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Commercial Casting; GSA traps; Chinatown Galleristas

LETTER FROM L.A.: Commercial Casting; GSA traps; Chinatown Galleristas

copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


            Is commercial casting… up? Down? Are more commercial agencies going to close? Did all those that recently closed actually close?

            There’s a kind of melancholy irony in these concerns, given that many actors regard commercials with varying degrees of disdain ranging from an outright refusal to do them to a begrudging gratitude that they offer income between ‘real’ acting jobs. Right now, commercials are looking a lot like the lover whom you’ve taken for granted while mooning over an old flame – until said lover announces, “You know, I’ve been thinking about our relationship and...”

            First, the good news. The L.A. Times recently reported that production in L.A. has started to return over the past year. A little. No, not to pre-strike levels. But any movement in the right direction is like a few drops of rain in a drought.

            Then there’s mixed messages on the recent commercial agency closings. Lawrence Parke, whose monthly publication The Agencies is a standard source out here, points out that “Cosden-Morgan was a brief merger (long ago). The Morgan Agency, back to its original title a few months ago, simply chose a way to close the long outdated, unused Cosden connection; is very much alive. In fact advancing now.” He also adds that several people from Abrams-Rubaloff’s On-Camera Dept immediately joined The Morgan Agency after their division close.

            Also encouraging. Except that he then adds that some other commercial departments are “on the brink”.

            Damn. This is almost as bad as watching the stock market. And possibly just as indicative of the national ecomomy.

            Meanwhile, if you’re out here and you do sign with a new agent just now, chances are you’ll be signing a General Service Agreement (GSA). And even if SAG and the ATA do sign another contract, apparently the GSA’s will remain in force for those who signed them in the interim. So, what’s wrong with that?

How about agreeing that the agency will be your "sole and exclusive representative"? In other words, no more separate commercial, voice-over or other agency or agent. Also, the actor agrees that they "do not now and will not in the future" have any other representative. Like a personal manager?

Then there’s the "worldwide representation" clause…. Never mind residuals and length of contract. Nothing illegal here - this is a state approved contract. But not of course a SAG contract – which is to say, not one that was negotiated with an eye on actors’ best interests. Though it’s been suggested that actors “review” these before signing them, the question is, exactly what choice do they have?

Imagine galleries in Chinatown. That’s probably harder to do in New York, where a lively Chinese community and steady tourist foot traffic maintain the area’s character. In L.A., however, the very idea of foot traffic is optimistic at best and even the various pedestrian malls in Chinatown rarely see the crowds that clog its New York cousin. As a result, a number of souvenir shops and other spaces have… become available. Available, cheap space? Can you say, ‘art scene’?

In the past year a number of galleries have begun to share pedestrian areas intended for restaurants and Chinese tchotchkes shops. At least one exuberantly keeps the same tacky sign left by the former occupant, who no doubt sold paper parasols and gold-painted Buddhas. Several are grouped on Chung King Road, a bit behind the main tourist area. Others are scattered about, including one where a Punk retrospective was hosted by a statuesque woman in a transparent plastic body suit.

This is every redevelopment agency’s dream these days: a vigorous art scene, attracting upscale tenants. Certainly, these galleries have brought new blood to the area. But at least one, in an old barber shop, roots itself in local history. All the shows there highlight some aspect of Chinatown, past or present. One, for instance, integrated tourists’ reactions to the area. And at a most recent opening, a woman actually cut hair, paying homage to the space’s sixty years as a barber shop.

How profitable are such projects? Well, actors will be able to relate to another aspect of the gallery: the two women who run the place support it with their day jobs.