Residuals and the Waiting Game

29 06 2015

A quick primer: WHAT ARE RESIDUALS? This is very general, as the world of residuals is a strange and scary place, with lots of twists and turns, and different rates and equations, and math is not my forte. Essentially, when you are paid for working on an episodic (tv show), your pay covers the shoot days, and the first airing of the show – unless the contract states otherwise. Subsequent airings of the episode you shot require the payment of RESIDUALS. The amount of your residuals in television, is based on the original pay you received. If your show is on cable television, the 2nd airing of the show will usually pay you 50% of the original fee you received, with exceptions. A network show pays more on the 2nd airing, and more on 3rd airing and 4th and so on.

For films, the residuals are significantly harder to figure out. Your residuals on film work are based on a complex equation that includes: the number of days you worked, the pay you received, the number of people working on the film that have specific “stakes” in it, and finally, the number of DVD sales. Once the movie moves to tv distribution, and Netflix distribution, etc, there may be more residuals there too. I worked on BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE 2 nearly 10 years ago, and I still get nice little $150 residual checks from that! But that movie is a very popular film, this is not something that happens with GARGATUAN MONKEYS FROM HELL, know what I mean?

The point is, the money you make on the job itself, if it is a SAG/AFTRA productions is not the FINAL amount you will make on that job. Keep that in mind when you are bitching about driving three hours or MORE to an audition, or when you are regional hire and have to drive your ass to another state. 🙂

This next bit is going to be a way for you to benefit from the mistakes I have made with my agent, or folks have made with me as their agent. To protect the guilty, myself included, I will not tell you which is which.

When Newly Signed to an Agency, RELAX YOURSELF

Somewhere along the way, some well-meaning professor or coach or hapless actor-friend told you that with an agent, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. Inferring that calling your agent to check in is an important thing to do in order to insure you are getting submitted for all the work you SHOULD BE GETTING SUBMITTED FOR DAMMIT! SO in the beginning, maybe you call your agent once a week for the first few months, when you haven’t gotten an audition yet, and you leave a message saying something like, “Hi! It’s Ann Mahoney. Just calling to see if you have any auditions for me!”

Let me say this: IF your agent signed you in earnest, and IF you really are good and well-trained, and have amazing head shots, your agent is submitting you. Sometimes it takes a but before casting directors will call in a NEWBIE! Especially a newbie with no resume! If you aren’t getting ANY auditions after 6 months or so, maybe you got your Uncle to do FREE head shots for you. 🙂 MAYBE you need a little film experience so you have a reel! (See Chapter 6)

Also, it is important to have self-assuredness and self-confidence, but I literally passed on representing a talented 11 year old one time, because they came on so strong. I thought, “If they are like this NOW, what is going to happen when they book work and are on set?” The mother insisted that her daughter be on my “A List” immediately, and elaborated on the agents they had had previously that “didn’t do ANYTHING for her daughter”.

The girl was talented, don’t get me wrong, but talent doesn’t mean you will book immediately and often. I pictured myself fielding endless irate calls from this Mom, about what I wasn’t “doing” for her daughter. I politely declined… and I am REALLY glad I did. All this is to say, you absolutely have to have a good ego in pace to do this job, and you shouldn’t play down your talents and skills, especially to your agent. But don’t be a diva. EVER. Even when you are booking work left and right.

Answer Emails in Record Time

The business has a lot of wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait


Seriously. When your agent emails you – ANSWER. YES even if you haven’t heard from them in months. ANSWER. Check your emails!!!!!!!

More later…

Is Your Agent Legitimate?

22 06 2015

Before we get into the Dos and Donts of having an agent: a word about being sure your agent is legitimate. There are agents called SAG SIGNATORY agents, who are legitimate, but they aren’t the ONLY agents who are legitimate. There are many agencies, including the one I run and the folks who are my personal agents, who are NOT SAG Signatory Agents and are totally legitimate. Here is how to tell if your agent is legit. Don’t sign with an agent if they:

  1. Want any money up front. The exception to this may be if you have absolutely NO film training and they want you to take an inexpensive film class, from an instructor (there should be more than one!) they approve of.

  2. Want to take more than 10% of the GROSS of your wages for film/tv work, or more than 15% of the GROSS of your print/convention work.

  3. Tell you after an audition with them, that you have been “selected” to audition at a convention for a bunch of casting directors. You just have to pay $1200 entrance fee, and have to fly yourself there, and have to put yourself up at a hotel, and the parents have to come too. *(more on this below)

  4. Sign an exclusive contract “in perpetuity,” or for a long time period.

*While the convention itself may be completely

real, and there may be real live casting directors

there, you are better off meeting those casting

directors when you are called in for an ACTUAL

audition for an ACTUAL tv show or film.

