Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Your agent questions, my answers

I thought I’d follow up on yesterday’s post about CAA vs UTA. Got a number of questions about Hollywood agencies.  Here are my answers:

Matt asked:

"Outraged CAA executives call this a “lawless midnight raid.” Uh… isn’t that how they started? Same with Endeavor. That’s how it works in the piranha tank. "

For those of us who are not industry insiders, can you explain this a little?

They need copies of their deal memos, contracts, client information, their Rolodex (an antiquated term for contact information), development status reports, maybe inner office memos and emails, etc. Restaurant menus. At one time – Laker tickets.

30 wonders:

Can you explain a little about with a basic contract between an agent and talent is? What exactly are you agreeing to, to give 10% of any work the agent gets you? What if you find a job yourself without the agent's help? Still goodbye to 10%? Can you change agents readily or does 10% still go to the old agent for the contract term whether he's used or not? Can you have multiple agents in the same field? How tied is an individual agent to their agency? What's their freedom of movement? And so on...

If your agent covers that aspect of your career then yes, you’re obligated to give him 10%, even if you got the job yourself (e.g. your friend is a showrunner and over a couple of beers one night he decides to hire you). But if you’re represented as a writer and you get a gig as an actor on a show (e.g. many beers that night with the showrunner) that’s not commissionable.

You can leave your agency but they retain commissions on any contracts they negotiated while you were with them. You, as the client, are only obligated to give 10% total. It’s not like the new agent can also call for 10% commission on an existing contract.

So why would an agency take on a new client who let’s say is on staff of a show and figures to be there for several years thus paying commissions to someone else? Two reasons: The agency is making an investment in you. They figure that when the deal is up you’ll be a hot commodity and they can cash in then. And the other reason is this happens all the time so the new agency might not receive commissions from you on one project and they are still receiving commissions on another project from a client who left them.  It sort of evens out.

You generally have one agent for TV representation and one for features or theatrical, but it depends on the agency. Some have “team” structures. You could have several TV agents. Or your TV agent could be your point man and gets involved with your feature career as well. When agents package – in theory -- if you’re with an agency it’s easier to get access to actors who are also with that agency. Your rep and the actor’s rep both work on your behalf – again, in theory.

Agents will often accompany you to network pitch meetings. When we were with CAA they would send agents we had never met or seen, nor would we ever see again.

As for how tied an agent is to his agency, that’s a contractual issue and I’m sure it varies from case to case. Are there “no compete” clauses? Is the agent a partner? It can get sticky… and litigious.

One way an agency makes a bundle is by putting together package deals for TV series. If you create a show that becomes a series they take a percentage of the profits. But that also means they are not allowed to take commissions from any of their clients on shows in which they have package deals. Otherwise, it’s double-dipping. That made CHEERS an even better deal for us. We were with the agency that had the package deal on CHEERS, so for all the years we worked on it we never paid a cent of commission. 

And lastly, agents are not entitled to commissions on any residuals.

From Jerry Sayles:

How exactly is being a Hollywood agent any different than being a pimp? Is it just a better wardrobe?

No. Agents serve a very necessary function and a good one can enhance your career far beyond what you could do in that regard.

Finding work and creating work are generally two very different skill sets. As a creative person (I hate the term “artist”) breaking in I don’t know producers, network executives, studio executives. No one will take my call or read my unsolicited script. I don’t know what new trends are emerging or what new companies or platforms are about to be launched. Agents have information and access.

I always joke that when agents are courting you they always say, “Why aren’t you in a room with Steven Spielberg?” But the truth is, the right agent can get me into that room (in my case, unfortunately, that would be the restroom in the Staples Center).

A good agent can steer you to good opportunities and warn you off of bad ones. He can put together a long range plan for your career and take you down that path.  They can lobby networks.  They can broker deals, exploit leverage, etc.   Perception is reality in Hollywood and agents can create perception.

And if they’re good negotiators they can get you a lot more money than you could get yourself. And they could put clauses in the contract to protect you from any studio or network shenanigans.

Look, corporations are run by killers. I’m not a killer. I dream up funny stories. You need a killer to represent your best interests. A good agent is a godsend. And I don’t even resent that he dresses way better than me.


Hamid said...

Friday Question

You often mention Steven Spielberg, notably in your Oscar reviews. So I have to ask the inevitable: have you met Spielberg? And if you have, what did you talk about?

Steely Dan said...

Can you explain the difference between an agent and a manager? Are they interchangeable? If not, do they work together? Do you need both?

Also, I've read that Bill Murray does not have an agent. How common is that for someone of his stature in the industry?

Mitchell Hundred said...

This post is by an author rather than an actor/screenwriter, but it seems like a pretty good explanation of why agents are useful. Not only do they get you work, they negotiate payment beforehand so that you can focus on the work rather than having one party resent the other for the amount that was negotiated. Instead, both parties can resent the agent! Everybody wins.

Also, the header in the previous post said what UTA stood for, but not CAA. So I'll just assume that CAA means Canadian-Armenian Agency.

Anonymous said...

I thin the questioner was asking not about midnight raids, but Endeavor and CAA's history.

VincentS said...

"You need a killer to represent your best interests." Hm. Did you base Bibi on FRAZIER on any particular agent, Ken?

VP81955 said...

The 10 percent reference brings to mind an anecdote regarding the lady in my avatar, one of Hollywood's great (and non-malicious) practical jokers. In the mid-1930s, Carole was represented by Myron Selznick (David's brother, and a fine agent until alcoholism did him in), and he sent Lombard the usual renewal of her contract, where he would get 10 percent of everything she earned. Carole had the copy altered, where she got 10 percent of everything Myron earned. (Of course, she pointed it out to him soon after sending it back.)

Jim S said...


Friday question. With Coach returning, Boy Meets World becoming Girl Meets World, the X-Files returning, and Full House Returns rumors hitting the net, what show would you like to see come back, and which show of yours would you like to work on again. If the answer is none, why?

Brian Philllips said...

"How do you get to the restroom at Staples Center?"

"Practice, practice, practice!"

YEKIMI said...

@ Mitchell Hundred

CAA = Creative Artists Agency

Loosehead said...

Another reason why agents - separation. If they have just negotiated a million dollars an episode for you (and haven't we all been there!), you have to go back to work with the loser of that negotiation. It helps if you weren't the one playing hardball.

mmryan314 said...

Ken- So off topic but you and David made me have a good cathartic cry tonight in a MASH episode that you wrote. As tears streamed down I did think `this is comedy`but the ending brought me back . The episode was season 7:5 The Billboard Syndrome. Wow.

Lou said...

It would be great if people in regular occupations could get agents -- I'd love for someone to negotiate my salary with my boss better than I can, and keep an eye out for opportunities in my (very non-showbiz) field. Not enough money in it for them I guess.