Closed Shop protected FAA Extras from Up-front Fee Scams.
(With thanks to Ray Knight for providing some of this information)
The majority of independent film production was, and still is carried out within the PACT/FAA agreement, which currently is a 40 mile radius of Charing Cross; and most of the major film studios are sited here also. The union, the Film Artistes Association (FAA) is now part of BECTU. The employers association now known as Producers Alliance for Cinema & Television (PACT), the union agreement and the original agency Central Casting Ltd; were all established in 1947.
Central Casting was wholly, then partly owned by the employers association (PACT). It was set up solely for providing independent film production companies, with an experienced and professional work force. Central Casting was supposed to provide real cost savings, in the casting of crowd artistes. It gave employers complete control over the agency. It also allowed the agency (and therefore PACT) to profit, from providing crowd to none PACT members, such as those from the USA. Central Casting charged 8% commission to PACT members, but charged a none-PACT member as much as 15% commission.
Under the PACT/FAA agreement, crowd artists did not have to pay any fees to Central Casting. They were not open to any up-front fee abuses. Nobody deducted anything from their wages. Nobody promised to make them a star; by sticking their photo in a casting directory. For over 45 years, the only problem a crowd artiste had; was getting noticed by the agency booker. Some things never change!
The first hint of trouble was the 1990 Employment Act. Making the closed shop illegal; and therefore destroying the strength of the Union to regulate the work force and their working conditions. In May 1990, Brian Yeoman the then Managing Director of Central Casting wrote to crowd members, “In response to many requests from production companies we will be publishing a photographic brochure of our artistes later this year.” Members were told, “There will be no charge to artistes for inclusion in this first edition” It went on to say, “Please do not miss this wonderful opportunity to get your face into every production office“.
Central Casting then became Central Casting Atmos in 1992 the Managing Director was Leslie Reid. By this time, payments in cash at the end of each working day had ceased to exist. Payment was now made by cheque. Initially payment was very prompt, as production companies used to provide a deposit up front, in order that payment could go out the day after a job was done; and the invoice was sent to the producers at the same time as the cheque went to the Artiste.
Agencies that came into 'the business' later, about 1995, told the production companies not to bother with the deposit system, in order to attract business; and it was later dropped by all production companies. Getting paid on time became none negotiable, if agencies wanted the work, so payments to artistes could now take months.
As early as 1992, Central Casting Atmos wanted to charge the crowd artiste a fee for a casting directory. The DTI ruled that it would be illegal. The then General Secretary of the FAA George Avery opposed Lesley Reid's licence on the grounds that the book meant charging was taking place to both sides. The DTI informed Lesley Reid that she had to either drop the book fee or charge the artiste the commission, if she wanted to keep her licence.
Under DTI Regulations, which came into force in 1973, an agency could only make a charge to one party, the employers were that party. Therefore, the agency could not make a charge to the other party, the crowd artiste. Now if you employ/pay for a solicitor, you would not expect him or her to be paid a fee, by the person you are suing. The solicitor cannot act impartially if he is being paid by both parties.
Early in 1993 Central Casting Atmos wrote to all crowd artistes, that due to a downturn in trade, they would be changing their work practices. Central Casting Atmos had lost work to agencies, mainly Ex-Casting and Ray Knight; and had become financially unviable. The £30,000 p.a. rent for premises at Paramount House in Wardour Street had always been an acceptable cost for PACT members.
But now that PACT members no longer relied on the agency; these expenses were no longer tenable, and profit margins plummeted. It would appear that PACT wanted competition; they no longer looked to a single agency to supply their crowd workforce. By giving work to more than one agency, it allowed agencies to compete against each other; which originally had a detrimental effect on crowd rates of pay. In 1994 the ‘deal’ became the byword for hungry agencies competing against each other.
In 1993 ABAA (Association of Background Artists Agents) was formed, by the reputable agencies. They gave an undertaking to the FAA and to Equity that they would abide by union agreements. However the association crumbled during the Equity Commercials dispute in 1996.
Another item in the undated Central Casting letter mentioned above, was the announcement, that the original casting directory fee of £25 requested a few months earlier, would now be raised to £55. It also announced that the charging of commission to PACT production companies (of 8%) would cease forthwith. The agency stated “As a matter of custom our fees in respect of work done by artistes pursuant to the PACT/FAA agreement has been paid by the Client. Unfortunately, this practice can no longer continue.” It went on to say “In future our fees will have to be paid by the artistes themselves out of their earnings in respect of any film or television work; in the same way as they are currently paid in respect of other work.” It finishes by stating, “Just to remind you current fees payable are 12% of gross earnings (plus vat)”. PACT cut their costs overnight, by a whopping 8%. This decision was implemented on 6th April 1993. However later that year, the agency went bust!
So what started in 1993 as a trickle of up-front fee scams by bogus agencies; has now turned into a flood. DTI Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said in November 2003, to the House of Commons, that the new DTI Regulations “Will STOP the practice of agencies in the entertainments and modelling sectors charging the worker a (upfront) fee, but providing little or no work-finding services.” He went on to say “The new starting point will mean that ANY fee will be chargeable only out of the earnings that the work seekers receive for the work that the agency finds for them.” However the DTI failed to deliver what they had promised, when the regulations came into force from 6th April 2004.
