Initiative reins in advanced fees

So-called managers who prey on wanna-be child stars and demand up-front representation fees from their parents will have a tougher time operating under the terms of a bill approved Monday by the California Legislature.

The measure — Assembly Bill 884, which awaits the governor’s signature to become law — would rein in “advance-fee talent services” run by “unscrupulous scam artists,” according to Assembly member Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), who authored the law and is herself a former child thesp.

It specifies, among other things, that only talent agents are permitted to procure employment for their clients. The bill targets people who set themselves up as managers, seek out attractive children or adolescents and promise them auditions and stardom — as long as their parents pay hefty fees first. Little, if anything, ever comes of such arrangements.

“We’ve been working all year to try to craft a strong response to these fly-by-night, fraudulent advance-fee talent agencies that have been preying on the hopes and dreams of child actors and their parents,” Kuehl told Daily Variety after her bill passed. “What this bill says is, if you promise to do something, and you charge a fee for it, then you’ve got to follow through on your promise or give the money back.”

Passage of AB 884 came just four days after approval of amendments to the Coogan Law, which protects the earnings of child actors from exploitation by spendthrift parents (Daily Variety, Aug. 30). Kuehl was a co-author of that bill.

Referring to the law on advance-fee managers, Kuehl said she foresees “tightening the noose on these charlatans.”

To do so, the bill governs the contents of managers’ contracts with artists and forces the managers to post a $10,000 surety bond with the state’s labor commissioner.

Existing law requires the commissioner to license and regulate the professional activities of talent agents, who operate under the provisions of the Talent Agencies Act. The law is silent, however, on the professional conduct of people who run advance-fee talent services.

The bill requires a contract for an advance fee and provides the right to cancel the contract and to receive a refund. Managers must also post a copy of the bill in a conspicuous place in their offices. Anyone who willfully violates the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

The bill came about after a news story chronicled the exploitation of child actors, Kuehl said.

“People posing as talent managers would request hefty deposits and promise things they couldn’t deliver,” she said. “They would string parents along and continue to make money off them by promising careers in entertainment for their children. This bill seeks to ensure that actors breaking into the business know whether they are dealing with a reputable artist’s manager.”

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