Home » Blog

The Business of Acting: Personal Manager

Share This Post

The Talent Manager…

Do you need one?

If you’re not sure, let’s see if I can help you

Once upon a time, the idea of having or seeking out the services of a ‘personal manager’ was exclusive to actors who already had a bustling career. For reference, I’m talking about the years 1950-2000. Interestingly, the turn of the century is important, because in May 2000 there was a large commercial strike by SAG-AFTRA. One of the (many) results of that strike was that the A.T.A. (Association of Talent Agencies) officially ended their handshake agreement with SAG-AFTRA and created a precedent for industry representation that changed the actor-manager landscape forever!

Do I need a manager? If so, why and how soon?

Today more than ever, it is a very commonly-asked question. Whether you’re just starting out in the business, have some Hollywood tenure, or perhaps your long-time agent closed their doors due to the COVID pandemic, you will be curious about the role of a manager and if it can help grow your career. 

Well, like anything in your actor life, especially when you’re about to entrust your image and likeness to a representative, it’s safe to say that it’s a really solid idea to make sure you know what you’re doing before you sign a legal and contracturally binding agreement. 

Some points to consider:

Please understand that ANY person on the planet can call themselves a performer’s manager. There is no degree or test or qualifications to meet for someone to decide they are a manager. Sadly, since the turn of the 21st century, far too many individuals have chosen this industry profession and far too many actors have fallen into their contract traps, or worse, their financial scams. It’s a long list, sadly, that includes many very smart and successful parents who just wanted the very best for their child who only just wanted to be an actor.

How to stop it before it starts? First, a manager, like any business in California or even the United States, is required to have a business license and it must be prominently displayed. So, one of your first questions to ask any Manager is if they have a business license and they should provide you its number. If by chance they seem dismissive or diminish your curiosity — avoid getting into business with them. 

Do a lot of research. Believe me, anyone can get business cards made and be a manager. The internet is your ally. You can use resources like IMDBPro.com, Google and others to research their name, the company’s information and who they represent. In California, the Secretary of State website can be essential if they are “actively” incorporated (or not). In addition, once in person, ask them questions about where they used to work, how they got in the business and how long have they been established. Many managers, globally, have previously been an agent before going out on their own as a manager. Regardless, just like an apartment, a car or a home purchase, do RESEARCH before signing anything.

This little piece of information can rile up a lot of folks when others find out about it or are pressed on the issue. Either way, it doesn’t matter because it is a LEGAL FACT. Now, does that mean all of the actor managers in Hollywood do not submit their clients and negotiate deals? No. What it means, however, is that it is in fact illegal for them to do so. That is a distinct and important item to know about your career when taking on a manager. Most smart, savvy managers and large management companies all know this of course and it is therefore why they keep an entertainment lawyer on retainer as a fiduciary and legal backstop. Why is this the case? I will explain NEXT!

Where did managers come from? The irony of all ironies is that back in the early days they were called “personal managers.” Personal managers were really just elevated personal assistants who had an opinion about you or your career. Often they were there to be a firewall between famous stars and the potentially traumatic publicity of “being a famous star.” This was the truth. In fact, personal managers might walk your dog, pick you up at the airport, or run wardrobe errands. Most importantly, their closeness to you often made them the perfect (professional) sounding board about whether you should do ‘that film’ or ‘this project’ etc.

This is how the Personal Manager was born, and it is why they have no legal right to submit you for employment or negotiate an employment contract on your behalf. That said, in today’s world, they should have that privilege but empowering them to act as your legal representative would come with certain restrictions and guidelines, just like agents have. For your benefit, there are two entities that attempt and to codify a manager’s role and it is great that we have them. Again, please know that there is no industry requirement or legal bounds that either of these two entities ultimately have but they do have more information at the following links: Talent Managers Association & the National Conference of Personal Managers

This is the million-dollar, or for some of you, the multi-million-dollar question. Now I’m going to tell you there is no right answer. I’m not ducking the question. Realize that since personal managers have just evolved into managers with a business license, they existed to help you with your busy career. Today, however, a manager might be beneficial to help you BUILD a career.

Do you need both an agent and a manager? Let me be clear there is NO need to have both unless BOTH are providing clear and distinctly different value to your career. If both entities are just submitting you from the same source of industry job breakdowns, then why have both? Further, to get a manager in hopes they’ll get you a great agent is fairly disingenuous here in the United States. Certainly, other countries may view it differently, but typically you only need one!

Based on everything you’ve read so far, this last item should be of no surprise. Managers are bound by nothing legally when it comes to how they write their representation contracts for you to sign. BE VERY CAREFUL. You want to pay attention to three things: 

  • Ensure that there is an ‘out’ clause’ option for both parties to terminate the contract. 
  • Try to avoid signing a contract that is any longer than twelve (12) months, initially. Managers are known for having extremely binding contracts for terms of three years or more.
  • Be sure to identify within the contract of what types of jobs/performances the contract covers. Most manager contracts will (literally) list every possible job in the history of entertainment that THEY get paid on – whether they’re even representing you for that area or not.

Actor management has changed drastically in the 21st century. In many ways, that is good. It means a large percentage of management companies nationwide have adopted common practices and standards that have now been legally acceptable within our industry. Still, there are some in actor management who have no clue what they’re doing and will try all sorts of ways to get you to pay them up front for consultations, classes or referrals. Above all, BE SMART. 

Drop me a line if you need help!