Legit Talent Agents on Disreputable Talent Managers

May 4, 2015 at 7:22 am | Posted in acting, Actors & Agents | Leave a comment
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There’s a cold war raging within talent representation ranks.

Legit (TV, film & theater) talent agents and reputable talent managers with unblemished careers have long been agitated by the questionable actions of peer talent representation misrepresenting intent to actors. Actions, sometimes violating local and state labor and/or consumer laws, that sully the trade of championing actors. Questionable practices such as charging clients $500 for representation as does as the Long Island talent manager who goes at great lengths to state publicly that she is and is not a talent manager. This talent manager also offers a per month rate payable by actors for the actor to be submitted by the manager to extras casting offices for background casting consideration. These behaviors prompt review—once again—of credible talent representation as is recognized by actor union franchised talent agents.

Franchised talent agents participated in the writing of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes & Achieve Success as a Working Actor (Penguin / Random House). The agents represent(ed) Oscar, Emmy, and TONY-winning actors. What follows are excerpts of their advisories on managers:

From CH 12 Agents: An Introduction:

I’ve worked with many agents: affable agents, asshole agents, considerate agents, careless agents, agents who were agents while looking for direction, and agents who found their calling early on and had been agents for most of their adult lives. When I pushed myself to write this book, I knew I would have to cast for agents. I wanted widely respected agents who were knowledgeable, affable, blunt advisors. I wanted people of candor. I wanted agents who had a passion for being champions of actors. I found four, a quorum. All are agents I’ve worked with repeatedly. Agents I knew to be more than their jobs. Agents with respect for actors. Agents who focus more on the work than do Ego Agents, who concentrate on how many recognizable industry names they can acquire in their personal phone list. The Ego Agent is a personality that I really despise.

The quorum of agents—Philip Adelman of the Gage Group, Lynne Jebens of the Krasny Office, Cyd LeVin of Independent Artists Agency, and Jack Menashe, owner of Independent Artists Agency—does not contain a single ego-driven member. Selfless supporters of artists, dedicated to their clients, these four have, combined, over one-hundred years of experience in the entertainment industry…

Agents On Managers

Does an actor need a manager? “No, no, no, no. And no,” was Lynne Jebens’s ardent reply. Jebens then bluntly vented her thoughts: “I think managers have become a waste of time. Anybody can hang a shingle out and call themselves a manager now.

“I think managers, like in the old days, should be with two types of actors. Either the actor is too big, a major industry star or industry name, to go through all the material that is being sent to the actor—then the actor needs a manager who’ll weed through the material. Or, if you’re a beginning actor and you can’t get an agent, a manager is the only way to go.”

Philip Adelman’s view of an actor’s need for a manager reflected that of Jebens. “If I were an actor who couldn’t get an agent, I might seek out a manager to help me; to use them, to effect meetings with agents. If I were a star trying to choose between projects and have somebody to package a deal for me, perhaps I would want a manager. I can’t imagine why anybody in the great middle would. I don’t get it.”

Managers have taken it upon themselves to change their role from being an actor’s advisor and filterer of information to becoming producers and unlicensed talent employment agents. Franchised agents who must follow federal, state, and local laws, and who are regulated by the unions, take umbrage at the unlicensed encroachment upon their territory. Adelman, past president of the National Association of Talent Representatives (NATR), has been at odds with the unions for years over trying to have managers regulated. “Managers functioning as agents,” Adelman began, “has become an unfair business practice. Agents are franchised, we’re licensed. I’m bonded. I’ve been fingerprinted. I have to sign actors to contracts that the unions hand us. I have to obey an inch-thick book of rules that the unions impose upon us. We sign on so that we have the right to thereby exclusively represent union members. We’re regulated as to how much commission we can charge. Managers are not. We’re regulated as to the length of time we can sign a client, and actors have generous outs that the unions provide them in our papers. Managers can do what they wish. They’re submitting talent. They’re negotiating. They’re [acting as] agents. They’re doing it without bonds, licenses, and franchise agreements. They’re supposed to be advising. They’re supposed to be doing everything short of soliciting employment and negotiating for their clients. That’s unfair competition.”

As Adelman noted, agents are held accountable to the unions. This accountability extends into the employment agents seek for their union clients. Managers are not accountable to anyone. “Perfect example of accountability,” Jebens began. “If I send somebody in for a movie and I make them sign the contract and then they get to the set and they’ve never seen the script and it turns out it’s a pornography movie. The client is going to call the union in a panic and say, ‘Hey, my agent made me sign a contract for a porn movie and I didn’t know it was a porn movie!’ Well, the union is going to come after me. They are going to have my head on a pike in Times Square!! I could lose my franchise for conduct like that! Had it been a manager, the union’s gonna say to the actor, ‘Sorry, Charlie, you signed a contract. Nothing we can do.’”

