Monday, September 28, 2009

Drawing the line on commissions ...

It’s a tough economy – and while that’s, unfortunately, nothing new for most actors (especially new-to-the-business actors and recent college grads), it is the landscape in which we work (or want to). An opportunity to actually land an acting job is a great thing for any actor, both economically and emotionally, but the terms under which you get access to these opportunities are worthy of highlighting.

All of this is sparked by an e-mail I received the other day from a young actor who has found herself having a decision to make. New York-based, after a search for an agent, she found a company that was willing to take her on, under certain financial terms. The agency wanted to “charge” the actress not the usual across-the-board 10 percent commission on worked she booked, but, instead, 20 percent on any non-union work she landed.

A little understanding of this part of the landscape is in order.

Commission on union work is regulated by SAG and AFTRA; non-union work is not, which is why this agency (and others) often attempt to get a higher commission rate for non-union work out of their clients. While it is true that, generally speaking, non-union work pays less than union work, for the agent, it takes no more time or energy to do one booking over the other, but it is, indeed, you who show up to do the acting job.

Agent commissions should be no higher than 10 percent, whether it's a union job or not. The desperate actor seeking representation under any terms might accept such a deal, but this isn’t a smart move. If an agent offers you this arrangement, tell him or her what your terms are, take or leave it. If they say "no," seek representation elsewhere. Remember, agents work for actors.

It’s hard enough to earn a living as a “working actor.” While you can’t do it completely on your own, you must be comfortable with the terms you accept from any agent you hire. At the end of the day, you want to take home as much as you can, while still ensuring that those who represent you get what they deserve, what they earn – and no more. As your career builds, so, too, will the commission they are entitled to, in dollars, not percentages.


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