By Gerry Sont
Yesterday Jaz Daly Management went under owing $380,000. Encompass collapsed owing $577,000 in May. Robyn Gardiner Management imploded owing $28 million. You can also throw into the mix Actors Extra Agency $140,000, Joan Gibson and Bronwen Gault Management. This begs the question; is it poor business management or Industry downturn?
Regardless of the answer hundreds of actors are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. These are hard earned dollars that are hard to come by. The tragedy is that there is more to come. So how do Agents get away with it?
The NSW Entertainment Act 2013 says that agents must use a Trust Account. This account is specifically set up to hold funds that belong to the actor and are not to be used for running the business. However, the NSW Industrial Relations department (NSWIR) says that the Trust account adopted by Agents within the Industry is not the same as what Real Estate agents would have or say Solicitors. Theatrical Agents just set up a separate account. This type of account has no external controls, checks or balances.
The NSWIR says that they can inspect and audit an Agents books but only if they have been instructed to because a problem has been brought to their attention. As you can imagine, by the time that happens the horse has bolted. NSWIR also kindly explained that they are not responsible for the way Theatrical Agents have interpreted the words “Trust Account” from the ACT. They advised me that the definition of Trust Account is not clear within the ACT.
It is here that we move to common Law where the words Trust Account is clearly defined so how do Agents get away with just using normal accounts to hold their Actors’ money? Well, according to my legal sources we need a ‘test case’ to put Agents on notice. Thus someone, who is owed like $5,000 needs to mount a case against an Agent for failure in their “Fiduciary Duty”. This means, that they did not with all professional care “look after the actors financial interests”.
And herein lies our conundrum. Agents know that no actor in their right mind will go after them. Not only because the money and trouble would not be worth the outcome, but no actor would want to risk their reputation and become known as a trouble maker.
So we rely on an Agent’s integrity. However, as my mother always said: Everyone is an orange- we all look pretty good from the outside and it’s only when we get squeezed that we find out what juice we have inside. And so, as the Industry continues its downturn and over-heads and competition goes up Agents will continue to fold after dipping into their clients’ money.
You may be thinking, but Agents are good people. They love the Industry and want to help actors. Why don’t they just use Trust accounts as per the Act? Well, business is business and it costs about $50 a month to run a Trust account at most banks plus there is an annual Audit fee of between $1000 and $1500. Agents are already under the pump trying to make a living on 10% (sometimes 15-20%) commission so if you can cut corners somewhere then why not? Builders do it. Doesn’t everyone?
Zoe Angus (Director of Actors Equity) is well aware of this problem. Equity sends out regular e- bulletins and advises actors to chase up their agents regarding late payments. Equity also sends emails to Agents advising them of their legal obligations. This is all well and good but clearly not enough. The question that hangs out there for all of us is how many more Agents need to collapse before something is done?
Well, you could individually pursue a Liquidated Statement of Claim from your Agent. Get some Legal aid or go through the website here https://onlineregistry.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/content Pay the $180 and then drop the summons off yourself if you can find out where they live or where they hang out. Film yourself with your phone as you hand the summons to them and you shall have your day in court. Too much hassle? Then click this link to Change.org and sign the petition to get NSWIR to take more action in enforcing Trust Accounts.
RGM – Robyn Gardiner Artists – Bankrupt 38 Million
Encompass Management Group – Bankrupt $577.000
Actors Extra Agency – Liquidation $140,000
Jaz Daly Agency – Liquidation – $380,000
Joan Gibson Agency
Bronwen Gault Management – Bankrupt about 18 months ago moved to the country
Image credit: Can Stock Photo robynmac