeles

Dear Tony:

I'm surprised you haven't started the legal ball rolling already. Due to the large amounts of money you're owed and the many months that have passed, you should have started the process. That's your money-what are you waiting for? You may have real trouble dealing with the payment issue from 1997, but you'll never know if you don't start tomorrow.

As we've discussed before, it is not uncommon for non-union performers to have to wait obnoxiously long amounts of time to get paid, but you should have received your monies by now. If things are operating well, a non-union performer should expect payment in about 35 days from their workdate (that's 30 days for their talent representative to get paid and another five for the check to clear). More often than not, non-union producers hold monies back so payments might not come for 60 days or more. Your rep, if they're good, should start charging late fees after 30 days and keep you informed of the progress. By the way, those late fees are yours, too.

Let's face it, that's not the case here, you were beat by two crooks who dare call themselves managers. It's obvious that both of these reps are liars and have had the funds for many months. The first nut's line about the payment coming from his venture capitalist took the cake. I've heard plenty of lame excuses in my day, but that one gets points for originality.

You should immediately contact Small Claims Court and sue for your fees. Tombudsman has seen a large increase in the number of letters from actors like yourself who have been flat out ripped off by unscrupulous people calling themselves managers. In coming weeks, we'll be profiling some rather despicable cases. The lion's share of these letters is from actors like you who are not being paid, and oftentimes the amounts are so small that lawsuits don't seem practical. If it were me, I'd sue just for principle and to help protect other actors out there. Chances are if you've been conned by one of these jerks, so have a lot of other performers. I don't subscribe to the theory that a non-union actor is helpless or "paying his dues" by getting slammed. You're an adult, so pick up the phone, call the cops, stand in front of the place with a sign, do what you need to do to get paid.

Tony, since you've had a really bad run of it, I'd suggest you make sure payments for future gigs are mailed directly to you. Knowing your history, if your next manager doesn't agree with this, then you should look elsewhere for representation. Now, when you do the job, make sure you put on the contract your own home address for payments. If you do this, then you are also obligated to cut a proper commission check to your manager as soon as you get paid. I know what some of you are thinking, quality managers won't go for this, but experience would cause me to disagree. I've had managers and agents in the past who had no problem with it, just as long as they weren't calling me for late checks.

Questionable managers who make themselves believe double dipping (taking a cut from the actor as well as the producer) is OK, will no doubt want to keep the gross payments coming their way instead of yours, but again, how much do you value yourself? If you don't have glowing references on a talent representative, then you've got to look out for number one. If you have doubts about a new manager, and Tony, you certainly have had the experiences to prove bad things happen, then you have to aggressively protect yourself. A manager who specializes in procuring work for non-union actors has to understand that many performers get burned.

Now, if a manager comes highly recommended from another client, a friend who you know well, then you might forego this payment arrangement, otherwise do so only after you've worked with the manager for a while and real trust has been established. You might then allow payments to be sent directly to the manager. What can I say? You might ruffle a few feathers, but at least 85 percent of that money is yours.

We all know that there are plenty of wonderful managers in Hollywood, but with near complete autonomy and an overall lack of regulations, there are plenty of bad ones taking advantage of actors, especially those performers without union affiliations. Actors can only hope that the lawmakers in Sacramento don't back down from the pressure some managers have been putting on them to limit the scope of future regulations. Once Michael Ovitz decided to become a manager, regulatory issues were miraculously pushed to the forefront in the state's capital. In about a week's time, people were finally forced to look more closely at what managers do, how they've been doing it, and how they might have to do it in years to come. This is good thing for actors.

Real managers, those ethical people who guide and handle actors' careers with panache, have nothing to fear from quality and well-planned regulations. As a matter of fact, they'll benefit from them. For if the State does require future licensing for managers, as it does now do for agents, you'll see a lot of crooks no longer free to dare call themselves managers. They'll simply move on to some other scam, hopefully out of our business entirely, or perhaps they'll crawl under rocks and stay where slugs are supposed to.


Dear Tombudsman:

Thanks for your column and insights. I am thrilled with the new paper. I am an actress and amazed at how many people I know in the business have no clue about how great and rewarding it is to submit yourself to the casting listings in Back Stage West.

I work in movies, television shows, print jobs, and videos, you name it, which I have gotten through my own submissions as well as my agent stuff. I'm amazed how some actors who have been pursuing an acting career for years and years still don't submit themselves. I constantly share this valuable information with everyone I meet and tell them to expose themselves to all kinds of work to gain experience and possibly make some money, too. For instance, I worked on a video with Denise Austin, fitness star, and made $500 for one day and also got national exposure-all through an ad in your paper. We can't wait around for others.


Los Angeles

Dear G.F.:

Well put! It's one thing to sit around waiting for your agent to make you a star, but it's quite another to be a pragmatic (there's my favorite word again) actor and make things happen. Well, our little secret is out, there are indeed fantastic jobs to be had in our trade paper and for those of us who are willing to take the time to do the mailings, rewards can be worthwhile, as your ample work record certainly shows. Thanks for sharing your insights.


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