The Talent Agency Scam
(or "Stick With Me, Baby, I'll Make You A
Star ... For A Price")
Legitimate talent agents make money in one way. They receive
a percentage from the money paid to you for any work you do for which
they have submitted you. When the agent gets you work, you get paid and
they get their commission. It's as simple as that. If they don't get you
work, they don't get a penny. Period.
so-called talent agents attempt to make money in any number of other ways.
Some try to collect fees up front for them to represent you, with
no guarantee of getting you work. Some try to convince you to
take acting classes with them for a large fee, with no guarantee
of getting you work. Some want you to pay their photographers
to take pictures of you, with no guarantee of getting you work.
(Gee, what do all these approaches have in common?)
Actors' Guild (the union for film actors), Actors'
Equity Association (the stage union) and other unions have very strict
guidelines in order for an agent to be franchised. Guidelines include
such things as limits on the percentage agents can charge in commission
and restrictions forbidding them to sell any product or service to their
clients other than representation. Those unions have learned from experience
that any other fees that are charged to you compromise your position with
the agent (and their position with you) and blur the boundaries between
representation and fees for services provided.
In order to become a franchisee of these unions, agents
must adhere to these union standards. Agents who breach these standards
risk losing their franchise and, therefore, their livelihood. As you can
see, there is incentive for union-franchised agents to operate above-board.
Does this mean that non-union agents are all somehow illegitimate?
Not at all. On the contrary, many non-union agents have stellar reputations
and get lots of work for the clients they represent. They're just not
held to the same standards that the unions require. Some adhere to those
standards anyway. Some don't. So you need to ask questions about how any
agent operates and how they earn their money, if you're not 100% sure.
Here's another warning sign about unscrupulous agents. The
market for talented performers is flooded. There is no shortage. So if
you are "recruited" by an agent, chances are they're going to
try to sell you a bill of goods. Be particularly wary of those shysters
who set up tables in malls or other public places, armed only with a portfolio
of headshots and promises of a brighter future for you. Be daring. Ask
them who their success stories are. Usually, they claim themselves as
shining examples of how their agency works. (So why, then, are they sitting
at a table in a mall instead of on a film set or in a television studio?
The bottom line is that you should beware of any agent who
requires you to pay any money up front or for anything other than a percentage
of the jobs that they've procured for you.
As a performer, remember this: You're providing a livelihood
for agents. Without you, they're nothing — not the other way
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