AS THE TUG-OF-WAR BETWEEN agents and the Screen Actors Guild grows ever more intense, just about everyone seems unsettled by issues of talent representation.And when that old levitating liberal, California State Sen. John Burton, begins his public hearings about the agency business shortly, the debate surely will become more surreal. Even now, every dealmaker has his own version of how the responsibilities, and rewards, should be divided. Agents argue that the state should enforce existing rules rather than propounding new ones. For example, managers aren’t supposed to negotiate deals — that’s the agent’s job. Yet that rule isn’t enforced any more carefully than that arcane provision of the labor code that bars “persons of bad character” from the set. Since lawmakers look the other way when managers close deals, why shouldn’t they let agents also become producers? Agents like this idea, but some leaders of the Screen Actors Guild worry that actors will end up working for their agents, especially if agencies were to be acquired by entities like Omnicom or Interpublic, which have a stake in production. Agents claim persuasively that only about one in five SAG members even has an agent to begin with and that, given the uneven playing field, it will become even tougher to get representation. The behavior of top stars only reinforces the confusion. Leonardo DiCaprio has a manager but no agent, Tom Cruise has an agent but no manager and Bruce Willis has a lawyer but no manager or agent.
FACED WITH THIS PUZZLING LANDSCAPE, I decided to use my Dr. Dolittle-like gifts to probe one sector of talent that has been free of these intrigues.As my guide, I depended on a definitive manual called “Animals 411 — The Working Animals Guide.” Since so-called humans can’t figure out what sort of representation works for them, are the critters doing any better? I began my inquiries with Dakota, an 850-pound brown bear whose credits include “Escape to Grizzly Mountain” and “Animal Planet.” The big guy registered a high degree of satisfaction with the deals made for him by his agent, a company called Predators in Action. On his shows, says Dakota, he gets co-star billing, plus good chow and an ample-sized Winnebago. A similar rave came from a bald eagle named Alec Bald-One, whose wingspan measures six feet and who will fly and sit on cue. His deals are quite generous, Alec points out, but given the limited number of roles available to his species, his agents at Birds N Beasts are putting him up for other character parts. Yet another satisfied client is a large, gray-and-white vulture named Morticia, whose representation is with Animal Actors of Hollywood. Morticia has observed few instances of potential conflict, but when they turn up she finds it’s most effective to deal with them personally, given her special clout.
DURING MY SURVEY, I also communicated either directly or through their agents with other working actors like stinkbugs, snails, grubs and mealworms, and found all responsive except for a kinkajou named Elvis, who apparently has a long list of credits but declined to discuss his professional life.My conclusion was that the bugs, birds and beasties generally were better represented than their human counterparts. I’ve even suggested to several of my human actor friends that they’d be well served to interview with some of these agencies. As for me, next time I make a deal, I sure as hell intend to be represented by Predators in Action. Business affairs bureaucrats may mess around with CAA or ICM, but Predators — I don’t think so!