Completely legitimate things an agent may ask you to do:

  1. Sign an exclusive contract. Particularly in the Southeast, we have a lot of overlap in regions, and if you are not exclusive represented by ONE agent, it can actually mess up what you are submitted for, and in which location. Most contracts should be for between 12 and 18 months, and renew automatically unless you indicate wanting to leave the agency near the renewal date.

  2. Give them 10% of the GROSS of wages you earn doing film, television, or commercial work. You have to pay your agent 10% of the GROSS because your agent has to pay taxes on it as well! So, if you only pay them 10% of the net – we pay the government taxes twice. Let’s not do that. Here is an easy equation: the total amount of what you are paid – BEFORE A SINGLE THING IS TAKEN OUT – is the GROSS. You owe your agent 10% of that. Your gross is $4000, you owe your agent $400, your gross is $876.98, you owe your agent $87.70. * (see exceptions below)

  3. Give them 15% of the GROSS of wages you earn doing Print or Convention work.

  4. Give them 10% of the RESIDUALS you receive from a film/tv job they booked and negotiated for you FOR THE LIFETIME of that JOB. So, if you decide to leave the agent that booked you that role on GARGANTUAN MONKEYS FROM HELL, you still owe them residuals from that film for as long as you get residuals. Same applies to the 15% from Print/Convention work.

  5. They may ask you to sign a CHECK AUTHORIZATION, which allows your agency to have your checks mailed to THEM. The checks will still be MADE OUT TO YOU, not to the agency. The reason many agencies want you to sign a check authorization to have your checks mailed to them, is because otherwise they have to go chasing around after their money. My agency is very small, but even with only 35 clients, if I have to run around after 35 checks several times a year, it is a nightmare. Same for residuals. There are actors who do not pay their agents residuals, assuming that they “don’t know” about the residuals. Believe me, if a year or two goes by on a job they booked for you and they aren’t seeing 10% of the residuals – THEY KNOW. And it is a breach of contract.

* Exceptions to the 10% of GROSS being owed

agent. You do not owe your agent 10% of a

travel or mileage fee if you are paid that. You

also do not owe your agent 10% of per diem, if

you receive that during your work.

More later…

Getting and Agent

15 06 2015

The business is full of Catch-22s, which will drive you mad if you let them. You can’t get an agent until you work, you can’t work until you get an agent. I can share with you my journey, my rather short journey, to getting an agent. But know this, there are as many paths to getting an agent as there are people in the world. I have a unique perspective on this now, because I have been on both sides of the battle to get an agent.

One of my OTHER jobs, is that I currently have a very tiny roster of kids, teens, and college-aged actors that I represent. I get email requests for representation daily, and I ignore 99% of them. When I get someone’s headshot and resume in the mail, I usually toss it in the trash without opening it – really. I am not a jerk, but I really want my roster to remain small and effective. So, I only take submissions through referrals at this time: referrals from local casting directors. OCCASIONALLY I will take a referral from a fellow actor, or teacher. But mostly, the folks I represent have come to me through an industry referral.

First, before you even attempt getting an agent, make sure you have your ducks in a row. Have a really REALLY good set of 2-5 head shots, showing slightly varying looks. Though you may have played a nerdy high school student, a British spinster, an aging debutante, and an axe murdered in college, your film/tv work will be significantly less vast and varied – especially initially. SO you need a headshot that looks like YOU and is done by a PROFESSIONAL.

When you get to emailing agents, don’t just cut and paste an general email and change names. Do your research! Ask actors you know who their agent is, and if they like them. THEN, find out if the agency has a website! GO TO THE WEBSITE, AND READ EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM, especially take note of their SUBMISSIONS POLICY. For my agency, I have very specific needs for the agency listed on my submission info page. I specifically state, “I DO NOT NEED ANY CLIENTS UNDER THE AGE OF FOUR,” however, I get SEVERAL parents asking me to represent their infants and toddlers every day. What that tells me, is that those parents QUICKLY WANT REPRESENTATION, but are not willing to do the work to understand the needs of the agency. Not a great way to start a relationship.

Lastly, BEFORE you begin pursuing an agent, and therefore auditions/work – get your shit together and have a mode of transportation. Really. I am all for leaving less of a footprint on the world, so your mode of transportation can be a really reliable BIKE, but have a mode of transportation! Not being able to GET to auditions is really the worst excuse for not having a career, right? Remember, there is a lot of traveling to auditions these days, and you are better off having a CAR that you can DRIVE to auditions, or to do regional hire work.

