In general, agents are responsible for submitting a client for a job, and for negotiating the terms of the employment contract. Within that definition, an agent has many tasks that compliment their abilities. Please note – an agent can not simply choose to GET your child a job. They don’t have jobs to give. They can:
- diligently seek work opportunities
- appropriately select and submit their clients for those opportunities
- utilize personal business relationships to secure an audition,
- make phone calls (commonly called a “pitch”) to bolster an audition request
- communicate marketing suggestions and/or image suggestions
- negotiate deals for a job offer
Like many other things in business, an agent with knowledge and power is a good combination. While many people judge their agent based on how nice they may be, or on the number of auditions – an agent’s true value is in their ability to negotiate a contract, (although lots of auditions and professional courtesy is important, too!).
Although the industry is at a point currently where talent is abundant, which make negotiations related to wages more difficult – there are many considerations involving contract negotiations besides compensation. A good agent has been involved in many deals and knows what additional things to request for their client.
The traditional process within the industry involves Breakdowns – an electronic service where producers and casting directors can list the projects and the type of actors they need. Please note – Breakdown Services does have a public function where some notices may be available directly to the talent. An agent has access to far more jobs than the general public, and some agents are privvy through their personal relationships with casting directors or their agencies' power, to job notices before they are advertised on Breakdown Services. Either way, an agent submits as mentioned above, a casting director chooses who they want to see, and THEN the agent receives audition appointments. Then the appointment is communicated to the talent and/or a manager.
Agents will have many, many clients – many having over 1,000 children in the bigger Los Angeles agencies. There is a system to the way they populate their agency which varies between agencies. For example a smaller agency might want to have 5 kids from each age range male and female, each with different hair color, etc. If they lose a client or if their clients are suddenly all older, they will be focusing on filling that hole in their roster. This is important to understand when you start looking for an agent. Your child may be super great at everything, but if an agent’s roster is already full, they may pass on representing them. Electronic submissions have relaxed this practice a bit, but in most cases the guideline still exists. An agent isn’t bound to not represent competitors, many will choose not to – but often that is something that a parent will factor in to their decision of which agent they want to work with.
In many states, agencies must be licensed and bonded, similar to a temp employment agency. For a list of the requirements in your state, click here: http://www.agentassociation.com/frontdoor/agency_licensing_detail.cfm?id=571
In California, talent agencies are licensed and heavily regulated. The state limits their commissions and they are not allowed to do certain things like advertise, accept up front fees, or charge for other services such as photos. If you would like to check if your agent has a license in California, click here: http://www.dir.ca.gov/databases/dlselr/Talag.html
A really important caveat about children’s agents within an agency: In most cases, the owner of the AGENCY is the one who holds the license, who has been bonded, fingerprinted, etc. Kid’s agents are usually just employees of the larger agency (and often on the lower end of the agency food chain). There are no requirements for an individual agent---no college degree, no background check. Your contract is with the AGENCY, not the individual agent (so if they leave, you usually must stay with the agency). The AGENCY gets your commission, not the individual agent—they are usually paid a salary and maybe a small percentage on top of that. Why is this important? Because you should know that kids’ agents are not “gods” who graduated from a prestigious “agent school”. They are not the high powered agents you see portrayed on TV. They are normal human beings, some qualified, some not. Some getting paid well, some not. The range is huge, so you need to do your homework.
In the Los Angeles area, agents are “exclusive”, that is talent can only have 1 agent per category – meaning 1 agent for theatrical (TV and Film), 1 for commercial, 1 for print, 1 for voice-over. Often a child will be with an agent ‘across the board’ meaning the agency represents them for multiple categories. In New York, however, talent freelancing with multiple agents is common. It is also common to freelance in smaller markets, such as Atlanta, Miami and Chicago.
California agents may offer a representation contract at the very beginning of a relationship, or may work with a child on a verbal basis for a few months first. The standard contract for agents is one year. Longer contracts benefit the agency, not the client. In New York, the signing of an exclusivity contract with an agent ends the ability to freelance with others.
Standard commission for an agent is 10%, which is reflective of the SAG Franchise agreements. That does not mean that reputable agents might ask for more in some parts of the country--the trend is for an agent to have a slightly higher commission percentage in some geographical areas, or for some types of work (like print or non-union commercials which are sometimes commissioned at 20%).
AGENCY / TALENT CONTRACTS
Many people look to see if a talent agent is SAG Franchised. 5 years ago that was a very, very important distinction. Today, only a few agencies in a major market remain SAG Franchised. Currently the Agent Franchise Agreement within SAG is suspended – although there is current talk about opening up negotiations with the ATA about the agreement very soon.
What this means is that currently, SAG talent doesn’t have to work with only SAG agencies. An agency who has continued to operate under the SAG Franchise agreement must use the standardized SAG Talent Contract. SAG also will get involved in disputes and complaints against those agents.
If you have a standard SAG agency contract, these are the standard circumstances in which you owe your agent commission: http://www.bizparentz.org/images/SAG_Commissions_Chart.pdf
Many of the other agents belong to the ATA – Association of Talent Agents, and they do not use SAG standardized contracts. They use GSA (General Service Agreement) contracts. It’s very important to know what type of contract you are being offered. GSAs aren’t standard so they could literally say anything – but generally they require commissions on things not commissionable via the standard SAG contract. The terms of a GSA are negotiable.
Additionally, there are some contracts that require the parent to sign a companion contract, holding your child to their contract. A 2007 court case, Berg v. Traylor, determined that parents could be held liable for commissions they signed one of these and their child fired the manager later. This means that parents need to be SURE what they are signing. If you don’t understand it, have an entertainment lawyer look it over. It is well worth the money for a one time consultation (see link below to California Lawyers for the Arts for a referral).