Fencing with agents, SAG prez is ‘last action hero’

MEMO TO: Bill Daniels

FROM: Peter Bart

YOU’VE PLAYED A VARIETY of roles in your acting career, Bill, but lately it seems you’re type-casting yourself as the next Stallone or Schwarzenegger. You’re the last action hero, taking on the advertising industry one day, staring down the studios and networks the next. Now you’ve even gone to war with people who are supposed to be working for you — agents.

I appreciate your display of macho, Bill, but your performance is all action and no dialogue. Perhaps you should ease up on those testosterone gels.

Take your war with the agents: All of us like to beat up on agents, Bill, but the position of your union, SAG, borders on the surreal. If you’re not careful, you’re going to find the entire agenting fraternity thumbing its nose at SAG and marching off into the deregulatory night. That would be a real blow to the credibility of your union — a self-inflicted wound, at that.

NOW I’M NOT EAGER, Bill, to position myself as the champion of tenpercenters, as Variety traditionally calls them. We all know they’re greedy and mendacious. Even worse, they don’t return their phone calls.

I liked agents a lot better when they knew their place. When Mae West was traveling in Europe and the pet chimp she traveled with caught the stomach flu, she called Johnny Hyde, her agent at William Morris. He got her a vet. That’s what agents used to do.

Today agents negotiate global co-financing deals. They run charities. They own rolling estates in Tuscany. Maitre d’s fuss over them and ignore the clients they represent.

That’s reality, Bill, and that’s also why it’s ludicrous for your union to make agents live by 70-year-old rules.

TODAY’S TENPERCENTER wants to link up with companies in other industries. Why shouldn’t a CAA or a UTA be permitted to sell, say, a 20% share to a techie company or even to an ad agency?

Their urge to merge is thoroughly understandable — it’s the zeitgeist. ICM, having just completed its own LBO this year, would understandably be eager to move from a debt to an equity base.

You and your crew basically agreed to a loosening of SAG’s financial-interest rules a few months ago, then did a U-turn. One explanation for this curious maneuver was that you became obsessed about potential conflicts of interest and that some of your superstar members began waving a warning flag.

Well, I understand these fears, Bill, but aren’t they somewhat archaic? The entire entertainment industry is one big conflict of interest. I once retained a lawyer who not only represented both sides of a transaction, but also parties suing both sides.

BESIDES, THE AGENTS have come up with imaginative ideas to ease these concerns.

For one thing, agencies agree they won’t sell out to major studios or networks. I’ve glanced through one document setting forth 20 concessions and safeguards; one promises that an agent will surrender his commission from an actor who receives direct employment from a company in which his agency has an interest.

When agents start giving up commissions, Bill, you know they want something real bad.

I realize there are other issues on the table involving the esoterica of audits, so-called “supplemental markets” and even the ability of agents to accept speaking engagements, but it’s the financial-interest point that’s the cruncher.

Given the break-off in negotiations, I would not be at all surprised to see an agency defy SAG by selling a stake to an outside company — let’s assume it’s ICM, for purposes of argument.

Your union, Bill, would then notify, say, Mel Gibson that he could no longer be represented by ICM. Knowing Mel, he would then utter a few vivid expletives and ignore your admonition. Other talent agencies would support ICM.

THE UPSHOT, BILL, is that SAG’s franchising responsibilities would be null and void, that the principal rules and regulations governing talent representation would shift to the state labor code. Agencies would then launch into a veritable orgy of corporate dealmaking, and actors would never be able to get anyone on the phone.

I don’t think you or your colleagues want this to happen, Bill. That’s why I think you should toss out your “Last Action Hero” script and find a role that’s more conciliatory.

You might even talk to your agent about that.

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