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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Exclusivity in Agency Contracts

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We’re on a role with the topic of CONTRACTS! Chantelle writes:

Hello Erin,

I'm an aspiring actress in North Carolina, and I made an effort to seek new representation. It has been a while since I have been able to pursue a career, due partly to the slump in production in my state. Now that is turning around, and I want to be ready to jump back into the game! My concern is with a local agent that offered me a contract. I am in no way looking my nose down at the situation, but I am a bit concerned. Since I was sidelined (by life), I am not sure if the contract is something I should enter in to. For one thing, the agent said that the exclusive contract is world wide (except for LA & NY). The wording used in the agency's overview, made it sound as if they get a commission for work booked, even if it is global (even if they didn't submit me). I don't know if one of the agents wasn't clear, and I am going to ask before signing. My question for you is, have you ever heard of this type of thing concerning agency contracts? What should actors look out for, and what are some red flags to take heed of? I appreciate any feedback you could provide, and if you get the chance, check out what's going on in NC.

All the best,
Chantelle
North Carolina


Hi, Chantelle. Thank you so much for your email. I am very glad you reached out, because contracts are very tricky things to work with.

The language of the contract that you mentioned sounds like standard language for agency contracts. When you sign a contract, it grants both you and the agent an exclusive relationship - this means that for any work that you get while on contract, you must pay a percentage to your agent as a commission, even if they did not "get" the work for you. This is a typical arrangement, because it guarantees that whatever work the agent does for you (initially unpaid) will be rewarded at some future date.

The good news is that there is usually an "out" clause in standard agency contracts, which allows the actor and/or the agent to bow out of the contract if neither of you have procured work over a certain period of time. In union contracts, this time is anywhere from 90-180 days; in non-union contracts, it can be anywhere from 90-365 days. You'll want to read your contract carefully before signing to see if there are any provisions for this. If there is nothing in the contract about an "out" clause, it would be perfectly reasonable to negotiate one.

Also, while the idea of a "global" contract (outside LA/NY) sounds scary, it probably isn't as massive as it seems to be. Generally, you'll only want to be represented by this agent while you are living in your current city/state. If you planned to move to another city, you would cancel your contract with that agent, and they would not have any claim over future earnings. So, even though "global" sounds like this agent will receive commissions on work anywhere in the world, this would only occur while you are under contract and, ideally, you would only be under contract with them while you live in the same vicinity. And, of course, it sounds like your contract is null-and-void in the Los Angeles and New York markets.

I usually recommend that any actor (union or non-union) show the contract to a lawyer to make sure that all provisions are clearly understood. At the very least, read over it carefully and then share any questions you have with the agent. When you talk to them, I would suggest asking:

1) How long is the overall contract?
2) When the contract expires, does it automatically renew, or do you both take the time to sign another one?
3) Is there an "out" clause, whereby one of us can cancel the contract if there is no work procured during a certain length of time?
4) If you move out of state, can you get out of the contract?
5) Does the contract include theater as well as film and TV? Does it include commercials? Does it include print work? And, is the agency commission the same across the board?

... and any other questions that come up for you when you read the contract.

Hope this helps- congratulations on being offered your contract, and I wish you the best of luck in your career!


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 http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

1 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

Tommy G, Kendrick said...

Erin,

The person from NC may have more to be concerned about than you think. It sounds to me like the agent is using a GSA, that is a General Services Agreement. This type contract has been in play in non-union and/or right-to-work states for a long time. When the franchise agreements between SAG and agents went into the twilight zone some years ago, many major market agents, including some in NY and LA began using the GSAs.

A GSA may in fact obligate a talent to pay an agent a commission even though the talent is no long represented by the agent.

I once had an agent try to get me to sign a contract with that very clause. The contract said that if I ever got a job related to a MANUFACTURER or CORPORATION, then I would forever owe this agent a commission if I subsequently got another job for a product by the same manufacturer or corporate entity...even if I were no longer represented by this agent and even if I were now working in a different market. IOW, if I did a commercial for Charmin with this agent I'd certainly owe him a commission. If 5 years later, in a different market, while represented by a different agent I did a Tide commercial, I would still owe the former agent a commission under the terms of the contract because both jobs were for Proctor and Gamble.

Needless to say I crossed out that part of the contract. The agent said he didn't intend to enforce the contract in the way I was interpreting it. However, a lawyer friend told me I was reading the contract correctly.

So...watch out for those GSAs. They are in wide use, even in areas where there are still SAG or AFTRA franchised agents. In fact, SAG just had a seminar on GSAs in August of this year. Read the contract carefully, because you may be signing onto a lifetime relationship without meaning to do so.

Tommy G. Kendrick
SAG/AFTRA

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