We all make mistakes. Choosing the wrong agency is a big one to make. You may have signed a contract saying you agree to be exclusively represented by an agency you later find out isn’t really all that great, or not getting you enough work. Now what do you do?
This assumes you want to get out of the contract because your agency isn’t performing satisfactorily. If you are getting work commensurate to your qualifications and just wanting to switch agencies, or renegotiate your commissions (something we don’t endorse), this won’t apply.
1. Have you asked?
This may seem too obvious, but just ask them. If you are not working, they aren’t making any money either and are probably going to be happy to see you go.
2. Have they breached?
If number 1 doesn’t work, read the contract. Is there a way out? Make a list of all their obligations and note how they have performed on each. Then put it into a letter and present them with it renewing your request to get out. Also ask for a list of every action they have taken to fulfill each their contractual obligations.
Agency contracts rarely promise work or have any performance clauses in the talent’s favor. However, in most cases it’s presumed their function is to get you work. Even if it isn’t in the contract, ask them to list each step they have taken specifically on your behalf to get you work.
It’s not a bad idea to have a lawyer do this for you, or at least review what you’ve written.
3. Terminate and see if they accept.
Once you get their response, 1) if they still haven’t released you from the agreement, send them a termination letter citing the breaches you’ve listed in your letter and why their answer is insufficient. 2) If they haven’t given you the details that support their efforts to get you work, put that in and cite that as the reason for termination. 3) If they haven’t replied at all, that becomes your reason for termination.
Give them a specific number of days to respond. Something to the effect of: “If you do not accept this termination, or choose to challenge it please reply within 10 days of receipt of this termination letter. After 10 days I will consider the termination effective”.
Chances are that they won’t fight your termination letter if it’s well written. Again, having a lawyer help with this, or better yet send it for you would be best.
4. Terminate anyway.
Send them a termination letter without asking them to reply and simply walk away. This is marginally riskier than number 3 as without their accepting the termination they have more legal recourse. However, the chances of getting sued aren’t very likely. Not only would it cost them a lot of money, but courts aren’t very favorable of inhibiting individuals from working and many states have specific statutes giving you more rights than what the contract itself may say.
5. Get a lawyer.
Get a lawyer. This is arguably number 1 and if affordable the best ways to terminate your contract. Of course hiring a lawyer can be expensive.
Things to keep in mind.
The professional modeling community is small. Don’t burn bridges unless you have to. Keep all correspondence and conversations cordial and polite. Do try and work it out according to number 1, even if it takes a few tries.
In rare instances, an agency may have invested in you with pictures, training, housing, comp cards etc. If that’s the case, be prepared to have to pay those costs back, or at least negotiate them.
Modeling agencies are protective of their reputations. They don’t want to fight with you, they’d usually rather you go on your merry way. Especially these days with all the trouble you can make for them online by posting your opinions. Don’t threaten them with this, they know it.
Many states have very broad rights allowing you to make a living. If the agency isn’t helping you provide for yourself, and inhibiting you from exploring other ways, it may be illegal for them to not let you out of the agreement. Perhaps better said is that the agreement may be unenforceable. Agencies in such states know this.
One more important thing to keep in mind: If you are young, new to modeling and the agency is still helping you get your book together, you may not be ready to be working. It’s common for it to take some time for new talent to become successful. You won’t get jobs without a proper book, and an agency can’t send you on auditions until you have it, and are ready and experienced enough to work.
Please note this article is written solely based on experience and is not to be construed as legal advice. Labor and contract laws vary from state to state and proper advice will best come from a lawyer that specializes in labor law in your own state.