The Oregon Media Production Association, the trade association for Oregon’s film and television industry, announced a new set of standards and practices for Oregon talent agents and managers in the latest issue of its monthly newsletter The Call Sheet.
We interviewed Christopher Toyne, Chair of the OMPA Talent Committee and OMPA Board Member, about the new standards and what they mean for actors working in Oregon’s film and TV industry.
OregonFilmandTVDollars: Why did the new set of AGENCY STANDARDS & PRACTICES come about – and why they were adopted by the organization?
Christopher Toyne: I am going to answer you in simple stark facts – quite simply we have seen a huge increase of newly formed Talent representatives and so-called “managers” advertising, primarily on Craig’s List, for new talent in Portland and throughout Oregon.
The prime reason is the advent of the three high-profile network and cable shows: Leverage, Portlandia and now Grimm.
Grimm especially, being an NBC network show, is run as a news story on the local NBC affiliate almost every night. Young, naïve talent and kids just out of media studies at our local colleges want “in!” This is fertile ground for scam entities to prey on this constituency. I say “scam” because theses entities, allegedly, set up a “pay to play” scenario where in order to be represented, the potential clients have to pay big bucks up-front for the tools of the trade – such as head shots, showreel editing, workshops, lessons, make-up courses etc etc.
In the major markets of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago this is, in fact illegal. California has, for example, the Krekorian Act that specifically prohibits talent representatives from charging advance fees.
ORFilmandTVDollars: So, there are laws in other states that protect performers and ban these practices?
CT: We looked carefully at the Californian Legislation regulating agents and managers through the TAA (Talent Agencies Act) and the Krekorian Act. They made such good sense. A Talent Agent works to procure employment for performers and shall only be paid when their performers are booked to work – and after the talent has been paid by the production.
These payments take the form of a commission as a percentage of gross earnings. These should be laid out in a written contract. Sure, there can be different percentages, depending on whether the work is union or non-union, Network, Commercial, Industrial, Voice-over and so on. And note that SAG-AFTRA franchised agencies can only withhold a union-negotiated percentage, usually 10%.
Of course established, professional agencies and managers must be able to advise, even insist, on professional materials such as headshots, showreels etc. They must be able to refer their talent to approved vendors for these services. But the fees cannot be mandatory in exchange for representation or procurement of employment.
Even agency website maintenance fees must be voluntary – not obligatory. It is quite understandable and acceptable for an agent or manager to amortize the cost of web services across their roster with a small fee – equally, a client must have the right to opt out.
A special thanks must be given to Cyndi Rhoads, who represented performers and researched the two Californian legislations, and Executive Director of SAG-AFTRA Oregon Nathaniel Applefield who chaired the Agency Standards and Practices working party.
ORFilmandTVDollars: Has anything else happened to increase the need for these guide-lines?
CT: Well to put it bluntly, and having mentioned Craig’s List, the banning of the Adult Section last year has seen this disgusting trolling for naïve young talent to participate in “adult entertainment” – migrate to the Talent section. These ads are now very subtle. We hope that a ‘Safe Harbor’ of Standards, and an organization that talent can turn to for advice, might just help a little.
ORFilmandTVDollars: Where does the OMPA expect the publication of these standards to be available?
CT: Ah! This is the hot potato. Of course these Agency Standards & Practices are now published in the de facto Media Industry manual – www.sourceoregon.com. They have been vetted by the established and professional agents, managers, casting directors, performer associations and the Oregon Media Production Association (OMPA) which represents, alongside its regional associations, the State of Oregon.
Quite simply, every time we see one of these ads in Craig’s List and other sites, we will post this very simple and concise Agency Standards.
ORFilmandTVDollars: Are there legitimate talent agencies who already adhere to these standards?
CT: This is an easy question to answer. There are about ten agents and managers who have vast experience in our Portland and Oregon market and have been established for many years. They are all members of the Oregon Media Production Association and are listed in the Talent Section of www.sourceoregon.com. Each one has signed onto – and adher to – the Agency Standards and Practices. Most importantly, to be listed, they have been vetted as legitimate businesses.
ORFilmandTVDollars: Can you sum up the need for these standards?
CT: Quite simply, professional performers should NEVER pay for the opportunity to work. Genuine work opportunities come with an offer of fair pay for fair work. Never “Pay to Play,” and if it seems too good to be true, with offers of roles on Grimm and Leverage if you sign up, “It is too good to be true!”