TeleCourse Raw Notes
Role of the Talent Agent
Feb. 10, 1998
Notes taken by Jillana Devine
Guest on the Teleclass was Patrick Herold of the Helen Merrill Agency, negotiated several contracts with Bruce on "The Lion King" when Bruce was at Disney. Represents designers, writers, choreographers (Paul Rudnick, Chris Durang, Christopher Ashley, etc.) Work spills over into TV and film, also reps designers Ming Cho Lee, etc., costume designer William Ivey Long, lighting designers Don Holder, Paul Gallo.
Helen Merrill Agency sometimes represents the play, but no longer the writer. This is because just about every agreement between author and agent has an irrevocable agency clause - Note: even if author leaves agency, play remains with the agency - Helen Merrill Agency represents many back catalogues.
Patrick: "Musical chairs" goes on between agents and clients, but projects remain constant. Ideally, an agency will sell stock and amateur rights to licensing houses such as Samuel French, then the relationship is passive. Practice varies from licensing house to licensing house. Sometimes a bidding war will start between say Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service. When author enters into contract with Dramatists, there is a commission sharing formula with the agent - agent gets distribution annually from Dramatists, based on earnings of authors combined with number of plays agent has in DPS catalogue. This is derived from DPS earnings - they retain 10% of all professional, 20% of amateur, licenses. Author keeps the rest. Samuel French more straightforward - they pay say $15,000 advance, which agent commissions from author. Agent and Samuel French split 25%-75% of commission.
Patrick feels advantages to selling play sooner - reduces agentís workload. Agents usually like to license themselves because they make more, they retain the 10% and 20% on licenses they negotiate. If sold to Dramatists or Samuel French, agentís income would be from split commission with licensing house. So itís a matter of the agent getting 10% of authorís royalties or 25% of 10% of authorís royalties.
Bruce - Might an author or producer not want an agency to license the work themselves? If producer gets 40% of subsidiary income - money gets split 60%- 40 % first, then therefore agent gets 10% of the 40% that goes to producer. Therefore, agency clause establishes that producer gets 20% of 90%, not 20% of 100%, because agentís cut comes off the top. Therefore, producer then has an interest in how play is represented in the future.
Patrick says yes, producer has "a vested interest in making sure the life of the play is robust" - future productions, film, CD Rom, etc.
Bruce: Producerís interest may not be in having the agent license the play itself. (Too small). What if producer says OK to agency clause if agency will license the play to a house within a year of closing of the original production?
Patrick would not accept that, these decisions are between him and his client.
Bruce argues that that since producer is 40% participant, agent significantly represents producerís interest, and so producer has right to make sure its interest is properly marketed.
Patrick - If a non-profit theater produces a play, producer gets .5%-1.5% of weekly box office of future commercial productions, plus 5-15% or 20% of subsidiary income. Producer of off Broadway commercial play, depending # of performances, can earn anywhere from 10% to 40% of subsidiary rights. On Broadway, 50% of stock and amateur. Patrick sees all as having the same interest, but there is an issue here - "whatís good for agent or playwright may not be in producerís best interest - who should control terms of the game. Writerís interest is paramount to agent because he advocates for playwright. You have to also know where you stand and what leverage you have - if Dodgers or Disney proposed Bruceís idea, agent would have to take into consideration. If Dodger were tied with MTI and as a pre-condition MTI gets first look, say, that would be a different story. If producer wants to license TV or film the question is does producer have relationship with film and TV?
It is still authorís final decision that property goes to say French. Patrick says he has offers for one clientís play from Dramatists Play Service and Samuel French - if author does nothing, will offers go off the table? This author already has a play in DPS catalogue, so Patrick tells him if offers are the same, author really should keep oeuvre intact. Better than just going to the highest bidder - building a relationship.
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