Actors' Equity Association's Regulation of Talent Agencies
Remarks of Thomas Carpenter, General Counsel, Actors Equity Association International Federation of Actors ("FIA") International Symposium on the Status of the Artist September 27, 2018 Tokyo, Japan
Structure of Equity's regulation of Talent AgentsFor many decades, Actors’ Equity Association (US) has maintained an internal union membership rule that exists side-by-side with negotiated regulations of talent agents. These regulations protect members of the union from exorbitant commissions, exploitative agency contracts, and unfair representation. In turn, the union’s membership rules require that union members may only be represented by franchised talent agents, and agree to certain standards for representation.
If an agency wishes to represent Equity members, they can apply to Actors’ Equity Association for a franchise. The application requires, among other things: commercial office space, financial banking information, five letters of recommendation from Equity members, state incorporation documentation and licensing, and professional resumes, as well as an office inspection. Once an agency is franchised, it may represent Equity members by signing them to a standard agency contract.
Equity’s regulations provide two forms of standard agency contracts: Exclusive Management and Specific Engagement contracts. Those standard form contracts have been negotiated between Actors’ Equity and the associations that represent talent agents—The Association of Talent Agents (“ATA”) and the National Association of Talent Representatives (“NATR”). Franchised agents may not sign Equity members to agency agreements that do not conform to the standard agreements, and Equity members may not sign representation agreements with talent agents who have not been franchised. The contract for agency representation is a contract between the talent agency and the member—not the individual talent agent (known as a “sub-agent”).
If a member is signed to a representation contract with an agency, and the individual agent leaves that agency to work elsewhere, the member is still bound to be represented by the agency that is signatory to the actor’s agency contract.
Key Provisions of Equity's Agency AgreementEquity’s standard agency contracts contain a number of key provisions:
* Each contract has a specified commission schedules, prohibiting any commission that exceeds 10% of compensation.
* When a talent agent signs a member to an Exclusive Management Contract, the member pays commission to the agent on any employment contract entered into during the term of the Exclusive Management Contract, even if the agent does not actually secure the employment for the member, or negotiate the terms of the employment contract.
* Commission must be paid on all salary compensation. Sick pay and vacation pay are considered salary.
* There is no commission on reimbursed expenses or per diem payments (payments in lieu of reimbursed expenses).
Termination of Agency AgreementsIf a member wishes to terminate their agency agreement, all termination notices must be in writing with a copy to Equity. Agency agreements can be terminated by the member, as follows:
* If a member has not had a bona fide offer of employment in 90 days, the actor has the right to terminate the contract. They may not terminate the contract if they are currently employed.
* An agent and an actor may at any time agree to terminate the Exclusive Management contract. Often an agent will offer a list of projects for which the actor is responsible to pay commission. These projects are submissions that the agent has already made to a casting director or producer. Equity will usually accept the mutual release, as long as the mutual release agreement does not extend the term of the agency contract.
* In rare cases, an actor may terminate their contract with an agency in order to follow their sub-agent to another agency. Generally, this can only occur when the individual sub-agent is specifically identified on the face of the agency contract.
Record Keeping and Dispute Resolution Procedures.Actors’ Equity keeps records of all agency contracts signed by its members, including the contact information submitted by the agent and member. This information is made available upon request to Casting Directors and Producers. Casting Directors or Producers who wish to hire or audition Equity members may call or email either Equity’s Agency Department or Membership Department for contact information of a member’s representative.
If a member wishes to make a formal complaint about the conduct of a talent agent, Equity will review the complaint, and if it appears that there has been a violation of Equity’s regulations, Equity has dispute resolution procedures in the regulations governing talent agents. Similarly, if a member fails to meet the terms of their agency contract—perhaps by failing to pay commission to an agent, for example—the agent may invoke those dispute resolution procedures.
Equity’s system of franchising and regulating talent agents is mutually beneficial to Equity’s members as well as talent agencies. Equity’s members are protected because talent agents have committed to fair and standardized agency contracts, and franchised agencies have protections that ensure that commissions will be paid and that they’ll have access to representing professional union talent.