Actors’ deals can be tricky. With backend compensation, all-important perks and creative issues to be negotiated — not to mention massive – yet fragile – egos to consider — things can get complicated.
Barnes Morris’ Lawrence Kopeikin is an industry vet who has “seen it all” in his 25 years in the business, including a stint at Fox, 13 years in business affairs at CAA and now three years with the current firm.
Whether it’s inking a megastar’s next $20 million payday or boosting the asking price of a hot new comic, Kopeikin says there are some — surprisingly basic — tenets that must be hammered out in every deal before the cameras start rolling.
“Our job is to negotiate the contracts and make sure the client is protected and that the things the client cares about are covered in the paperwork,” Kopeikin says. “The main factors involved are cash and backend compensation, what kind of credit (the talent) is going to get, approvals and perks.”
When it comes to salaries, the basic rules of supply and demand favor almost every actor, Kopeikin says. “There are more films than there are major stars, whether they’re big, mainstream stars or genre-specific ones,” he says. “There’s some clout because there’s a chance that there’s more than one movie chasing the same star.”
According to Kopeikin, the paydays in the pecking order go something like this: “Mega-stars” get $20 million (“Their deals are much more complex. They’re first-dollar gross participants, and for many clients, the backend can be as big or bigger than the cash”); other “majors” earn $12 million-$15 million; “substantial guys” are getting $7 million-$10 million; and a lot of “names” bank $2 million-$3 million.
Breakthrough performances like those of Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers” and Will Ferrell after “Elf” up the ante, he says. “That’s how a lot of guys make a big leap.”
Explains the attorney: “People can move up very quickly if there’s some heat around them. Often when the studios can’t get one of those four or five megastars, they might look to someone who is not that well known but who is hot.”
For example, says Kopeikin, if a Jim Carrey takes himself out of the rotation for a role, the net widens to consider those on an upward trajectory, like Steve Carell.
“He doesn’t have a history of opening movies like those other guys do, but he’s hot,” Kopeikin explains. “That’s the kind of situation where a guy is poised to make a big leap. A guy could go from $2 million to $10 million or $3 million to $8 million in that situation if he’s got enough heat around him and the studio feels they’ve got a marketing niche.”
Kopeikin adds it’s Barnes Morris’ philosophy to be “completely supportive of the creative direction our clients want to take.” Even if the newly minted megastar opts to do several indies over a blockbuster? “We would not be saying, ‘Why are you doing three small movies in a row?'” the attorney says. “We may tell them what impact it might have in the future to command certain salaries.”
Strategizing a star’s next move is the responsibility of the agent, whose primary role is finding work for the client, and the manager, who is supposed to be keeping an eye on his or her career trajectory, Kopeikin notes. But when it comes to negotiating the deal, things can happen a number of ways.
“Some agents want to be intimately involved in the dealmaking, and some want to be involved relatively little,” says Kopeikin. “Some agents are like: ‘The studio wants ’em — call up studio affairs and get into it.’ Others say: ‘Let’s be on the first couple of calls together.'”
Credit “is probably the easier thing to negotiate — it’s pretty formulaic,” Kopeikin notes. “It’s usually pretty clear who is going to be in the first position, even second and third, by a combination of the size of the role and the clout of the actor.”
Still, there are variables — such as when there are two stars on equal footing. “Then we work with the studio and on occasion get on the phone with the other reps and say, ‘What makes sense here?'” the attorney says.
So-called “artistic” matters always loom large in talks with studios. “Very few deals fall apart over money or credit — deals fall apart over creative issues,” Kopeikin says.
For example, “An agent will have been involved in director selection before a deal is struck,” explains Kopeikin, who makes sure provisions for script approval and material changes to a client’s part are covered. If a director drops out once shooting has begun, the agent steps in again. “The agent should be on the phone instantly,” the attorney says, “asking, ‘Who are you thinking about?'”
Perks also play a significant part in every deal. “They’re frequently the only thing the actor sees,” Kopeikin explains. Today’s biggest ego boosters include first-class travel (private jets are reserved for the $20 million club); triple pop-out trailers or tricked-out buses and free clothes. “Keeping the wardrobe is always a big issue,” the attorney notes.
Often the bone of contention comes down to the same thing: footing the bill for the star’s personal assistant. “I’m on the phone to the studio saying, ‘Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Kopeikin says. “Don’t save $10,000 by not bringing over an assistant the client is comfortable with.” In the end, star power trumps all.
“The people that make the most money get the most perks,” the attorney says. “It’s not fair, but that’s the way the world works.”