A Rotten Tomato Grows in NJ? – Talent ‘Agent’ Requires Upfront Registration Fee

May 29, 2015 at 8:00 am | Posted in acting, actors, Actors & Agents | Leave a comment
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Exit 13 on the New Jersey Turnpike isn’t the only source for a rotten smell in the Garden State… And New Jersey Consumer Affairs, via Superior Court rulings, have in the past fined in the 6-figure range some deceptive NJ talent representatives to clean up their stench.

Talent representatives in New Jersey are governed by New Jersey Employment and Personnel Services code NJSA 34:8‐43 et seq and NJSA 56:8‐1 et seq.

Section 34:8‐51: Requirements, section b, paragraph 6 of the New Jersey statute states:

“ b.   In addition to the requirements set forth in subsection a., each employment agency which charges or may charge the job seeker a fee shall:

  “(6)  Obtain a bona fide order for employment prior to collecting any fee from a job seeker or sending out a job seeker to any place of employment…

“…no charge or advance fee of any kind shall be charged, demanded, collected, or received by the agency from a job seeker seeking employment until employment has been obtained by or through the efforts of the agency;”

Section 34:8‐65, paragraph i states:

    “Not more than one‐third of any fee, charge or commission shall be collected by the registered organization for its services or products more than 60 days in advance of the date on which the registrant provides its services or products as stated in its contract.”

‘Registrant’ being the person represented for the outreach of employment. In this case i.e. ‘actor.’

Presently, a northern New Jersey modeling and talent services organization offers the potential for talent representation partly upon an up-front fee. Located in a bucolic suburb of New York the NJ talent company charges the advance registration fee for as advertised on their website:

“One of the top child talent agencies in the NYC area, [We’re] proud to open doors of opportunity to any child or teen wanting to work in showbiz…. [Our company] also offers amazing bookings and castings… representing young talent just beginning a career in the business. Highly regarded as the go-to source for extras casting by top production companies, our actors in both Divisions work frequently in top television and film productions, commercials and print campaigns and are an elite group of budding professionals enjoying early successes.”

The talent representation company in which the owner is self-described as an agent further stresses online:

“OUR DIVISION BOOKS CHILDREN AND TEENS WITH LITTLE TO NO EXPERIENCE IN NON-SPEAKING ROLES FOR FILM, TELEVISION AND BOUTIQUE MODELING PROJECTS.”

Past readers of Answers for Actors may note a commonality of ALL CAPS UTILIZED in claims made on the websites of the alleged pay-to-play operators.

The NJ talent company charges a $249 registration fee for a division of their clients. An up-front payable for an initial interview with young actors between the ages of 2 – 17. The registration fee is lessened $50 if a code, provided on the company’s website, is utilized in the online registration process.

Along with the registration fee is an additional fee that is be checked-off and agreed to. Whether or not the additional fee is required is not made clear on the company website:

“MONTHLY FEE FOR [OUR] EXTRAS DIVISION BOOKING SOFTWARE PROFILE IS $20/mo.”

The talent company’s website advises that the interview and registration fee do not guarantee representation. Representation that, at first blush, seems mostly for background work which can be found by any civilian for virtually free on their own.

The company does have two divisions of clients. One division for background actors. The other division apparently includes: “established and emerging professional children who can be seen regularly in television, film and print projects such as Disney and Nickelodeon commercials…” After paying for the lower division how and when does the representation for talent graduate beyond background work into the second division of “professional children who can be seen regularly in television, film and print projects?” Is the registration fee for the lesser division returned once the child is submitted in response to a Breakdown to which the child is cast as a principal?

Answers for Actors learned via Thom Goff, Director of Operations, East Coast at Breakdown Services, Ltd. that the northern New Jersey operation does hold a subscription to BreakdownsBreakdowns which include principal casting (commercials, pilots, episodics, Broadway, major studio films, and respected regional theaters). The self-proclaimed “Child and Teen Self-Management” company openly advertises to book more than just background:

“OUR CURRENT ROSTER OF ACTORS AND MODELS HAVE ENJOYED TOP BOOKINGS IN MAJOR NETWORK TV SHOWS, PILOTS AND COMMERCIALS, STUDIO FEATURE FILMS ALONGSIDE A-LIST ACTORS AND DIRECTORS…”

Breakdown Services in the past has strongly frowned upon representation, with a subscription to Breakdowns, charging clients any fees beyond allowable commission (10% for franchised agents and whatever percentage a manager gets their client to agree to). Answers for Actors reached out to SAG-AFTRA’s Megan Capuano, Associate National Director, Professional Representatives for verification if the self-defined agent and company is franchised to represent union members. SAG-AFTRA’s Communications Department responded that the company in question is not franchised with SAG-AFTRA. New Jersey statute permits employment agencies and talent companies seeking work on behalf of their clients to be termed ‘agent.’ The northern New Jersey talent company is a licensed business in New Jersey to operate as an employment agency. As documented in New Jersey Employment and Personnel Services code NJSA 34:8‐43 et seq and NJSA 56:8‐1 et seq, employment agencies are not to seek or request up-front fees of clients. Actor unions also have policies barring pay-to-play representation of actors.

In addition to talent representation, acting classes, and in-house extras casting for outside production companies the northern New Jersey talent company also offers headshot packages for children at $199 advertised as being, “Child & Teen Photo Shoots by a Kids Talent Agent.” Blow-outs and make-up available at an additional $100. The $599 acting classes have check-out options during registration: Order a headshot session. Or add ‘Keep Calm & Call My Agent’ t-shirts. Two color choices. All sizes. $26.50 each.

The talent company operates in an upscale town with hillside mansions overlooking New York City in the distance. Residents include a famous, late-night talk show host. Broadway and Hollywood talent. Franchised talent agents. C.S.A. casting directors. And behind-the-scenes creatives of the entertainment industry. But several blocks from 8-figure manses that are home to entertainment pros is the talent agency requiring up-front fees for a division of the talent they represent. The talent company also has an in-house casting director whose prior experience before casting is detailed online as having, “a previous career in book publishing and store management.”

Pay-to-play-to-be-submitted-for-casting consideration operations are no longer confined to malls and McMansion bedroom communities. The questionable practices thrive and exist online, and in our backyards. Supported by neighbors we believe to be educated on questionable practices within entertainment industry’s ranks. But as long as there are the star-struck wishing to be famous there will be hands and websites holding open doors for dollars. And as long as there are adults chasing the stage and screen ambitions of their prodigy and established entertainment professionals harvesting the children to fill roles these companies, some well-known like the New Jersey operation and others existing under entertainment industry’s radar, the pay-to-play game continues.

[Author’s Note: Sourced quotes from the talent company’s website are documented via time and date stamped screen captures.]

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Elon and Wright State University. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

ACTING: Make It Your Business

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