Thanks to Vicki for sending this in :)
From LA Times:
Talent Managers’ Role Debated
Hollywood: Court case shines spotlight on a law that narrowly limits the duties they can perform.
By MEG JAMES, TIMES STAFF WRITER
The outcome of a low-profile court case between an up-and-coming actor and his former manager could send a huge jolt through the working class of Hollywood, where managers are already antsy over a new push to criminalize much of what they do.
At issue is whether the state should further limit the role that Hollywood managers play in finding jobs for their actor clients.
California has the nation’s most stringent constraints on managers in the form of the Talent Agencies Act, legal experts say. Managers are supposed to counsel and nurture their clients, but must stop short of lining up jobs or auditions. Managers can help negotiate job contracts as long as a licensed talent agent is involved. Otherwise, the law says only agents can procure work for actors or artists. “It’s a really harsh rule, too harsh on managers,” said Edwin McPherson, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in entertainment law. “In general, this rule doesn’t protect the artists; it hurts them. And it’s the lower-level artists who really lose, the ones who need the most protection.”
Actors typically hire both an agent and a manager, and their roles often become blurred because they share a financial interest. Both receive commissions that result from their clients’ acting jobs. In addition, agents rely on managers to bring them new clients, further fostering cozy relationships.
The roots of California’s Talent Agencies Act date back to the Depression, when lawmakers took action to protect actors from unscrupulous hucksters who exploited starry-eyed amateurs drawn to Hollywood in hopes of becoming the next Shirley Temple or Clark Gable. But now, industry experts say, the very rules intended as a shield for actors are being used by some as a sword.
Last week in a small Santa Monica courtroom, 28-year-old Jason Behr accused his longtime manager, Marv Dauer, of acting as an agent by arranging auditions for him. Behr terminated his contract with Dauer after he landed a role as a teenage alien on the UPN series “Roswell” and signed up with a new manager.
Behr cited the Talent Agencies Act as a way to get out of his contract with Dauer. A manager who is found in violation of the act must return a year’s worth of commissions and loses claim to any commissions from jobs that the actor landed while Dauer was his manager.
Contesting Commission on ‘Roswell’ Salary
The actor claimed in court papers that he wasn’t required to continue paying Dauer a 15% commission on his $20,000-an-episode salary from “Roswell,” even though Dauer is not accused of arranging his role on the series. Behr contended that Dauer had made calls to win him parts on everything from a tortilla chip commercial to a pilot about surfers in Hawaii and a remake of the 1970s show about the California Highway Patrol.
Behr, who will make his feature film debut next month playing Kevin Spacey’s son in “The Shipping News,” declined to comment. Those familiar with his side of the dispute said the case wound up in court only after Dauer refused to accept a lower commission from Behr’s continuing role on “Roswell” a year after their contract expired and Behr signed with another manager. Dauer’s contract with Behr would have allowed him to continue to collect commissions on the “Roswell” role as long as Behr performed it.
Behr is asking that Dauer return $68,542 in commissions that Behr paid Dauer for one year, from July 1999 to July 2000.
Dauer, who stood by his client actress Hunter Tylo five years ago when she was booted from the set of “Melrose Place” after becoming pregnant, said he can’t believe what’s happening. He maintains that he was the one who encouraged Behr to move from Minnesota to Los Angeles in 1993 and introduced Behr to a string of agents as the young actor’s profile starting rising in Hollywood.
“An entire industry is at stake here, and this could cost me my business,” Dauer said. “I got this kid his agents. I loaned him money, I kept his spirits up when he wasn’t working, I bailed him out of jail once. I told him how to dress when he was 19 years old, and I co-signed for a $27,000 car loan the week before he turned on me. And this is the thanks I get after helping him for 91/2 years.”
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Julius M. Title is expected to decide this week whether Dauer violated the Talent Agencies Act. Title made it clear that issues of loyalty or the details of Behr’s contract with Dauer were irrelevant.
“All this case is about is whether [Dauer] procured his employment,” Title said in court last week. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
Varied Opinions on the Proper Role of Managers
There is wide disagreement over just what work managers can perform.
Some managers believe they won’t run afoul of the law as long as they work in conjunction with a licensed agent. Some lawyers, however, argue that the loophole in the act is quite narrow, allowing managers to only assist in the negotiation of a contract. Others, who interpret the law more liberally, say the process of negotiating a contract can begin with a phone call to schedule an audition.
