How and when do Agents get paid

Wendy Alane Wright

Wendy Alane Wright

Whatever money you’re making from acting is not all yours. From that, you’re paying your manager, your agent, and Uncle Sam (if you’re in the U.S.).

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How and When Are Agents Paid

Hey, actors! Wendy Alane Wright, Hollywood Talent Manager, Los Angeles, California and I’m answering questions about how the business works from actors who have been answering questions below my videos for years. 

And the questions that I’ll be answering now are:

  • How long should your contract be? 
  • How can you get out of a contract? 
  • How and when do reps get paid? 
  • How much commission does a rep earn? 

It’s four questions from four different actors. I’m going to compile that into one answer, one blog post. Here we go.

How Long Should My Contract Be?

Your contract should be around two years long. No longer than that. If you are signing with a manager, it’s probably two years. If you are signing with an agent, it’s one year. In each contract, there’s usually an out clause that says, “If you are not offered a bona fide job offer within 6 months, you can dissolve the contract or they can dissolve the contract.” Either party can dissolve the contract. 

So basically what happens when an agent or a manager signs you, is they are taking a chance, gambling on their gut instinct that they think maybe they could get you auditions and maybe you could book them. And based on your training and your ability as an actor, looks like a pretty good chance. 

They will sign you for one year and they start submitting you for auditions and it’s a trial year. They’re checking to see if you are showing up for auditions. Are you getting coached for your auditions? What do yourself-tapes look like when you are asked to self-tape? Do you turn them in on time? When they ask you for new headshots, do you get them? When they ask you for new clips, do you get them? 

And you’re also checking them out. Do they respond to your emails in a timely fashion? Do they answer your questions? Do you have good communication skills? Do they understand if you need to go to a wedding? Because you have a life and sometimes your family reunion is happening in Hawaii and everyone is going and you’re going. Sometimes you have to turn down things, but not too many things. So if they can keep that in perspective like this actor shows up 99% of the time but they’re going off with their family to a reunion. That makes sense. 

So there has got to be a sense of reasonable communication and reasonable expectations. In a meeting with your agent, you should have a conversation about what do you expect from me? And what can I expect from you in terms of communication? How often will we communicate? What kind of communication do you prefer, phone, email, text, parachute, balloon delivery, I mean how do you want me to communicate with you?

How Can I Get Out Of Contract?

You get out of the contract if either party breaches the terms of the contract. So, most management and agency contracts are boilerplate, which means standard language. It’s the same for everybody’s management contracts are almost all the same. If it’s a SAG franchised agency, SAG gives the contracts that they want agents to use so all agents use the same SAG franchised-approved contracts. If the agency is not SAG-approved, they are not going to be using a SAG-approved contract. And not all agencies are SAG-approved. There’s also the NTA, the National Talent Agent Association, and they have a relationship with certain agencies. And as you may or may not know, the big, big agencies, CAA, and ICM, are not involved with SAG at all. 

The contract has some really standard language in it and that’s basically, “I’m going to work for you on your behalf to get you opportunities for employment and you are going to take those opportunities and do the work.” 

As you read through the contracts, it’s pretty much standard. You can always cross out things you don’t agree with with a red mark. Just cross it out. Talk about it with your agent. You don’t have to sign exactly what they give you. You can negotiate certain things. It’s a contract so it can be negotiated and you want to sign something you feel comfortable with. 

If you sign a 2-year contract with a manager, it’s because it takes time to develop the package of an actor, headshots, clips, all that stuff. You might come to them with a great package and that might be it. They might be like, “We are ready to go.” Sometimes a manager will sign an actor before they have that package and it will take a year to develop that package. So the contract will be for 2 years, a year to develop the package and then a year to see if you get auditions.

How And When Do Reps Get Paid?

How do reps get paid? They get paid when you earn money. When you earn money, they get paid. A manager gets paid 20% or 15% over every single penny that you make in the entertainment business. Period. Whether it’s for a music contract or a performance venue or your t-shirt sales or acting job, it doesn’t matter, an endorsement job, whatever it is, your manager takes a commission over every dollar, 15 cents of every dollar you make. 

Your agent earns 10 cents on every dollar you make, that’s 10%. They earn that if you book a job they send you on an audition for. So if they get you on an audition and you go in and you book it, you’ll get paid a thousand dollars and they will earn a hundred.

How Much Commission Does A Rep Earn?

Well, everybody gets paid out of that $1,000. If you are booking a job that pays $1,000, your agent’s commission is earned on that thousand dollars. That’s $100. Your manager’s commission is also earned on that $1,000, that’s $150 to the manager. Everything comes out of the $1,000, the $1,000 mark. Just because you paid your agent 10% and now it’s $900, your manager doesn’t take a commission on the $900. They take a commission on the $1,000 amount. 

The government takes its taxes on the $1,000 amount and the Social Security, all that stuff is based on the $1,000 amount. So at the end of the day, after your agent, manager, and the government take their shares of the money that you’ve earned and the money they’ve earned, it’s half. So if the job pays $1,000, you can expect the check for $500. If the job pays $10,000, you can expect to take home $5,000. 

That is how agents and managers get paid. When you get paid, the agent earns their commission from the $1,000 and sends the check to your manager. The manager takes their 15% from the $1,000 and sends the check to you. And that government has already taken their money out of it. That’s how that works. 

We have so many great questions like: When should you join the union? How to meet casting directors? Should I create an acting website? Is social media important? Will that help me get more jobs? What’s the difference between a co-star and a guest star? 

So many questions and I can’t wait to answer every single one of them. I believe in you and I’m taking my valuable, precious time to do what I love most, which is to teach new actors how the business works so that you could live your dreams and so that when I turn on my television, I’ll see you there. I’ll see you on the red carpet.

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