Talent Agent Violates Union Rules?

Talent Agent Violates Union Rules?

Representing NYC-based actors a talent agent, based in the Philadelphia area, apparently charges clients a fee as part of representation. The three-figure fee is stated by the agent as “a necessity.” Required so that the actor be included on the agent’s website. A website that until recently highlighted a link to an article in which the agent purports that she has been visited by the Blessed Mother thrice. The homepage of the agency’s website also includes strongly worded admonishments to clients on professional behavior.

For years the Philadelphia agent’s practice has been reported by actors and recently corroborated in an mail exchange between a client of the Philly agent and the agent:

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The agent is a SAG-AFTRA franchised agent. In the SCREEN ACTORS GUILD CODIFIED AGENCY REGULATIONS between agents and the actor union to represent SAG-AFTRA members the fee seems to violate the agreement. Under Section VIII Disciplinary Provisions, Sub-section C the following is stated:

“The following offenses are those for which an agent or a sub-agent may either be fined or in the discretion of the arbitration tribunal for which the franchise of an agent or sub-agent may be suspended, revoked, or conditionally franchised:

(2) Charging or contracting to charge in excess of ten percent (10%) for his services under an agency contract, directly or indirectly, and whether as commissions, fees or other charges for performing any other services for an actor whether as attorney, business manager, personal manager, publicity agent or otherwise…

Inclusion of an actor’s picture and resume for a fee on an agency’s website could be considered a form a publicity.

In the agreement an “agent may not receive for agency services in the motion picture industry from an actor a higher rate of commission than ten percent (10%), directly or indirectly, or by way of gratuity or otherwise.” The clause goes on further to state:

“Notwithstanding anything in the Regulations, Basic Contract or any agency contract, no member shall ever pay more than ten percent (10%) commission for agency services in the motion picture industry…”

If a new client of an agency hasn’t booked work via that agency then the $150 fee seems to far exceed 10% of the actor’s zero income.

A representative from SAG-AFTRA’s franchise office was contacted for comment. When asked if a franchised agent can charge actors $150 to be placed on an agency’s website. Madelyn Sosa, Information Management Coordinator for SAG-AFTRA responded: “It depends in which location the agencies are located in. In Los Angeles our agencies are not allowed to charge a fee.”

In response to Ms. Sosa there was a follow-up October 27,  2015 asking if a Philadelphia agency representing NYC-based actors and charging a fee for inclusion on the agency’s website as a requirement violated SCREEN ACTORS GUILD CODIFIED AGENCY REGULATIONS. The inquiry remains unanswered.

Actors have reported that the Philadelphia SAG-AFTRA office sent an email in 2014 to members and agents stating:

“The SAG-AFTRA Philadelphia Board of Directors has voted to terminate the website waiver that permitted franchised agents in the Philadelphia Local to charge a yearly fee to performers for including photos/resumes on their website. All Philadelphia agents have been advised that this termination will go into effect on June 1, 2014.

Therefore, as of June 1, 2014 franchised agents may no longer charge members (or non-members) a fee for posting or maintaining pictures or resumes on any website for work in areas where SAG-AFTRA has exercised jurisdiction. “

Long-standing rule of practice for union franchised agents is that an agent may only collect 10% commission on commission-rated payments from producing entities to actors: no other fee charged by an agent is permitted.

A represented actor included on an agency’s website is virtually unheard of. Most casting directors do not visit agency websites for casting as most agency websites don’t wish to publicly announce their client lists. The majority of submissions by agents of their clients to casting for stage and screen projects occurs predominantly via two outlets: Breakdown Services & Casting Networks. The actor’s picture and resume is placed on an online platform provided to agents for a subscription. If an agency is charging their clients an online fee is it not too implausible that the fee subsidizes the agency’s subscriptions for casting notices?*

[UPDATE: An Equity Council member is currently investigating the agent above, and is passing along the information to a board member of SAG-AFTRA.]

My best,
Paul

 

Editor’s note: Agencies do not pay a fee to have an account on Casting Networks and their talent get a free basic profile.

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