The David Agency announced in August 2004, that they would no longer be producing or charging a book fee. Director Laila Debs wrote to her artists, “Most of you have been inquiring about our next casting book. I am pleased to inform you that we have phased that out and we will no longer produce a book in print form. Instead, we are going to base everything on our website which will be more cost effective to both of us; and has lately proven to be the industry preferred method of casting.”
Equity and Bectu in 2002 agreed a joint Code of Conduct for Agencies. In 2004 NASAA (National Association of Supporting Artistes Agents) was formed. It has its own ‘Code of Conduct’. Clause 10 states: Any charges an artiste agrees to be deducted by an agent from his/her account should only be charged from earnings for work, which the agent finds. NASAA believes agents should never compel the payment of money up-front and this includes charges for the inclusion of the artiste in an agent’s book. Artistes should similarly not be compelled to use the agents’ photographic or similar services.
NASAA had intended to bring together reputable agencies from around the country, to set up a scheme to self-regulate the supporting artiste industry. It was intended that NASAA registered agencies would be recognized by the major production companies as being reputable & professional and it has the backing of Equity, BECTU, Department for Trade & Industry and the Department of Culture, Media & Sport. In approximately 20067 this trade association closed down and ceased to exist, due to lack of support by the agencies, who could no longer work together. See the NASAA archived website:
Since then, agencies regularly undercut each other/paid below agreed rates of pay for their workers, just to ensure that they got the work, instead of another agency. The real victim of this greed, of course, was the agency worker...
In the year 2000, it was thought that the government were going to cave in over the unfair charging of up-front fees by agencies to workers in the entertainments industry, prior to the chance/getting any work. A complete ban was thought to be in the pipeline. In 2000 one of the major agencies, 'Ray Knight' announced the end, of the charging of 'up-front fees' (Casting Directory Fees), by that agency. It was announced that to recoup this lost revenue, the agency would increase it's commission rate from 11% + vat to 15% + vat. This meant a hike/increase, amounting to approximately 37%. This now meant the agency were taking a total of 18% including vat...
What is interesting to note, is that all the other leading agencies, also put up their commission rate, to 15% + vat. Were they acting in concert? I think they were. What was really interesting, was the fact that the other major agencies, retained the charging of their up-front fees (Casting Directory fees). So those agency workers, saw they earnings - drop, with no benefit to them. How could these agents do this. Well... because they can. The agency workers has no real choice, because that worker can be replaced by another.
In 2004, The Ray Knight Agency, suddenly decided to reinstate their up-front fees, which then started out, as £25 + vat. Of course... by 2016 the fee had gone up to £50 + vat, which made a total of £60. No surprise! The excuse for reintroducing up-front fees? Well... they claimed it was the burden of employment legislation. Of course they could make any claim they wanted. They of course retained the higher rate of commission. How can they do this? Well... because they can.
One of the reasons why these agencies charged these up-front fees, was the fact that the agents claimed that the production companies required the agency to photograph all the agency workers, for their casting directory. It was claimed that the photographs supplied by the agency worker, were not of a sufficient standard.
However, most of these agencies quietly stopped/dropped taking photographs and asked the agency worker to provide their own. Suddenly the agency workers own photographs became acceptable? Was the original request just an excuse to charge an up-front fee? Of course there was no reduction in the fee charged to the agency worker.
By charging an up-front fee out of the first and possibly only days work that year, these agencies found it was very easy/profitable to give the agency worker just one days work, in that year. This allowed the agency to take on more workers, who would not get much work. This of course left the agency worker with little in return after the up-front fee and higher agency commission had been deducted.
Some workers have only been paid £10 net for that day, which might not even cover the cost of travelling to the venue. Some workers only got one days work in a two year period and may well still owe the agency money. Of course it is difficult to provide exact figures because such information is not made available. Certainly the problem is widespread.
National Minimum Wage Regulations are worthless, for those working in the entertainments industry, through an employment agency.
Every other type of agency worker, are protected, because their agent cannot charge a fee, that reduces the workers earning to below the NMW. Even if the worker signs a contract agreeing to pay fees that reduce their earning below the NMW - the contract cannot be enforced.
Entertainments agencies can agree a fee with the hirer (employer) at the NMW, knowing full well that after the agents commission, the worker will get less than the NMW. Up-front fees can also be charged too, where the agency workers can get little or nothing in return, Not even the NMW.
I have spent almost 10 years consulting with the Low Pay Commission, below is a section from their 2016 report, which the government still refuse to address...
Below, is a section from the TUC NMW Guide...
My response is:
In our industry, agents can negotiate a fee for their agency worker, knowing that it will be below the NMW/Living Wage, after the agents commission/after deductions (for the agents casting directory). That after a single days work, the agency worker may not receive a penny in remuneration and may well still owe the agent money. The TUC clearly state that agents cannot make deductions, that reduce the workers earning to below the NMW.