Once have your shit together, and you know which agency, or agencies you are interested in, pursue them in the proper way:

  1. Go to classes offered where the agent/agency is the featured speaker.

  2. Get into student films, or put together your own films to have some experience, and to put together a demo reel.

  3. WORK in the industry, in a job, to UNDERSTAND what it is really like on set, and decide if it is FOR YOU.

  4. Seek out coaches who are WORKING film/tv actors, and work on the craft with them.

  5. GO SEE local films, get involved in the film festivals, go to local plays, AUDITION for local plays. In short, get yourself out there.

  6. IF the agency’s submission policy allows for sending a headshot/resume/demo reel, by all means do so. I do not recommend sending one if the submissions policy specifically says not to.

Having realistic expectations is really important in this business. I have been there too, fresh out of college, with lots of great theatre credits, lots of great compliments from great directors, lots of training, expecting to just GET WORKING. The truth is, you aren’t really there yet IF it isn’t falling into your lap! Don’t be afraid to be humble, take classes, meet people, and get more training. THAT is how you will eventually get an agent!

More later…

On Keeping Relevent

8 06 2015

It is also important for your head shot to CHANGE for you to remain RELEVANT. The obvious reasons for a head shot change are: you gained weight, you lost weight, you cut all your hair off, you dyed your hair a drastically different color. However, the other reason to change out a head shot is much more subtle, and has nothing to do with how you look. It has to do with casting directors seeing you again for the first time.

Imagine you are a casting director. You see hundreds of submissions for thousands of roles every year. For a certain amount of time, particularly if you are working a lot, that sameness of head shot may be comforting. “Oh look, there’s Ann Mahoney again!” But after a while, a year or two, the same head shot COULD become like “jeans” to the casting director: they won’t even really SEE your head shot anymore. Let me explain.

A friend of mine who is a costume designer refuses to put jeans on any actor onstage. Refuses. She says putting jeans on an actor is a non-choice, and that so many people in our everyday world wear jeans we don’t even SEE them anymore. They aren’t a part of what we look at on a person’s outfit, they almost blend into the background, because EVERYONE wears them ALL THE TIME.

It is my opinion, that having the same headshot for more than two years at a time makes you almost fade into the background as a casting director looks through a stack of head shots. Comforting for a while, but then, more like jeans. If your head shot is working for you, then go go go! But if you feel a lull in your work, or like you are ready to show something new, get those new head shots. Keep on trend. Keep relevant.

More later…

On Headshots

1 06 2015

The head shot is your introduction to the professional acting world. In-person introductions are rare these days, and usually only occur with actors who are established. If you are just starting out, your HEAD SHOT is your KEY to getting any interest from agents, casting directors, and directors. I PROMISE. This is why it mystifies me when an actor goes for “free” head shots, in the name of saving money. If you were a race car driver, would you get a less fast car that was falling apart, just because it was free? You could, but you won’t win any races with it. Your head shots are the first thing about YOU that anyone will see. They need to WORK for you. No matter how awesome your photographer Aunt is, or your friend who is in photography school is, you need to get the right photographer to take your head shots

As an agent, one of my other jobs, I get a lot of push back from parents about getting their kids “professional” head shots. They insist that the school photos are great, or that their brother, or father, or family portrait photographer CAN DO IT. I can tell you that it takes three times as much effort on my part to get kids with terrible head shots in for an audition. Getting professional head shots done shows that you have a level of seriousness about what you are doing, and are willing to INVEST in your success. Be careful how you invest your dollars, however, and do your research before choosing a head shot photographer.

How do you find a great head shot photographer? Ask. Find out what actors are WORKING in your area, then find out who photographs them. If you happen to go to a workshop taught by a casting director, ask THEM who they recommend for head shots locally.

There are certain aspects of the business where you must be CURRENT to be RELEVANT. The preferred style of headshot DOES change, and you want to be on top of the trends. Unfortunately, if your acting professor has not done any recent professional work in the film/tv world, their perspective on a “good” headshot may not be relevant anymore. When I was finishing grad school, I got black and white head shots and held on to them for dear life, even after the black and white trend had faded away. I still ADORE a black and white headshot, but that is not the trend anymore. As of this writing, in the Fall of 2014, the trend in New Orleans is: natural light, simple make-up, simple hair, neutral clothing, simple SHOT OF YOUR HEAD in color. I know this because that is what I see day in and out through being an agent, and doing auditions myself.

More later….