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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Leaving Agents Early, or Dissolving Contracts

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This question, posted by Cindy, is specific to those who sign contracts when they are minors, but I thought the advice would be useful for anyone who is thinking of dissolving their contract with the agent earlier than stipulated.

Cindy writes:

Hi, Erin. I love your website!  Thank you for the wonderful questions and especially your wise answers.  Here’s my question…is a contract legally binding if an actor under 18 signs it with me (his mother and his guardian) signing it as well?  My son signed a contract with one agency 3 weeks before his 18th birthday and a very prestigious agency has asked him to sign with them.   He turned 18 years old yesterday and he feels career wise he should sign with the better agency.  We think that since he was a minor when he signed the original contract, he will need to sign a new contract as an adult making the contract signed 3 weeks ago legally void. I hope I’m making sense.  We live in the State of California.  Thank you so much.

Hi, Cindy- Thank you so much for your message! To know for certain, I would need to take a look at your contract to see what the specifics are. As you know, I am not a lawyer so for legal advice, you want to consult a professional. But, let me see if I can help...

It sounds like you are saying that several weeks ago, your son signed with an agency and now, several weeks later, he is thinking he should sign with a different agency. And you are wondering if his contract is binding, since he was a minor when signing it and now he is no longer a minor. Is that correct? 

I am not certain what child labor laws state when it comes to signing contracts, but unless it states otherwise, I would imagine that the contract is still binding, even though he is now an adult. One question- is your son a member of any of the unions (SAG/AEA/AFTRA?) If so, the contract he signed would be a contract mutually executed and agreed upon by your son and the agent, and the contract is filed with the union(s). Your best bet in this case would be to call the union and ask to speak to the contracts department- they will tell you what your options are. 

If the contract ends up being binding, you do have some options (though, not ones you can execute immediately.) The union agency contracts all have a stipulation which allow actors to dissolve their contract if certain provisions aren't met- namely, if the actor does not secure a certain amount of paying work in a specified amount of time, the actor and/or the agent has the right to walk away. For AEA contracts, this is typically 90 days. For SAG contracts, it is 180 days when the actor and agent first start working together, and then it is 90 days thereafter. 

With non-union contracts, there are no real standards in place. Either way, you'll want to read the contract carefully to determine what action, if any, the agency can take if you choose to walk away prematurely. Oftentimes, they will require that commission be paid on any projects that your son booked during the time of the contract (in this case, 3-4 weeks.) If he hasn't booked anything, there would be no commissions due but that doesn't mean that there wouldn't be repercussions. 

I am curious- what happened during the time between the signing of the contract and the more prestigious agency showing their interest? It seems a shame to walk away from the first agency based solely on the reputation of the second agency, though I know it can be tempting. But, oftentimes a smaller agency can help an up-and-coming actor more than a large agency because "developing clients" (ones who are newly professional) can sometimes be lost in the shuffle. It is quite possible that your son's best move is to stay where he is and give them a chance, and then move on to the other agency if it doesn't work out. I don't think anyone in the industry would look down on you (or him) for keeping your commitments, even if they are only a few weeks old! Of course, if you choose this course be sure to keep in touch with the other agency so that you can maintain that strong relationship and keep them interested.

I realize I haven't given you concrete advice, but it is hard to reply with certainty without looking at your paperwork. It may be best to contact an entertainment lawyer and see if they can look things over for you. You can also ask the new agency to look over the contract and give you their thoughts, especially since they have thrown a (delightful) wrench into the situation!

Thanks so much for stopping by - I hope this has been helpful. Have a wonderful day, and best of luck to you both!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out

1 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

aimgrund said...

Actually this is great advice Erin! Here is a great site that my boyfriend forwarded me that is of some help too. Remember though, while articles like this are helpful, please seek a lawyer like Erin said.

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