Actors Union Introduces Voluntary Regulation of Talent Managers

The new SAG-AFTRA Code of Ethics and Conduct marks a step into new and controversial territory for the union; it’s opposed by two associations of personal managers, including one that helped draft it.

Moving to regulate an area previously ungoverned by guilds or state agencies, SAG-AFTRA introduced a code of ethics and conduct for personal managers Tuesday, the union said in a statement. The nine-page code is voluntary: Managers are not required to sign up, and SAG-AFTRA members are free to engage managers who haven’t. Those managers who do sign up will be listed on the union’s website.

The new code has been under development for several years including, most intensively, in meetings with the management community in December 2013 and in the months since. A December meeting was attended by more than 200 managers, while later sessions were smaller work groups featuring members of the Talent Managers Association and independent managers.

“The establishment of the Personal Manager Code of Ethics and Conduct is a true ‘win-win,’ assuring important protections for SAG-AFTRA members while providing significant and meaningful benefits to our listed personal managers,” said SAG-AFTRA chief operating officer and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. “We look forward to working more closely with our listed personal managers to further the interests of our members.”

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The code requires, among other things, that if a manager uses written contracts (many do, but many don’t), the duration of the contract must be limited to 18 months for the initial term and 3 years for renewals; contracts, if any, cannot auto-renew; managers cannot collect up-front or advance fees; they must not require the actor to use the services of any particular photographer, printer, school, acting coach or other professional in which the manager has a financial interest; and they must not solicit or procure work for an actor except to the extent permitted by California or New York State law.

Solicitation and procurement of work are, of course, exactly what many actors want from their managers, but those activities are generally not legal in California unless conducted by a licensed talent agent. New York has a similar requirement, but with certain incidental exceptions. Those laws are intended to protect actors and others from unscrupulous representatives, but the tension between regulation and reality also can lead to discontent among agents, managers and even lawyers.

In addition, all disputes between manager and actor are subject to arbitration, if the manager has signed the code.

Update: Members of the Talent Managers Association and the TMA’s counsel participated in discussions about the code, and the union modified an earlier draft in order to reflect some of the organization’s feedback. However, according to the TMA’s counsel, Brad Kane, the code was drafted solely by the union.

“The TMA advised the union as to many issues of concern to managers, but the union made its own decisions as to all language used,” Kane told THR.

Ultimately, the TMA was unhappy with the final product and did not endorse it.

“After thoughtful review and consultation with legal counsel, our position is to advise members against signing the SAG-AFTRA code in its current highly restrictive and regulatory form,” said the TMA board in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Currently, there are counterproductive elements that we believe can be further revised for everyone’s benefit.”

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Also dissatisfied was another manager organization, the National Conference of Personal Managers, which had opposed an earlier draft as well.

“No one has shown me what the problem is [that the code is intended to address],” said NCOPM president Clinton Billups Jr. “SAG-AFTRA hasn’t brought any problems to my attention.”

Billups also said it was “a little coincidental” – by which he appeared to mean, “not coincidental at all” – that the union was introducing its code at the same time NCOPM has a lawsuit pending against the California state law known as the Talent Agency Act. (The suit was dismissed last March, but that dismissal is now under appeal to the 9th Circuit.)

The new code marks SAG-AFTRA’s first foray into regulating managers. In contrast, talent agents have been regulated by SAG-AFTRA (and the DGA and WGA) for many years, and such regulation is detailed and is mandatory (at least, in the case of the DGA and WGA; the situation with SAG-AFTRA is more complicated).

“This Code of Ethics and Conduct was conceived and executed by our members,” said Zino Macaluso, national director and senior counsel of the union’s newly renamed Professional Representatives department (formerly the Agency Relations department). “SAG-AFTRA looks forward to establishing a closer, mutually beneficial relationship with this community to advance the needs of all concerned.”

A union source told THR that the Agency Relations department frequently received calls relating to problems with managers, but had no way to address those issues.

“Today marks a great step forward in honest and ethical talent representation,” said manager Gerry Pass of Chrome Artists Management. “This is SAG-AFTRA’s recognition of the vital work that managers do on behalf of actors, while at the same time we see all talent managers held to a higher standard. This is truly exciting.”

Update: That was Pass’ initial view, as transmitted by the union. But after this piece appeared, Pass retracted his support, and sent THR the following statement: “As the article states, I was excited about the prospect of a ‘Code,’ if it would bring greater cooperation between SAG-AFTRA and personal managers. But the final document as released today doesn’t do that; just the opposite, if adhered to, it makes it almost impossible for a personal manager to effectively represent the union’s members. It has turned my enthusiasm relevant to the potential of this into disappointment of its realities, and I cannot support and will not consider signing. This document will in practice be of disservice to SAG-AFTRA’s own constituency; hopefully with feedback from others and especially from the artists they serve, they will reconsider many of the demands they are hoping to extract.”

In response, Macaluso said, “We’ve said from the beginning the code is not necessarily going to fit all business models and that each manager would have to make an individual choice about whether to affiliate or not. That’s why it’s voluntary. Education and information are never a disservice to our membership.”

“The number of benefits we can offer personal managers listed with us is significant and meaningful. We hope interested personal managers will examine the code and ask questions about both the process and the benefits of affiliation,” said Macaluso earlier.

The union also said that the code does not, and is not intended to, interfere with any future or existing relationships between members and their managers who are not signatory to the code, nor does it create a conflict with the union’s two franchised agency agreements.

A copy of the Personal Manager Code of Ethics and Conduct can be viewed online. In addition, both TMA and NCOPM have their own codes of ethics.

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