It is an unfortunate fact in the industry that not all businesses are able to sustain themselves financially and be successful. In a time where the industry experiences a decrease in work or opportunities, even businesses that have existed for many years are faced with economic challenges.
Parents are understandably concerned when a member of their representation team changes agencies, changes job description, or leaves the industry all together.
If you find yourself in this situation you should quickly determine your options. Do you want to leave the agency or management company, follow the representative to a different company, or look for new representation? CAN you do so, given your contractual agreements? It is imperative that you know what you can legally do. Please consult an attorney if you have questions.
- You should refer to or obtain your agency contracts – are they SAG-AFTRA Talent Agreements or a General Services Agreement? SAG-AFTRA agreements are standard and there is a plethora of information available about them. The General Services Agreements are not standardized and will require a great deal of scrutiny to determine the legalities.
- Be aware of contract dates, self–renewing contracts, key player clauses and out clauses as these are the components that determine when the contractual obligation has been fulfilled, and under what circumstances you can end it early.
- If you can make a change, determine what commissions may still be owed to your former agency. Just because you leave, doesn’t mean you don’t owe them money.
- Communicate in a professional manner your intentions to leave (known as a drop letter). It should be emailed and followed up by certified mail. The key points you want to include in this communication are the effective date, the withdrawal of all check authorizations granted to the agency, your brief reason for leaving, thanks for the work done on your child’s behalf, and reiterate the parting terms such as clearly indicating the commissions that will be paid for work negotiated by that agency.
At the point you no longer do business with a former representative, adjust your profiles and contact information on online casting services – most commonly Actors Access, Casting Networks, and Casting Workbook. You want to remove your child from the agency/manager account. This is especially important if you feel there are financial issues within an agency or management company (see more below). Change IMDb listings, personal websites and other fan mail addresses to maintain control of legitimate communications.
You should change the mailing address for checks with any payroll companies that might issue a check, so the payment comes directly to you and your child. This is also a good time to confirm your mailing address with SAG-AFTRA so that residual checks are mailed to you (not a representative) as well. If your past representatives are owed commissions on future earnings, you will need to issue checks to them when you receive paychecks.
When you seek new representatives, remember to be professional! It isn’t a secret why most business relationships cease, and details aren’t necessary.
As referenced above, this should be an area that you carefully monitor at all times, but the risk really goes up when the industry is in a volatile state. It is a historical fact that agencies close up, and like other businesses at that point they are insolvent. It is a historical fact that talent may be in the position to not receive payment for work they did. It is also a historical fact that child actors are often left holding the biggest bag because parents aren’t as proactive about getting their money in a timely fashion. Be it for fear of being perceived as a “stage mom” or just a matter of being less aggressive by not needing the funds to pay bills (unlike adult actors) businesses know they can probably not pay children and get much less hassle. Don’t let this happen to your child.
In today’s business climate, you must know what you have earned, what you have received, what you are missing and where the buck stops.
- Check authorizations – keep a file of them and void them when necessary by sending a certified letter to the representative withdrawing the authorization.. While it is a fairly common business practice to give check authorizations to your representatives, it is not a requirement.
- Be extra aware of dates, cycles, holding fees for commercials so that you know when checks should be coming in.
- Call Talent Partners / Entertainment Partners and other payroll entities to see if checks have been issued to your child. Remember, you are simply verifying payment for employment with a payroll company. There is no risk of being perceived as bad, no risk of career harm, no risk of upsetting anyone. It is that unfounded fear that contributes to this being more problematic for children.
- Register with sagaftra.org and sagaftraplans.org to track residuals. This is an additional component to the various pieces of information you can utilize to be aware of the earnings and payments your child is due.
- Compare checks received against YTD on pay stubs. This ensures that all checks were received, processed, and forwarded. Errors can happen without any ill intent.
- Tracking Coogan Trust deposits is also a very helpful piece of the financial puzzle. When things go as they should, you may see a Coogan deposit before you get the check for the work. This would alert you that a check was processed somewhere and you should be receiving it within a reasonable timeframe.
- As always, verify W-2 totals at end of the year. Also know that if you should be working with a company that ceases operation, you will likely be facing potential IRS audits. You will need to consult an accountant to properly report income your child earned that was not received. You can’t simply exclude missing payment from income because your child didn’t receive them, nor should your child include them as income without reporting the “loss”.
If you need assistance with any of the issues related to changing representation, business closure, and non-payment of earnings, there are several places you can (and should) go for help.
- In California, the Department of Labor: Standards Enforcement (DSLE) is where you would file a missing wage claim. While this may seem like the proverbial trying to get blood out of a turnip, it is important that you document and report earnings not paid to your child. This will assist you later in the event that some assets become available, and in being a part of your income tax records.
- In California, New York and several other states, talent agencies must purchase a bond in order to get their agency license. This bond is akin to an insurance policy and it gives the customer some recourse if they owe you money and won’t or can’t pay. The trick is to be the first one to make a claim against the bond because once it is exhausted there is simply no more money to get. In California, an agency’s $50,000 bond is listed on the DLSE website. You simply call the insurance company and file a claim against that bond.
- If you are a Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) member, SAG-AFTRA can assist you with a variety of services depending on your situation. Members nationwide can contact them at (855)SAG-AFTRA or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- All members have a benefit of a FREE hour of legal consultation and discounted legal services (provided independently of SAG-AFTRA). Sign in at Deals & Discounts for more information.
- If your problem is with a SAG-AFTRA franchised agency, the union can help mediate for you. You should call the Professional Representatives Department at 323-549-6745.
- If you are missing money from a signatory production, SAG-AFTRA may be able to help you even if you are not a SAG-AFTRA member. Call the department responsible for that type of work, ie.. Commercial Department). They will assist you in the filing of your claim for wages not paid.
The other unions provide similar services, so make sure to call and see what resources are available to you.
- Small Claims – you can inexpensively seek legal resolution for earnings not paid via small claims court. Specifics vary by county, but there is a lot of free information available to assist in filling out this paperwork. Similar to the DLSE claims, getting a judgment against a business that owes you money (even if they are declaring bankruptcy) is one way to ensure your child is a creditor in the event there are assets available.
- Hire a lawyer – as noted above, it may be prudent to get advice from an attorney, or to commence legal action depending on your situation.
- Class Actions – be aware that there may be many individuals in the same situation who may join together with their legal action.
Remember that the parent is responsible for their child’s business matters, certainly morally, and in some states (such as California) legally. Do not think anyone else is handling this for you! Be aware, educated, and professional and do everything in your power to protect your child from ill effects that they did nothing to create.
Above all, take heart. There is always another path for representation, and many people look back to find when that door closed, another one opened. Emotions run high for everyone, but do your best to set a professional example for your child. Financial issues need to be dealt with consistently and swiftly.
We look forward to a more prosperous industry for the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy successful careers in the entertainment industry.