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Avoid Fraudulent Talent Agents

Toronto’s entertainment industry has been concerned for some time about a growing problem of unethical talent, modelling and background agencies. These agencies claim to be part of the legitimate industry but are really in business to defraud thousands of people every year out of millions of dollars. They use methods that include:

  • Bogus “guarantees” of work,
  • High up-front registration fees
  • Contracts requiring clients to purchase services – such as photos, Internet pages and acting classes – for grossly inflated prices.

There's a right way and a wrong way to get started in the film, television and modelling business. If you're interested in working in films or television, have you…

  • Found an agent through an ad in a newspaper?
  • Been told that your baby needs professional photos to support his or her acting career?
  • Been approached on the street, in a mall or solicited by telephone?
  • Been told that a job is guaranteed as soon as you sign a contract with an agency?
  • Been pressured into signing a contract without being given time to think it over?
  • Paid for an agent to represent you or paid just to get an audition?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, chances are that you are NOT dealing with a legitimate talent agent or background agent. While most talent agents operate within standard industry norms and are ethical - some are not. They prey on the fact that people don't know what standard industry practices are.

You've been discovered?

Probably not. Talent agents don't go looking for clients in malls or bars or trade shows. If you're approached, call the agency and ask questions. Check The Agents Book or call AMIS - the Acting & Modelling Information hotline at 416-977-3832. Or subscribe to the CanadianActor Online Discussion Boards and get immediate advice from industry professionals.

How the real entertainment industry works

Agents do not advertise - According to the Entertainment Industry Code of Ethics, talent and background agents cannot advertise to the general public.

Agents don't provide photographic services or give classes - A reputable agent may suggest specific photographers or classes to you but cannot require you to use them.

Children and extras do not need professional quality photos - Babies and toddlers never need professional photos. Extras need to provide a snapshot to their agents. Children under the age of ten do not need professional photos unless they are working regularly.

An agent cannot guarantee work - An agent who tells you that they have work for you must give you a copy of the signed contract along with the details of the job (who is hiring you, what you will be paid, etc.)

Agents are not casting directors and they don't do screen tests - Agents earn commissions when their clients work. Casting directors are paid by the production and never take money from performers for any reason.

Agents specialize - Agents usually represent actors, extras OR models. Be wary if the agency claims to represent all of these categories. Legitimate agents make their money from commissions from your fees: 10% for theatre, 15% for film and TV, 20% for print and modelling fees.

No experience or training? - A talent agent will rarely represent you if you have no experience or training. Legitimate talent agents usually require actors to have some professional training and some theatre or film experience. Only background agents will represent inexperienced people who have no training and will generally try to get them non-speaking roles as extras.

Organizations from the legitimate entertainment industry banded together in 1996 to create the Entertainment Industry Coalition – a broad-based committee representing virtually the entire “talent” side of the Toronto industry. The EIC wrote down what clients should expect from legitimate agents in the EIC Code of Ethics and distributes this Code to arm the public with information about how legitimate agents operate.

The Entertainment Code of Ethics

  1. An agent will be truthful in his or her statements to the client
  2. An agent will not advertise to the general public for the purpose of soliciting clients through advertising placed in any form of printed or electronic media (newspapers, flyers, magazines, telephones, the Internet, fax, CD-ROM or mailings, etc.)
  3. It is not a condition of representation that an agent stipulates the photographer, printer, school or any other service provider for the client. Should an agent have any financial interest in above named businesses, full disclosure about said interest must be provided.
  4. If an agent recommends a service provider in which they have a financial interest, it must be disclosed to the client at the time of recommendation.
  5. An agent will make no claims or guarantees of employment to prospective clients that cannot be immediately substantiated.
  6. An agent will use all reasonable efforts to assist the client in procuring employment in the legitimate entertainment industry.
  7. An agent will not commingle monies belonging to clients with monies belonging to the agent, but will keep such monies in a separate account, which may be known as the client’s account or trust account.
  8. An agent will pay each client his or her share of all monies received on behalf of the client in a timely manner. All monies belonging to the client received by the agent shall be faithfully accounted for by the agent and promptly paid over to the client.
  9. An agent will tell the client at the time of signing a representation agreement which deductions from the client’s share of money the agent may make for expenses such as materials, photos, voice tapes, commissions and so on. However, the agent will make clear the client’s option to undertake the management of any or all of his own materials.
  10. An agent will, upon request, make available to a client or prospective client a complete current list of clients represented by the agency.
  11. An agent will represent all clients in good faith and recognize the uniqueness of the client’s abilities. An agent will maintain an office, records and such materials necessary to conduct business normally deemed necessary to function as an agent.
  12. An agent will agree to be equipped and to continue to be equipped to represent the client ably and diligently in the legitimate entertainment industry and to so represent the client.
  13. And agent will maintain the confidentiality of all dealings on behalf of the client both during representation and after the representation has terminated.
  14. An agent will not accept employment as an actor.
  15. An agent will maintain an accessible office and telephone during all reasonable business hours.
  16. An agent or designate will be available, at all reasonable hours, for consultation with the client.
  17. An agent will inform the client, upon request, of any all activities undertaken on the client’s behalf.
  18. An agent will maintain proper financial books and records.
  19. An agent will make all books and records pertaining to a client available to the client on a regular business day upon forty-eight hours notice.
  20. An agent will inform a new client that commission due to a former agent be kept current.
  21. An agent will accept no employment on the client’s behalf without informing the client of his or her obligations, such as details of fees, performance credit, working conditions and so on.
  22. An agent will negotiate terms and conditions of any employment opportunities offered in consultation with the client.
  23. An agent will recognize and uphold the client’s prerogative to refuse any and all employment opportunities offered.

Note: If you have signed a contract but have not received the services for which you’ve paid, the Ontario Pre-paid Services Act gives you five working days to cancel the contract and get your money back. The courts have ruled over and over that photographic services fall under the provisions of that act and must be refunded if you cancel within the time limit. Cancel the contract with a registered letter.

The Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services offers consumer advice on how to protect yourself from common scams at www.cbs.gov.on.ca and wants to hear from you if you’ve got a complaint about a particular business. If you have been approached or have signed a contract with someone you think may be an unethical agent, call the Ministry at (416) 326-8800 or toll free at 1-800-889-9768.

Complaints about agencies should be communicated to the following:

  • The newspaper in which you saw the ad for the agency;
  • The credit card company which has given the agency credit card privileges;
  • Document the names of the people who you talked to at the agency and the promises they made;
  • Call the AMIS hotline at (416) 977-3832 and tell them about your complaint so that this information will be registered on its database. At present, one agency has been convicted for criminal fraud, as a direct result of information provided to AMIS;
  • Call the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services at (416) 326-8800 to register your complaint about a particular business if you think you’ve been scammed.

If the agency advertises for clients, you can ask Industry Canada to investigate - write to Director of Investigation and Research, Competition Bureau, Industry Canada, Place du Portage 1, 50 Victoria Street, Hull, Quebec, K1A 0C9.

The EIC is supported by:

  • The Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA)
  • Talent Agents and Managers Association of Canada (TAMAC)
  • Theatre Ontario
  • Acting and Modelling Information Service (AMIS)
  • Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA)
  • Casting Directors Society of Canada (CDC)
  • Toronto Association of Acting Studios (TAAS)
  • Union des Artistes (UdA)
  • … and independent casting directors and agents working and living in the Toronto area.

*Information adapted from The Guide to Talent Agents, Managers & Casting Directors in the Toronto Area published by ACTRA Toronto Performers, from AMIS and from the CanadianActor Online Discussion Boards.

 


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