“Sometimes there are no hard and fast rules,” Jeff Witjas, Behr’s former agent from the William Morris Agency, testified last week during the four-day, nonjury trial in front of Title.
Managers who have long thought they were protected by the law’s ambiguities are becoming nervous. Adding to their concern is a recent push by the Screen Actors Guild to put more sting in the Talent Agencies Act by slapping criminal penalties on managers if they stray into the territory of state-licensed agents by performing such functions as finding clients jobs.
Talent agents, managers and some actors oppose SAG’s efforts. They say toughening the act would further hobble actors who are just starting out, those who have trouble getting noticed in the business, those still searching for their big break and the small-time managers who perform a variety of duties for their actor clients.
“You have some actors who can’t even get an agent, and if they can’t get an agent, then they’re stuck–they can’t get a job,” McPherson said.
Legal Standards Versus Hollywood Practice
There is a chasm between the laws on the books and how business is conducted in Hollywood, industry insiders say. Actors turn to managers so they can be introduced to agents, who typically have more clients than managers since agents are prohibited by law from charging more than 10%. Managers are not regulated, so there is no limit on their commissions. Most managers charge between 10% and 20% of a client’s income from acting jobs.
Agents often have 100 or more clients, whereas managers, such as Dauer, typically maintain about 15 clients, so actors often work more closely with their managers.
And managers often end up making calls on an actor’s behalf.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t get a call from a manager who said he’s made an appointment for a client or sent a tape or a head shot to a casting director,” agent Marc Bass of Meridian Artists Agency said. “If Marv Dauer did anything wrong, then he’s not doing anything different than anyone else. And if he doesn’t do what everyone else is doing, then he’s putting his clients at a distinct disadvantage.”
State Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), a former talent manager and agent, said actors want a manager who has connections.
“This is the entertainment business. Actors want jobs and managers want clients. Managers are going to do whatever they can to keep their clients happy and to generate income for themselves,” Murray said. “And what actors most want is a job.”
So few actors complain–until they’ve achieved success.
“When actors first come out here, they don’t mind paying 15% of nothing,” Murray said. “But when these actors start writing checks for $50,000, $150,000 or $1million, then they start to question the value of the services that were provided.”
About 30 complaints were filed with the state last year, alleging that a manager crossed the line into job procurement. That’s a nearly 20% increase in the number of complaints from two years ago, said David Gurley, staff attorney for the California Labor Commissioner, who determines cases of alleged abuses by managers and agents.
The cases are usually cut-and-dried. “Ninety percent of the cases in the last 20 years have been determined in favor of the artists,” Gurley said.
“All that needs to be proven is that the manager procured one engagement for the artist. Even incidental procurement in comparison to his business duties as a whole would be enough to establish a violation,” Gurley said.
Gurley acknowledged that some believe the laws are too harsh on managers. “Nevertheless, the labor commissioner must interpret the law very broadly for the protection of the artist,” he said.
Brad Grey, chief executive of Brillstein-Grey, one of Hollywood’s largest management companies, said managers face certain risks.
“We are sympathetic to those honorable management companies who find themselves vulnerable as a result of simply working diligently–in collaboration with talent agents–trying to succeed at the job they are charged to do by their clients,” Grey said.
Murray and other legislators say there’s little appetite in Sacramento for further restrictions. “We’re not going to have the manager police. It’s not worth it for actors and the state to scrutinize every phone call a manager makes.”
Besides, attempts three years ago to regulate managers stalled as quickly as they began.
“We tried and tried to find a definition of a manager so we would know who we wanted to regulate,” said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), a former actress. “But we could not define what managers are, so there was no real way to even begin.”
Instead, legislators tweaked the laws to prohibit shady managers and agents from cashing in on side businesses, such as requiring their clients to get certain photos or talent lessons.
There is no real push for further reforms other than SAG’s, Kuehl said. She noted the small number of complaints each year, compared with the more than 120,000 SAG members.
“Maybe there is no real problem here,” Kuehl said.
Dauer’s clients disagree. They say it’s not Hollywood’s top-tier management firms but the little guys, like Dauer, who find themselves in a pinch.
“The laws are flawed,” said Sonia Satra, one of seven young actors who kept a courtroom vigil during Dauer’s trial last week. “You have an agent because the law requires you to have one. And you have a manager because he helps your career. This business is hard enough, and so I think the law should allow you to have more than one person–an agent and a manager–doing anything they can to get their clients work.”