Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Ethics," talent managers and SAG-AFTRA ... A tale of two very different perspectives ...

I was part of the 70 or so managers who were invited to lunch and chat with the legal leadership of SAG-AFTRA yesterday, in Los Angeles, about a document, perhaps more a “program,” that aims for the first time in the history of SAG, AFTRA and now SAG-AFTRA, to officially acknowledge the role played and the contributions made to a union actor’s career by their talent manger.

Titled “SAG-AFTRA Personal Manager Code of Ethics and Conduct,” the proposal, six years in the making under the leadership of Zino Macaluso, SAG-AFTRA National Director/Senior Counsel, Agency Relations, is targeted to both benefit and protect both union actors and the managers who represent them.

It was a lively exchange, to say the least. Many managers couldn’t seem to get out of their own way long enough to see this from all sides. I say “all sides” because as in any mission to understand this proposal and explore how this might play itself out in the real world, there is “their” side, “our” side and the real, objective perspective behind the proposal.

These are “layered” issues, to put it mildly. Let’s look at the one key issue that was at the heart of those many managers who spoke up at the meeting: Procuring work for clients.

As you probably already know, state law prohibits California and New York-based talent managers from seeking work and negotiating deals for their clients; this domain is left, legally speaking, to state-licensed talent agents and agencies. Long time talent manager Rick Siegel has been at the forefront of the more than decade-long legal battle to undo this law, which, depending on which side of the issue you fall, has everything or nothing to do with the union’s proposed code. In the meantime, how many of us managers break the law every day? I think you know the answer.

The point that I made at the meeting was that in this landscape, any actor who has retained the services of a talent manager to work for them in the development and growth of their career not only wants, but expects their manager to get the Breakdowns, read and evaluate the Breakdowns, and then submit them for everything they are right for, in addition to the traditional work we do and services we provide. There isn’t an actor I have met who has ever claimed otherwise.

Further, in this new landscape where there are many more actors seeking representation than there are agents to sign them, personal managers have stepped up to the plate to fill that void, representing both union and not-yet-in-the-union actors.

No one is born with a union card attached to their birth certificate, at least not yet. New talent has to learn their craft and earn the early credits doing actual, professional work – and to the dismay of many pro-union advocates, that early career work will be in the non-union arena.

As I see it, there are two key points that make the current work-in-progress SAG-AFTRA manager’s code document impossible for any legitimate manager to sign. First is the commitment that we will not procure work for clients and, second, that we will not represent non-union clients.

Without the ability for us to procure work for our clients, the truth is that our clients will have no need for us, thus rendering our businesses out-of-business.

I have two thoughts on this matter. We could sign the document and proceed with business-as-usual anyway, thus mocking the intent of any “code of ethics and conduct” – or we can work to address this rub between the law and the reality of our business models.

The law may be “the law,” but none of us managers, as far as I know, ever signed a document with the states of California or New York proclaiming that we would obey it. That would be an outright lie, which is why managers cannot sign a SAG-AFTRA agreement barring them from the same activity.

The issue regarding the representation of non-union actors is a secondary matter. Our goal is to turn our not-yet-union clients into union actors, which is the talent “development” process in action.

This document presented by SAG-AFTRA is/will be voluntary. Managers can either sign it or not sign it. But it seems that while the intent is honorable, the devil remains in the details. There were no members of the talent management community involved in the creation and drafting of this code, which is too bad. But it’s not too late – and as this process moves forward, I have volunteered to participate in a smaller “break out” group to address the issues raised by managers in an attempt to carve out a code that managers would be happy to support – and benefit from signing.

I have a call to action to every union actor who reads this.

1) If you have not yet read the draft of this code, get a copy from SAG-AFTRA and do so. 2) If you have a manager, do you want your manager to (continue to) submit you for work and then negotiate on your behalf for work you book (whether or not you have an agent – on in association with your agent)? 3) Would you have the need for a manager if that person could not procure work or negotiate for you?

I urge you to please make your voices and your opinions heard. We have a grand opportunity to embrace the movement and get this right, for professional talent managers and the actors we represent.

