SAG-AFTRA, Managers Trade Barbs on Regulatory Code (Analysis)

A manager turns down a client and blames the union, while the union fires back at “misrepresentations . .  from special interests.”

The new SAG-AFTRA Personal Manager Code of Ethics and Conduct is off to a bumpy start. Not only is it opposed by two trade associations of personal managers, as The Hollywood Reporter previously reported, now at least one manager has turned down a potential client because of the Code, blaming the union and the fact that the actor is unrepresented.

In response to those challenges, the union emailed more than 100,000 of its members Wednesday, saying “there is intensive and, in some cases, wildly uninformed lobbying going on from special interests within the personal management community. Their communications have even reached the level of direct misrepresentations being sent to union members in an attempt to frighten them about the true intent of this Code.”

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The manager who turned down a client did so via an email that said, “managers have been asked by SAG/AFTRA not to take on members of the guild if we intend to help them get work.” Later in the email, which was supplied in redacted form to THR by the union, the manager says, “if you were with an agency, we could work for you in conjunction with them, but unfortunately you don't have an agent. I'm afraid that if we want to stay in the guild's good graces, we must turn away all guild members who approach us without agency representation.”

That argument reflects a portion of the Code that prohibits mangers from finding employment for their clients, except in conjunction with an agent. But the argument is ironic, considering that California state law prohibits exactly what the unidentified manager apparently wishes to do. The Talent Agencies Act prohibits “procuring . . . or attempting to procure employment or engagements” for actors, writers, directors and others in film, TV and other entertainment enterprises. New York has a similar requirement, and both state’s laws have an exception when an unlicensed person (such as a talent manager) acts in conjunction with a licensed talent agent.

Also not reflected in the email is the fact that the SAG-AFTRA Code is voluntary.

SAG-AFTRA’s email to members says, “The language in the Code regarding limitations on personal managers’ ability to procure employment closely mirrors both California and New York State Law. No aspect of the Code sanctions violation of any State Law, or adds any additional limitations to the freedoms personal managers already enjoy.”

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The California and New York laws – and the Code – are intended to protect actors and others from unscrupulous representatives, but the tension between regulation and reality can lead to discontent among agents, managers and even lawyers. The fact is that solicitation and procurement of work are, of course, exactly what many actors want from their managers, whether or not they have agents.

“Members should not be misled by misrepresentations from a special interest faction of the personal managers community,” said union chief operating officer and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. “For unknown reasons, this faction is disseminating inaccurate and misleading information about the intent and effect of the Code.”

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. Ultimately, however, the TMA was unhappy with the final product and did not endorse it. Also dissatisfied was another manager organization, the National Conference of Personal Managers, which had opposed an earlier draft as well.

Adding to the confusion is the state of the union’s regulation of talent agents. Unlike the WGA and DGA, which have mandatory regulations – called franchise agreements – that apply to agents, SAG-AFTRA’s are essentially voluntary. A SAG-AFTRA member can sign with an agent who is franchised under the legacy SAG agreement or who is a member of the Association of Talent Agents or the National Association of Talent Representatives (in which case the agent must be franchised under the legacy AFTRA agreement). This situation dates back to 2002, when SAG members voted down a revised version of the franchise agreement.

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.

Bookmark The Hollywood Reporter’s Labor Page for the most in-depth coverage of entertainment unions and guilds.

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