The Film Business

The Talent: Negotiating with Actors

hiring actors

Image by: Sally E J Hunter

So, you’ve gotten an actor’s attention with your script. It’s time to negotiate the deal. This is where casting agents can come in handy: they will be familiar with the actor’s current quote (the salary range the actor has received for his last few films). You will want to have an experienced negotiator help you with this part. A negotiator who is experienced in performer’s services agreements can help you navigate the rough waters of actors’ agents and managers. Here are a few tips:

Show restraint. It is far too easy to “give away the farm” during your first few negotiations. For instance, one clause most agents will insist on for a principal actor is a favored-nations clause, which obligates the producer to ensure that no one has a better deal than that actor. Favored- nations clauses typically come into play when it comes to compensation and credit provisions. If you grant a favored-nations clause to a supporting actor with regard to his compensation, you will have to pay him the same rate that you pay your principal actors.

Be wary of the “two bites of the apple” ploy. You negotiate with an actor’s agent, giving ground to close the deal. Just when you think you’re done, the agent shifts you over to another agent or the attorney for the agency to continue the negotiations. This is often a business necessity from the agency’s point of view. After all, the agent may have painted the deal in large brushstrokes, and it’s the agency’s attorney’s job to provide the fine details. There is a danger for the production company, however, that goes beyond mere exhaustion. Sometimes the second agent or attorney will try to backpedal, removing some of the deal points the first agent conceded to while leaving your concessions on the table. To counter this tactic, point out that the deal points were already agreed to and they form the basis for concessions on your part. If they can backpedal, so can you.

Walk-away point. Before you start the negotiation process, make sure you have a walk-away threshold with regard to compensation. This is the point at which you will walk away from the deal, no matter how much you love the actor, because you simply can’t afford to hire him. Make sure that this figure includes all the fixed costs, perks, and other expenses associated with hiringthat particular actor. It cannot be stressed strongly enough: It is very important to leave the bargaining table if the deal exceeds your walk-away threshold.

For one, the other side may be seeing how far they can push. When you walk away, that sets your limits. They may respond by lowering their quote to keep the deal. Be flexible; there may be some in-kind services and perks you can give them that won’t break your bank but may enable you to trade them against higher fixed compensation costs. If you continue to hash out a deal with a performer once he has exceeded your threshold, you may not have enough resources to pay other necessary performers.

Start early. Make sure to start your negotiations early so that your back is not up against a wall. It will absolutely destroy any leverage you have if a performer’s agent realizes that you don’t have time to look for another performer should this deal fall through.

What tips do you have for hiring actors?

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