This is probably one of the most important posts that I have ever written on the VFX industry. Recently Scott Squires and the VES have offered advice about deal memos.
Here’s a situation I’m sure you are familiar with. At the end of an interview with a facility there is a moment where a hiring manager will bring you into a room and ask:
What is your availability and what is your rate?
What should you say? What if you ask for too high of a rate? What if it’s too low? Do they offer benefits? Do they pay OT? Is it 1099 independent contractor? Here is what I say:
I really appreciate you bringing me in today. I have a rep that handles my contract details.
So What Is An Agent Or Rep?
An agent or rep is usually an attorney who specializes in contract negotiations. This is not someone who is here to sue the company if you don’t get what you want. They are here to work for you and get you a fair deal.
While I’m sure hiring managers are good people, many I have dealt with are usually not competent with contracts. In fact, I’ve had some lie to me and change the terms in contracts that we verbally agreed to. They are hired to represent the company’s best interests and you should have someone that you can hire to represent your best interests.
What Are The Pros?
I’ve found that once I initiate the services of an agent, the agent handles everything from there. I don’t have to talk to the hiring manager anymore and the agent calls me to let me know how the negotiations are going. That alone to me is worth the price for the service.
When you negotiate a contract, you are basically negotiating the terms for a very important part of your life. An agent can bring a level of professionalism to the process and prevent it from becoming personal. I know of some hiring managers and recruiters who prey on getting a potential employee riled up and emotional to bully them into a bad deal.
Secondly, agents in the VFX industry are more common than you think. There are many artists and technical directors that use the same agent, even supervisors. When you have an agent who specializes in negotiating contracts in the VFX industry, many of the old tricks used against artists go out the door. The agent I work with generally has dealt with most VFX facilities and knows what the fair rates and contracts are.
An agent can also negotiate contracts in other countries. I know of artists who have used the same agent to negotiate contracts at major facilities in the UK and Australia etc. The service can also be good for artists coming out of school to make sure they don’t get abused.
What Are The Cons?
Some would say the first con is the price however that depends on who you hire. The agent I work with charges about $250 an hour for the time spent negotiating with the company directly and writing the contract. That’s not bad for me. However I know of other artists who use Digital Artist Agency which takes 10% of your check. I think that’s excessive.
I talked to an artist who was a part of DAA and was pretty happy with their services. He suggested it for artists who expect to work at many 1-3 month gigs. They tend to work with you and ask around to see who is hiring to get you crewed soon.
Another “con” is that an agent can only negotiate with the leverage you have. Your expectations have to be reasonable. If you’re an artist that is trying to get that big raise and have no intentions of going to another company then you are giving the rep very little to work with. I usually start pinging various companies near the end of a show and work with the agent to handle any contract negotiations. As another artist related:
I hook em, and they reel em in.
Some hiring managers can take it personally if you use the services of a rep but then again they take it personally if you ask for anything. If you’ve been keeping up with the recent events, there is no sign by the studios or the facilities that they intend to bring maturity to the industry. Artists need to become better businesspeople first and working with an agent helps do that.
Alex Andrews is probably one of the most important people I work with in this industry. What’s remarkable is that like many of her clients, I have never met her. I usually get a job offer and call her to attain her services to hammer out a deal.
Alex started off as a media artist and went back to college to become a lawyer. She worked for Disney Animation’s legal affairs department and eventually became the Director of Legal Affairs. If you were an artist about to be hired at Disney, you mostly likely had to negotiate your contract with her: Now she fights for the users.
You can view her resume and contact info here.
email: alexandrewslaw at yahoo dot com.
I’d like to give readers access to a list of agents who have experience negotiating for VFX artists. If you know of any agents that you can recommend let me know and I’ll add them to the list. Feel free to chime in if you use any of their services and your experience.