The Cost of Working with Agencies
As we discussed last week, it’s often easier to land auditions for paid work when you are signed with an agency. But then you might be thinking, “Paid work sounds great. But what is the cost to me?” Well before we dive into the thick of it, let’s get one thing straight. While searching for representation, you may encounter agencies that ask you to pay them in order to get signed. Should this happen to you, RUN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION. This is not a legitimate agency! It’s important to know which agencies in the industry are reputable so that you don’t get conned into a bad contract. An agency should never ask you for money, with one exception: commission reimbursement (see explanation below). That said, your agency might ask you to spend money to improve your chances of getting auditions. Remember: agencies want you to succeed. When you make money, they make money. An agency may ask you to spend money to invest in yourself, in your career. How might that investment look?
Agents may ask you to spend money to update your headshots. If your photos are outdated or aren’t of the best quality, then they have a good reason to ask this of you. They aren’t, however, forcing you to do this. Rather, they are suggesting that you spend the money on new headshots so that you can maximize your opportunities.
Welcome to the digital age. Casting websites are commonplace, and agencies use them! Therefore, you will be asked to upload your photos to whichever casting sites your agency uses. It costs around $25 to upload each photo to each website. This is where it can get pricy. Again, your agency can’t make you do this; but doing so increases the likelihood of getting booked. You will not pay your agency for these uploads. Instead, you will pay the casting websites directly for any fees incurred.
In the industry there is non-union work and union work. Everyone starts out as a non-union worker. There are many ways that you can become eligible to join the union.
Most common, your agent sends you to an audition where casting directors are looking at both union and non-union dancers, you then book the job, and your contract is a “union” contract (even though you are not part of the union). After completing the job, you become “SAG-eligible.” Which then means you have the option to join if you want. Again, this is just one of a few ways to join the union. Keep in mind, union fees amount to about $3,000. While the union offers perks (i.e., healthcare, high wages, no contract-no work), it doesn’t necessarily suit everyone’s needs. Depending on your professional goals, you may or may not find SAG appealing. If you become SAG, you cannot take a non-union job. Still, it is a good conversation to have with your agent, when the time comes. Again, you wouldn’t pay union fees to your agency. This payment can be made online and should go directly to SAG. Any agency that asks you to hand over $3,000—particularly before you’ve even signed with the company—is just trying to take your money. You can’t become a SAG member unless you have done enough credible work.
To find more information regarding the steps to join SAG, please see the link below: https://www.sagaftra.org/membership-benefits/steps-join
Circling back to the beginning of our conversation, there is one instance in which you will write your agent a check. If you complete a job and the production company sends the check directly to you, then you will need to reimburse you agency for its due commission. All checks coming from production companies should go directly to the agencies, but this doesn’t always happen. If you receive the check from the production company, then you will need to disclose the check amount to your agency. This is when you will then write a check to the agency for its 10-20% commission. For most dance jobs, it’s 10%. But be sure to confirm this with your agent If you book a job not through your agent (e.g., through a friend), then you will still have to pay your agent his/her 10%. Don’t try to hide this, because your agents will find out! It’s just dishonest to try to hide that income. Be professional.
One question I hear quite often is how do I know if an agency is legit? Below is a list of established, trustworthy agencies in the LA area for commercial dance:
- Bloc Agency
- Movement Talent Agency (MTA)
- Clear Talent Group
- Go 2 Talent Agency
- McDonald / Selznick Associate Talent Agency (MSA)
There are, of course, other agencies in Los Angeles. Those may specialize in acting, musical theater, fitness, vocal performance, modeling, etc. If you have a diverse background in the performance industry, then an agency different from those listed above may be better for you. Have an honest discussion with your prospective agencies about the opportunities they can provide you for commercial dance. If they don’t represent dancers, then you can always get a second agent. You could have one for acting and one for dance, or one for dance and one for fitness. I’ve seen this a few times! But it’s important to have that conversation with your agents to see if they can provide representation for you across several areas of specialty. You can also usually find what kind of talent each agency represents on their website.
If you research the five agencies I have listed above, you will see that they represent major choreographers in the industry. If a choreographer has last-minute work or a job that requires a lot of dancers, it is very possible that he/she will hire people from his/her same agency. This is just another reason why I have specifically suggested the above-listed agencies for commercial dance. But if you sign with another agency, please first do thorough research and verity that it is legit.