I welcome your comments here, but, more importantly, let your union officials know how you feel about this.

I am eager to see if together we can make this work …


Friday, November 8, 2013

New interview about The (New) Business of Acting explores managing expectations ...

I just did a Web radio interview about the (new) business of acting with Trena Bolden Fields, the actress/entrepreneur, etc. behind the Website PaidActor.com. If you haven't heard enough of me on this topic, it's available on-demand. :)

We talked quite a bit about the "managing expectations" part of launching, building and maintaining a career. Actors need to get a handle on this skill to help empower both themselves in this process and to learn how to manage the expectations that others who love them will have (parents, partners, friends) of them. 

For the non-industry person who is connected to a seeking-to-be-working actor, it can be frustrating when they don't understand why the person they love, the person they know is a gifted performer, isn't getting more opportunities to do the work they are passionate about and trained for.

There is a fiscal fitness piece of this emotional fitness equation, too. We talk about that, as well.

Thank you, Trena!

Monday, August 12, 2013

"Webster" & "Things Were Rotten" co-star Henry Polic II Dies at Age 68

Henry Polic II

After a long battle with cancer, I am so sorry to have to announce this morning the death last night of my pal and client of nearly 30 years actor Henry Polic II.

Henry, who found television pop culture fame as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1975 Mel Brooks television series "When Things Were Rotten" and as Uncle Jerry Silver in the 1980s television series "Webster," was 68.

Henry was also a prolific and popular television game show player and host, having been a semi-regular on both "The $25,000 Pyramid" and its later incarnation "The $100,000 Pyramid," both hosted by Dick Clark. Henry also hosted the 1986 ABC-TV game show "Celebrity Double Talk" and found cult fame as the voice of the Scarecrow in the 1990s "Batman: The Animated Series."

In 2011, Henry joined me for a chat about his life and his career journey for four segments of our Web TV series "Inside the Business of Acting." I'm happy to share segment one with you here. The three that follow are available on-demand through links at InsideTheBusinessOfActing.com.

A memorial scholarship fund has been established in Henry's name at his beloved alma mater to provide funding to assist the School of Theatre's annual production of new works. Contributions can be made by contacting Fred Salancy at fsalancy@admin.fsu.edu.

Henry, you are already missed ... XX

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fame and the evolution of an actor -- and a ground-break television series ...

I was a big fan of the 1970's ground-breaking comedy series "Soap." 

In 1977, before moving to Los Angeles, I got to interview series creator and producer Susan Harris for my WBZ Radio/Boston interview show. 

Then, in 1992, we were lucky enough to have series star Robert Mandan pay us a visit on "Lemack & Company Live," our little Beverly Hills-based coffee shop chat show. We talked about his life before, during and after his role as Chester Tate. We just added that interview to our RerunIt.com collection.

Robert's story is an interesting on in the discussion of a career journey. He was a seasoned New York-based actor prior to coming to Los Angeles, where sit-com fame came to him. 

Much like other strong, comedic television characters (Carroll O'Connor's Archie Bunker, Jean Stapleton's Edith Bunker, Sherman Hemsley's George Jefferson and Isabel Sanford's Weezy Jefferson come to mind, among others), Mandan's "Soap" fame got him typecast in his Chester Tate character persona.

Fame ... It's an odd dilemma. Robert talks about what happened to him, casting-wise, post-"Soap" in our interview.

You can view a promo clip on YouTube.


Friday, March 1, 2013

A standing ovation for Bonnie Franklin ...

Bonnie Franklin and Brad Lemack at the 2009 taping of
"Inside the Business of Acting"

So, so sad to hear the news this morning of the death of actress Bonnie Franklin, one of the best.

I first met Bonnie back in the early 1980’s when I worked as the publicist for her acclaimed CBS-TV series “One Day at a Time.” When I later opened my own talent management and PR company, Bonnie soon came along and it was beyond a joy to work with her and for her through the many projects we did together.

Much will be written today and in the days that follow about Bonnie and the impressive career she earned and the legacy she leaves behind. We can leave that reporting to the entertainment news outlets around the world.

