*The following information was obtained from AFTRA homepage. All credit for information goes to AFTRA.
What is a “franchised agent” ?
A “franchised agent” is a person, firm or corporation that has entered into an agreement with AFTRA under which they agree to abide by certain rules and conditions when dealing with performers who work within AFTRA’s jurisdiction. In most cities, AFTRA members are required to deal only with franchised agents for the purpose of securing and negotiating employment contracts.
How does an agent become franchised?
In order to receive and maintain a franchise from the union, the applicant must demonstrate that the agency is a legitimate business, registered with the state or city when required, that, among other things, maintains proper office space, surety bonds, and client trust accounts. The agent must also demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the entertainment/agency business. If you wish to become franchised by AFTRA, please contact the local AFTRA office closest to your agency. A list of local offices can be found by clicking here.
When and how much should I pay my agent?
No franchised agent may charge a higher rate of commission than 10%. In some cases, an agent must negotiate your fee above the minimum scale, or in other words, “scale plus 10%” in order to collect commission on a job. This rule may vary according to the local area in which you work, or the collective bargaining agreement you are working under. Always check with your local AFTRA office for specific rules.
An agent may only receive a commission when and if you receive compensation for your employment. Agents may not charge up-front fees of any kind. They may not require you to attend a specific school or use a specific photographer as a condition of representation. If the agent does have some suggestions on these subjects, you should be supplied with a list of several schools or photographers.
What if my agent wants me to sign a contract?
Franchised agents are required to use only the standard form contract or a union approved contract when signing clients. Be aware that an exclusive contract generally means that all work obtained while the contract is in effect is subject to commission by that agent. You may obtain a release from the contract under certain circumstances. All terminations must be in writing. Please copy the AFTRA Agency Department on all terminations and include the name of your new agent.
What if I find myself in a dispute with my agent?
Contact your AFTRA Local and ask to speak to a staff person familiar with the Regulations Governing Agents. Disputes between an AFTRA member and a franchised agent that have not been resolved informally, may be submitted to arbitration for resolution. The cost of arbitration is usually less than going to court and is generally concluded in a short period of time. An arbitrator’s decision is final and binding on both parties. But remember, not all conflicts must end in arbitration. Many conflicts can be resolved through consultation with your AFTRA office and through good communication with your agent.
What is the difference between an agent and a manager?
Although both agents and managers function similarly at times, a simple distinction between the two can be made by observing that agents negotiate and service employment contracts, while managers are supposed to engage in career direction (i.e. advising clients on the presentation of artistic talents, introducing clients to agents and casting directors, etc.) and the overall management of the artist’s career and business.
Unlike agents, AFTRA does not franchise managers. Therefore, AFTRA cannot regulate the fees they charge. Although your Local office may be able to answer general questions, AFTRA cannot arbitrate or resolve disputes involving managers.
In some states, persons who secure employment must be licensed as talent agents by the city or state in which they are doing business. There are sometimes exceptions for attorneys, and certain fields of work are granted exemptions under various state laws (Sound Recordings in California, for example).
Always do your homework and investigate the reputation of a manager, talk with other colleagues and check out references. A good manager should understand your concerns.
Now that I know some of the rules, how do I get an agent?
There are hundreds of talent agents of various types and sizes out there. Finding the one agent that is right for you is a formidable task. It involves dedication, persistence and a game plan.
Determine what your interests and needs are. Then, target those agencies on the AFTRA Franchised Agents List. You may obtain this list by calling your AFTRA office. Also, ask your performer friends about their agent and see if they can put in a good word for you, or refer you to another agent.
Performers often find agents through friends and fellow performers. Get involved with activities that will put you in touch with other performers, such as workshops, membership meetings, casting showcases and special seminars.
Agents want experience. Get involved in a play or showcase and send invitations to your targeted agents. Check the trades for casting calls, and contact casting directors directly.
Tailor your resume to the specific area of representation in which you are interested (i.e. – If you are looking for a commercial agent, list your commercial credits first). Always keep your resume current and remember to include all union affiliations.
Submit appropriate photos. Commercial agents require different types of photos from theatrical agents. If you have a film or tape of yourself you may want to submit it either in addition to or in lieu of a photo. An audio demo should generally not exceed three minutes.
Always send your submission to a specific person at the agency. Indicate in your cover letter that you are seeking representation and state why you would like to be represented by them. Keep notes of the agents to whom you submitted your pictures, as well as the date of submission and any response or comments. (Several articles in the AFTRA Magazine have been devoted to the process of finding jobs.)
Interview your Agent
Now that you’ve got the interview, make the most of it. If you’ve done your homework you will already know his/her reputation in the industry, connections, background and possibly some clients. But it is a good idea to check these out again. Ask questions. Interview your agent. Your agent works for you and you work with your agent. The ideal relationship will be satisfying and beneficial for both parties.
An important note: Don’t call your agent just to shoot the breeze. Although you may have a great relationship, they are generally very busy people and we’ve been told it really gets their goat.
Feel free to visit our alumni success stories.