Legal Question in Entertainment Law in California


My wife is repped by one of the top agencies in Los Angeles. She has an excellent reputation as a co-exec producer and an impressive resume of successful reality shows. She has been approached by another client of the same agency to develop and run a show for a hot property. My wife has been trying to increase her rate for quite some time, but has been unable in spite of a long string of successes and nearly 20 years in the business. She has asked for, what we believe is a fair rate given her expertise and success in the industry, but this other side, which is repped by her same agency wants my wife to prove that she has made this rate before. We believe there is something not right going on here within this agency. My wife believes that the rate she has asked is far below a lot of her male colleagues, who often have less experience and are not as versatile as my wife in her field of expertise, and yet the reps want to low ball her even more. She's frustrated and deserves better than she's getting, but it seems like a closed shop. Does she have any recourse that makes sense, and will not blackball her in the industry? How can she bargain with this? It's a tough economy, but there's still a lot of money out there. Help?

Asked on 5/18/09, 9:29 pm

3 Answers from Attorneys

Gordon Firemark Law Offices of Gordon P. Firemark

Re: Bargaining.

First, it is absolutely commonplace and appropriate for a producer to "check quotes" to verify that someone has earned similar wages on past jobs.

I'd be surprised to learn that the agency has been up to anything in this case, but it's possible.

Still, the strongest bargaining position comes from the willingness to say "no" to a deal that doesn't meet your terms.

If she wants a higher rate, she'll have to stand-firm and risk losing the job altogether.

She may find it effective to have someone other than her agent handle negotiations on her behalf, since the agent may be beholden to interests other than hers.

I'd simply say that her past earnings are not as relevant to this question as is the "going rate" for similarly qualified people.

Of course, you'd have to be able to prove the "going rate".

Also, it should be noted that now is NOT a great time to be expecting pay increases... everybody's seeing reductions.

Just some food for thought.

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Answered on 5/18/09, 10:44 pm

Keith E. Cooper Keith E. Cooper, Esq.

Re: Bargaining.

From what I'm hearing, the entertainment industry is one of the few that is actually doing well in the bad economy, as was true during the Great Depression, people want distractions from their troubles--so don't let the "bad economy" argument deter you. (Although, it is true that television advertising is really hurting now.)

I agree it might be a good idea to get someone outside the agency to negotiate for your wife. Agencies often have hidden (or not so hidden) conflicts of interests and, unfortunately, are not restricted from negotiating for both sides (in the way attorneys are). She may not want to "jump ship" to another agency, but she could have an attorney negotiate rather than her agent.

Whether she does that or not, the point is that your wife should stick to her guns and say this is what she wants this time, and she won't take less. I agree that "past salary" is a specious argument for setting a pay rate. If that were truly the gauge, no one would ever get a raise! Obviously, her agents already know what she made on her past jobs because they take a percentage of it. Asking her to produce proof is a red herring to either get her to lie (and use that as the excuse to fire her later) or keep her rate down.

An alternative negotiating strategy you might consider is to take the lower rate to start and then have it bump to the higher rate she wants if the series is picked up (or whatever milestone makes sense).

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Answered on 5/21/09, 10:47 pm
Michael Stone Law Offices of Michael B. Stone Toll Free 1-855-USE-MIKE

Re: Bargaining.

This isn't a legal question so much as a negotiation question. It's similar to the job-interview situation where the prospective employee is asked for his or her "salary history." The wise jobseeker tells the interviewer, politely, that he or she does not, as a matter of policy, negotiate compensation based on "salary history."

In other words, you steer the negotiation back to what you are worth to this producer for this job, not on what you might have gotten on some other job. And you might want to consider getting another agent.

P.S. I'd love to have a gig as a TV judge, if you know of any openings....

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Answered on 5/18/09, 9:47 pm

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