What they cannot share with you is something exclusive to us at Lemack & Company that I want to share with you.

In 2008, following the success of my book “The Business of Acting,” I joined with Gary Marsh and his Virtual Channel Network to produce and host a limited series of interviews about the business of acting with “working” actors talking about their career journeys.

Bonnie was one of those amazing folks who came to our little studio in West Los Angeles one particular Saturday afternoon to talk for four segments about her life, her career and the lessons she learned along the way.

I’m happy to share Segment #1 here. You can view the remaining three segments on-demand at InsideTheBusinessOfActing.com.

From her Tony Award-winning musical, with a salute to Bonnie, “Applause, applause” – and thank you.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Farewell to the always tip-minded "Jeffersons" doorman Ned Wertimer ...

Ned Wertimer 

Sad to report that my long time client (32 years!) and pal Ned Wertimer has died. Ned, who earned TV pop culture fame from his role as Ralph the Doorman on the long running, hit series "The Jeffersons," was 89.

Ned was the first client to sign with Lemack & Company when I left my publicity post for "The Jeffersons" (and other Norman Lear series) in the early 1980's to open up shop.

Ned was born in Buffalo, New York on October 27, 1923. He made his acting debut as a youngster at the Nichols School, in Buffalo, most notably in a school production of A Christmas Carol

He was appointed a naval aviator on 1944, having fulfilled the requirements of the United States Navy Department. After serving as a pilot in World War II, Ned attended the University of Pennsylvania’s renowned Wharton School from where received his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration. He was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity (as was his father).

While at the university, Ned was active in the famous Mask and Wig Club, the all-male musical troupe founded in 1889. He had major roles in their 1947 production of Juleo and Romiet, playing Lady Montague, and in the 1948 production of Alaska Right Away, playing Senator Forghorn.

Despite his degree in business, Ned moved to New York City right after college to pursue an acting career. He found success immediately, appearing in two Broadway shows within a year. He was both assistant stage manager and cast member in Texas L’il Darlin’, a Robert Emmett Dolan/Johnny Mercer musical that opened in November 1949 and as a cast member in Garson Kanin’s play The Live Wire, which opened in August 1950.

In New York, Ned also began to get roles in the new medium of television, appearing in many of the popular shows at the time. He become a regular guest on the popular children’s series The Shari Lewis Show, which highlighted his natural gifts for mimicry and improv comedy.

In 1961, he replaced Paul Lynde in the Tony Award winning Broadway production of Bye Bye Birdie. Ned also worked in numerous national touring and stock productions of plays and musicals, including Brigadoon, Hat Full of Rain, Witness for the Prosecution, Man For All Seasons, Cyrano de Bergerac, Annie Get Your Gun, Bells are Ringing, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter and, much later, The Best of The Jeffersons, a recreation of three episodes from the television series starring its original cast.

Over the years, he made appearances in more than 100 television programs and series in both New York and Los Angeles, a list that grew to include The Debbie Reynolds Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Mork and Mindy, You Can’t Take it With You, Mister Peepers, He & She, Gunsmoke, MacMillan and Wife, Family Law and, of course, The Jeffersons, to name a few.

In the mid-1960s, Ned moved to Los Angeles to continue his career in film and television. He soon met and married the love of his life, Dr. Skyne Uku.

In Los Angeles, his film credits grew to include The Pack, What’s So Bad About Feeling Good, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Impossible Years, Chiller and as stockbroker Fred Cates to Lucille Balls’ Mame.

Ned had a passion for travel, which enriched his life and became a part of his most memorable years. His worldwide adventures included riding a camel in Egypt, riding an elephant in Thailand and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Ned was active in social and political issues regarding civil rights He was very involved in AFTRA and SAG’s union contract negotiations and was a dedicated, long time member of the board of directors of the AFTRA SAG Federal Credit Union. He was also a voting member for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Emmy Awards.

Ned also enjoyed sports, especially golf, and played in many celebrity gold tournaments for a variety of non-profit organizations.

Condolences and hugs to his wife and best friend Skyne Uku-Wertimer.