For many struggling actors, the hardest part of starting a career is finding an agent. So when approached by a smooth-talker claiming to be a top “talent manager” who promise to help guide their career, get them agents, and have them auditioning for major roles in studio films, they jump at the chance. Then, only after they’ve signed a contract agreeing to pay the manager a large percentage of their future salary for the next five years, do they realize that this “manager” is full of crap, and couldn’t get them an audition for a cable access program.
So before you make the same mistake as many performers have done before you, ask yourself these questions, and get the right answers, before signing with anyone.
1) Do You Need A Manager? For most performers, the reason they want a manager is because they think the manager will find them work in the industry. But in California, it’s actually illegal for anyone other than a licensed talent agent to procure of offer employment to actors, or others rendering professional services in motion picture, theatrical, radio, television and other entertainment enterprises. California Labor Code §1700.4. So if you think the manager is going to get you work, he’s not. The manager’s job is to guide and advise your career. If you haven’t been able to get an agent yet, there will simply not be much that the manager can even do for you.
2) Have You Checked The Manager Out? What has this person done that would lead you to believe he is a legitimate manager? Who are his clients? Have you spoken to them? Why not? Nowadays, it’s so much easier to find this information. For $15.95 per month, you can join IMDB Pro, which allows you to find out all sorts of information about people in the entertainment industry, including the actors represented by the management agency. So see which actors are represented, and then look at those actors credits. Are they working? Use your social networking skills to contact some of the actors and ask them if they will talk to you about the manager? Before you sign with any manager you should speak to at least three clients and see what they say about him.
3) Is The Manager Charging You Any Money? Does the manager want to charge you an up-front fee to cover overhead? Or is he requiring that you get new headshots with a certain photographer? Or do they want you to enroll in a specific acting class? If so, RUN!!!!! No reputable manager should take money from you. If they are asking you for money, then it is almost certainly a scam. Now that’s not to say that the manager won’t advise you on your headshots and acting teachers. But if they require you to use a certain photographer or go to a certain class, be careful. There are plenty of good photographers and acting teachers in this town. Check out the recommendations the same way you checked out the manager. The manager should advise you, not require you to pay money to others.
4) How Much Of Your Money Do They Want? For acting, a manager should not take more than 15%, for music and modeling, 20%. If they insist on more, walk out the door.
5) How Long Is The Agreement For? For actors and models, no more than three years. For musicians, five years. But in any case I would want a clause in the agreement that says that if after six or nine months, you haven’t reached certain goals (e.g., obtained an agent, made at least $10,000, etc.), you can cancel the agreement. If you find out that manager is not the right person, you need a way to get out of the agreement so you don’t have to keep paying them for another couple of years.
6) Is There A Key Man Clause? A “Key Man” clause is necessary if you are only joining that management agency because there is one person (the “Key Man”) who is going to manager your career. If that person leaves the firm, you need to be able to leave as well.
As a lawyer, I should tell you that before signing with any manager it’s best to have an attorney review the agreement. But if spending that money is out of the question, at least follow the guidelines listed above to give yourself some protection.