QUESTION FOR FILMTVLAW.COM
Recently I heard Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio are deciding not to work with agencies and choosing representation through managers or entertainment attorneys instead. Is that legal? I thought actors could only be repped by talent agencies?
ANSWER BY BRANDON BLAKE, ENTERTAINMENT ATTORNEY:
It’s no secret that something is going on in the entertainment business in the past couple of years that is unprecedented. A-list actors and actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio are choosing to forgo the agency system altogether. There are a couple of good reasons why, and some of those reasons might not apply unless you are a well-known superstar. Please feel free to check out all of my entertainment industry articles at https://filmtvlaw.com/entertainment-lawyer-qa/.
First off, any young performer, writer or director should not write-off an offer from a major agency, as it can certainly be a career defining opportunity. Many of my clients are represented by major agencies and would not have it any other way.
But that said, some of the changes in the industry make it possible to launch a career in the entertainment business without agency representation. Of course for some, that’s not a choice. Often, major agencies are looking for a track record of solid performance (and paychecks) before committing to new talent. But then again, Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio are not exactly new to the business.
One of the principle reasons for producers and directors to work with an agency is because the agency can submit projects to Netflix, Amazon and the studios. That is an incredible window of opportunity that is difficult to get otherwise. However, recognized entertainment law firm’s like ours can also submit packaged projects to platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, in addition to the studios and major networks. So an agency, while attractive, is not strictly necessary any more.
Another consideration are fees. While most performers, writers, directors and producers would agree that 10% is a small price to pay for major agency representation, that in some ways underestimates the costs.
First off, typically performers will be represented by both an agent (10%) plus a manager (15%), which comes in at an off-the-top 25% of all earnings. Second, you are still going to have to hire an entertainment attorney to negotiate your deals, because although the deal points will be hammered out by your agent or manager, the bulk of the contract will still be negotiated lawyer to lawyer.
Finally, packaging has become so competitive that each agency locks clients into a large system of sales and production business. I don’t think very many clients are going to complain about being locked into the William Morris Endeavor system, since they do represent so many major productions, but for someone like Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio who can literally pick and choose their projects, the big agencies could actually become a limiting factor in the number of roles they can consider.
Of course there are always going to be areas where an agency of any size is going to be indispensable. In many states talent managers are prohibited from directly “soliciting employment” for clients. That does not mean a talent manager cannot help find work for a client, but it does mean that either the client will be asked to also have a licensed talent agent, or otherwise the offers for employment must be handled as introductions to projects and producers or through an entertainment attorney. For this reason, talent managers generally are more involved in long-term career building, rather than day-to-day submission for roles or writing jobs.
Likewise, agents will have access to the breakdowns of many film and television productions, which gives agents access directly to a network of casting directors who are looking to immediately fill acting roles on upcoming productions. These are duties that managers and entertainment attorneys are not going to replace.
So the good news is that there is more opportunity to break into the entertainment business than ever before, and it is no longer a system where agency representation makes or breaks a career. With some dedication and hard work, everyone can make it, whether that means an offer from a major agency, or a hardworking manager or entertainment attorney like our firm that can represent your project and get you to the next level.
Before signing a representation contract with a talent agent or talent manager, you should have the contract reviewed by an entertainment law firm like ours. The best way to make sure that you are going to be fairly represented, and are signing a good deal, is to have the agreement reviewed, and since we work with many talent agencies and management companies, we can also provide our own feedback about the reputation of the agency.
As with any entertainment matter, please do not make a decision about complex matters without consulting an experienced entertainment lawyer first. I have been representing feature film projects, television series, and recording artists for more than 18 years. Please feel free to contact my office about a quote.
- By Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer