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Weekly Tip 5.29.15 – To Sign or Not To Sign. That Pesky Contract…

Weekly Tip 5.29.15 – To Sign or Not To Sign. That Pesky Contract…

Weekly Tip 5.29.15 – To Sign or Not To Sign. That Pesky Contract…

Weekly Tip for 5.29.15                                              
May 2015

TO SIGN OR NOT TO SIGN. That pesky contract….

Sign here. Now. Or we just might change our mind.

Sooner or later, you’ll be asked to “sign.”  It can come out of the blue, or after a steadily developing relationship.  How you handle the situation can definitely advance your career, or kill it – sometimes costing you money you didn’t anticipate.
When an agent or manager asks you to sign, you the actor should approach this very serious offer with a cool head.  Don’t be emotional, don’t succumb to peer pressure (“everybody’s doing it”), or look for bragging rights to friends and family.  Take a deep breath and proceed logically.
Generally, signing means you have an exclusive relationship with an agent or manager.  The means you can go only out through them, no one else.  You are handing over a part of the governance of your career to someone else, for better or worse.  Sometimes, you can sign for commercial representation only and you are free to freelance for film, print and TV through others.  Or the other way around.  There is no firm rule.  It is what you two agree upon.
As an unfortunate example, one “management” company” offers new, inexperienced (and very naïve, trusting) actors/models a “non-exclusive” contract filled with a number of clauses the actor/model seldom reads or understand the consequences, such as:

Talent agrees not to employ any representatives, managers or agents concerning any aspects of talent’s career without manager’s prior consent. (Remember: this is a non-exclusive agreement.  It also means the actor/model can’t do anything without first going to the “manager” for OK, or not OK.) Manager receives a 20% commission.  (Industry standard is 15%).If “manager” has to employ collection efforts to get what is owed, the talent has to pay 80% of the costs in doing so.Talent has to reimburse the “manager” for postage, publicity and promotional costs, messenger services, etc.”Manager” has the right to use talent’s headshots for their own purposes in perpetuity.  That also means after their relationship has ended.  Essentially stating they can trade off the actor’s name/future stardom forever.”Manager” will become the “mother agency” for the actor, meaning they can place the actor/model through another agency or management company and everything will still flow through them (and still get their commission along with the actor having to pay the others a commission as well.)For further ramifications on what this type of arrangement means, please refer to the nearest dictionary under “S” and see “slave.”

Do actors/models sign such one-sided contracts?  Every day.  Bragging rights of telling others that they’re “signed” (and you’re not, poor thing), can come at a price.  One actor we knew (notice it’s in past tense) signed a contract with a company, giving them control over his career throughout the universe, in perpetuity.  When this was later pointed out by us to the actor along with pages of one-sided clauses for the company, the actor was so fed up he said he was going back home to England.  Too bad that didn’t solve anything.  They controlled his career in England, too.  His excuse for this debacle:  “I got really excited.  And everybody was doing it.”  Yes, the management company was playing on the emotionalism of the moment for the actor.   They got a bunch of aspiring actors/models in a room, got them all excited about the business, being a star, getting rich and famous, and then the contracts came out….  Perfectly orchestrated.   And the poor, unknowing actors unaware of what was going on around them – and to them.
Signing is a show business marriage.  On the personal front, hopefully you don’t marry someone on your first date to Starbucks.  At least hold out for the trip to Europe.  Same thing holds true here. 
A good approach to someone who comes into your career out of the blue and asks you to sign is to say: “I’m very flattered you’re asking me to sign.  But we haven’t worked together and I don’t know if we’re able to make money together yet. Why don’t we freelance for six months and if we’re doing well together, I wouldn’t hesitate in a heartbeat to sign with you.”  That way you’ll see if they have an ulterior motive.  If they balk at it, you caught them.  If they agree to it, then you know they’re on the up and up.
Why are “they” asking you to sign?  Keep in mind, if you meet someone briefly and they want to immediately sign you for anything, it’s usually some hidden agenda at work, and usually not in your favor.  They can take the quick approach: do it now or they just might change their mind and you’ll be a nobody for the rest of your career.  They also hope you don’t read the contract, or at least not understand it or ask questions.  You might also expect to pay more money to have additional headshots taken – through their photographer, or take classes – offered by them, or pay mailing and promotional expenses.  (Isn’t that what a commission is supposed to take care of?)
In its pure essence, an agent or manager would want to sign an actor because they believe they can effectively manage, augment their talent stable, submit or otherwise significantly advance an actor’s career – and both profit from the relationship, including financially.
Keep in mind that signing you may be a way of getting you off the market and their regulars a better chance.  You stay home, their favorites go out.  Good questions to ask:  how many of my types do you have?  What kind of calls are you getting?  What kind of clients do you work with?  Legitimate, adult questions and answers you should know.
The adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” really applies here.  The “GET SIGNED TODAY!!!” come on makes it sound so easy.  Trust your gut.  If something inside you is nagging you, step back.  If you don’t feel right during the “pre-honeymoon” phase, you’re not going to feel better continuing a relationship, hoping things will work themselves out.  Just like in a personal relationship.  Doomed.
Interestingly enough, the person handing you the initial contract will respect you – if they’re legit – if you momentarily defer and say you’d like to review it and/or have your theatrical attorney look at it.
Is signing a good thing?  If it is thought out and a fair contract for both parties, yes.  It also means an agent will promote you more than their unsigned clients.  You will have first crack at the jobs.  You’re on the A List.  Doors should be open to you that were otherwise not open to you.
A management contract can get you the needed agents and opportunities that they can provide.
Movie and TV contracts likewise have a number of one-sided clauses initially in them.  Some actors are so desperate for the work and possible stardom, they’ll sign anything, signing their life away, actually, exactly what the studios are hoping for.  This business is full of killed careers because of signed contracts no one in their cooler moments would have ever signed.
And even if you are signed, always keep in mind, you still must continue to advance your career on your personal level as well.  That includes staying current in your audition skills, training, headshots, current industry trends.


Scott Powers
Scott Powers Studios  


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