Jack Menashe’s disdain for managers is obvious. “Managers… really annoying,” Menashe said with a smirk. “Most of the managers are out there because they want to work in their slippers.” Menashe was referring to agents being required to have a standard business office while managers are free to work at home from their kitchen table. “They don’t want to go and have a license with the state,” Menashe continued, “because they want to be able to produce, which agents are not allowed to do. Most of the managers have the title of ‘Production’ in their company name, yet they’ve never even produced gas.”

Gaseous or not, modern managers and their present role as representation baffles Menashe. “I don’t understand the role of managers nowadays,” Menashe said, shaking his head. Years ago management was established because actors desired a sounding board, someone to go between the agent and production. Someone to help connect actors to a project, writers, directors, and others who could help the actor grow within the business. Throughout the years, management has become a synonym for “agency without a license.” Most managers today call themselves “managers” because it’s easier not to be tied down legally while collecting more money from their client.”

Menashe does have respect for some managers, legitimate ones who are not fly-by-night operators. “I think there’s a couple of good ones out there, and what I mean by good ones are managers that have truly connected themselves with writers and are knowledgeable of packaging. Packaging meaning bringing elements of a project such as director, writer, and actors they represent together to a studio or producer, and the producer picks up that project on the elements presented.”

You might assume that Cyd LeVin, as a former manager herself, would be a proponent of managers. She is, sort of, with a caveat. “I don’t believe in managers that never were agents in the past,” LeVin cautioned. “I don’t believe they have a handle on the business at all. I think that if managers are there helping the agent and actor get auditions, that’s fabulous! I think that if managers are helping an agent handle a difficult client, that’s fabulous. What I don’t love are managers that call me and are being a burden, pretending their doing their job by calling me to say, ‘Did you see in the Breakdowns that so-and-so was perfect?’ Actors don’t always need a manager.”

In my humble opinion, unless the actor is a star, or the actor cannot get an agent, the actor does not require a manager. If a working actor has a good agent, he or she doesn’t need a manager. Most managers today are no longer good listeners and advisors; they’re a mess of unproduced Web scripts and half-done deals.

Jebens was correct: Anyone can hang a shingle out and be a manager. I get submissions from “managers” who are the actor’s latest bed bumper or a relative or acquaintance of the actor. The actor foolishly believes he or she will favorably impress the casting director or agent by having someone else submit him or her for a project. No, it won’t. Agents and casting know who are the legitimate, quality managers, and we can immediately recognize faux managers or instant managers—a.k.a., cockroach managers.

Faux and cockroach managers are people on the far fringe of the industry who possess little to no experience in the talent trade. They often have a middling interest in entertainment and a client list of two or three showcase-leech actors (actors who can only get showcases as work). Most of the cockroach manager’s income is earned via other sources beyond entertainment. Most don’t have an office. They have a cell phone and that’s it. No brick-and-morter address, no landline, no letterhead, and no business papers filed with the government required to work as a representative of talent. To grow their client base they rely on the naiveté of inexperienced actors desperate for representation of any kind, even if that representation is a guy on a street corner with a cell phone and telephone directory of agents and casting directors. The latter description is not an exaggeration; I’ve stumbled across such cockroach managers and ignored what little they had to offer. Cockroach managers don’t last long. Eventually they die out of the profession for lack of experience, ability, recognition, and quality clients…”

– – –

A manager charging clients fees, or pan-handling via Go Fund Me campaigns to raise monies for clients’ (child actors) union initiation fees devalues the profession of legitimate talent representation. Rot that spoils the lot with behavior that is beyond reasonable expectation of representation professionalism. In 2014 I was made aware of a pay-to-play management company that charged actors fees so that in return the actors would be submitted to casting directors. The more the actor paid, the more the office submitted the actor. That 2014 management company also sold casting Breakdowns to actors. For managers to receive Breakdowns, a manager must apply to Breakdown Services which includes a process of scrutiny. Managers who do not meet the professional standards equal to that of franchised talent agents are rejected by Breakdown Services. The rejected managers will often then resort to getting casting Breakdowns illegally. Breakdown Services filed suit against the 2014 management operation and won their case against the proprietors. Allegedly the talent managers had been selling Breakdowns to actors previously under other management company names. And several players charging actors pay-to-play are actors themselves. And one of the actors purportedly now works with a manager on Long Island.

As long as the parents of child actors, and actors themselves pay non-commission fees for ‘representation’ the longer these identities continue to besmirch the legitimacy of licensed, bonded, and union acknowledged talent representation and the legitimate talent managers.

The L.A. City Attorney’s Office shares the Following Advisories to Actors & Parents of Young Actors:

Courtesy L.A. City Attorney's Office

Courtesy L.A. City Attorney’s Office

 Get MORE of Casting Director Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book for Actors – ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes & Achieve Success as a Working Actor

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Elon and Wright State University. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

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