LOS ANGELES (The Hollywood Reporter) — Hollywood’s unions are scrambling to prevent New York Gov. George Pataki from signing a bill that would amend the state’s talent agency law to allow managers to procure work for artists.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. and sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, passed both houses in June and was delivered to Pataki for his signature Aug. 8.
It only recently came to the attention of SAG, AFTRA and other parties, prompting an all-out lobbying campaign to have Pataki veto the measure, which would allow managers to operate without the legal restrictions that licensed agents face in such states as New York and California.
“We feel it invades our performers’ minimums and overrides the legal protections that a talent agency must adhere to,” SAG deputy national executive director Pamm Fair said. “We’re urging the governor to veto the bill.”
Officials at the Association of Talent Agents said they have been in communication with the unions on this issue during the past week.
The bill ostensibly seeks to end confusion over the state’s current definition of personal management.
“This lack of clarity has given rise over the years to time-consuming, distracting and costly legal actions — all of which have failed or been withdrawn — charging that model management companies do not differ from employment agencies,” according to language in the bill.
Sources say the bill was pushed by leading modeling companies in the wake of a $50 million class-action suit accusing them of having colluded to charge exorbitant commissions. Although the suit was largely settled last year, the proposed bill would have far-reaching effects because it seeks to clarify the definition of “theatrical employment agency” to exclude managers of all types of artists, not just models.
After drawing a sharp distinction between agents and managers, the bill states that “any person who is a personal manager may therefore seek employment and engagements for his or her artists, including models.”
This language would upend the traditional notion that negotiating and procuring work is the sole provision of agents, who must be licensed, bonded and regulated by state agencies. It also would allow managers to charge far more than the 10% commission to which agents generally are restricted by union and other agreements.
“Why would anyone want to remain an agent at that point? It would allow managers to totally undercut what agents do,” one Hollywood labor expert said. “It may make a lot of sense for modeling, but it doesn’t make the same amount of sense for motion pictures, television and other entertainment.”
According to the bill, there also has been confusion because management companies are exempt from regulation if they “only incidentally” help to procure employment.
“The purpose of this legislation is to clarify the issue by more clearly defining personal managers and maintaining their exclusion from regulation as employment agencies,” the bill states.
As such, the bill would remove the language referring to “incidental” involvement in seeking employment and clearly establish that managers are free to do so without restriction.
Managers still would face other restrictions such as holding a financial stake in an acting, modeling or other artist school, casting agency or employment agency.
The Directors’ Guild of America and the Writers’ Guild of America also expressed their opposition, following the lead of SAG and AFTRA.
DGA president Michael Apted, WGA West president Daniel Petrie Jr. and WGA East president Warren Leight co-signed a letter to Gov. George Pataki, urging him to veto the bill.
“We believe this bill is not good for our industry or those who work in it,” the guilds said in the letter. “In particular, your support for the recently enacted tax incentives to encourage film and television production has revitalized the industry within New York state. We thank you for that. However, the present legislation would constitute a major step backwards for our industry.”
There was a growing sense Aug. 17 that the unions were close to prevailing on this issue, though there was no word from Pataki’s office.