The Mysterious World of Print Modeling Commissions
What’s The Deal With Double-Dipping?
“My agent stole from me!”
“My agent withdrew commissions twice!”
“Those guys charged me 40% commission!”
By far the biggest area of confusion among newly-successful models (or actors who occasionally book modeling jobs) is how their management companies and/or modeling agencies process their payments. Nearly every day an actor or model will book his or her first modeling job, and expect to receive more money than they actually do. Inevitably, this leads to an uncomfortable discussion with the agent or manager, and depending on how tactful the representative is, this can leave the model with a bad feeling about the industry in general, or about that representative in particular. Let’s look at what happens on a typical job, and how you can establish the proper expectations:
Let’s say a new model named Robin books a job. The booker tells Robin that the rate is $1,000 plus 20%. Robin thinks that she will receive $1,000, and that her agent will be getting the additional 20% as their commission. Is she wrong? Yup. She’s wrong. Firstly, an experienced agent wouldn’t have even mentioned the additional 20% to her, but that’s another story. Anyway, this information usually gets out, and models get confused. That 20% is not actually the commission. That is the agency fee, and is charged to the vendor for the services of the booking agency, not the services of the model. This is separate and distinct from any commissions. Robin’s base rate on this job is $1,000. The agency will charge her a commission on that base fee, at a rate that is typically 20%. The commissions, therefore, are $200. Robin will receive a turnaround check for $800.
When this happens to a new model, the most common phrase we hear from them is that their agent is “taking 40%!” Putting aside for the moment that half of those funds weren’t part of the models compensation anyway, that statement is still mathematically naive. It’s not 40%. I can understand why 20% + 20% may sound like 40%, but it’s not. Adding 20% on top of the model fee, and deducting 20% from the base model fee, only equals 33.3% of the gross revenue. Using the above example, the agency bills $1,200, and deducts the $200 agency fee and the $200 commission. This leaves the model with $800, and the agency with $400. That’s 66.6% for the model, and 33.3% for the agency. Not 40%. The fact that a model incorrectly complains that they are being charged 40% is just a symptom of the fact that most new models have no idea how the system works. Why don’t they know? Because they don’t ask. And agents don’t bother explaining it unless they are asked. Good agents are usually too busy to educate every new model about how this business works. It’s up to the model to learn as much as they can about their business, and let the agents do what they do best – obtain job opportunities for their models.
On a few occasions people have told me that they knew of an agency that didn’t process their model fees that way. In every one of those cases, this involved an agency that primarily handled TV, Film or Commercial actors, and every now and then they booked someone on a print job. For one of three reasons, these agencies didn’t take the additional 20%. Firstly, and most commonly, they just didn’t know that it was the industry standard practice. Secondly, and more prevalent with smaller agencies, they like to pretend that they are more ethical, and take less fees to try to attract more clients. Finally, with California agencies that represent union actors, they are required to have a “schedule of fees” filed with the state licensing board (and posted conspicuously in their office), that spells out the maximum level of commission they have been approved to charge. In some cases agencies have failed to account for potential print bookings in their business plans, and their fee schedule only lists ten (10%) percent. Thus, they feel restricted and do not charge the standard rate of commission for modeling. None of these agencies are competitive in the modeling industry, and any serious model should disregard their practice as irrelevant to their pursuit of a serious career in modeling.
Without knowing ahead of time how this process works, and with so many reports of scammers in this industry, many models jump to the conclusion that their representative is double dipping. They assume that they are the victims of a scam. Fear not. You now have information that most newbies will learn the hard way. This is the way the business has been run for decades upon decades. It’s a common business practice in an industry that has no residual structure and is not regulated by any union. There have been several legal challenges to this, but in every case I am aware of, this practice has been upheld as acceptable, standard, and fully legal. It is—for all practical purposes—the only way it’s done. That’s the deal.
Adam Lieblein is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theatre Film and Television, and spent eight years as a producer of films, commercials and television projects until 1993 when he opened a talent agency. Adam was the president of Acme Talent & Literary for sixteen years, and together with his eighteen agents represented actors for film, television, commercials, print modeling and voiceover work, and writers for film and novels. At the end of 2008, Acme’s several divisions were sold to other agencies, and Adam returned to the business of producing and teaching at UCLA. In 2011 Adam was recruited by Casting Networks to work in Business and Product Development.