New York City Casting Director, Scott Powers, shares his thoughts on how to take the fear OUT of signing a contract with your agent or manager from the talent’s perspective.
Sooner or later, you'll be asked to "sign." It can come out of the blue, or after a steadily developing relationship. How you handle the situation can definitely advance your career, or kill it - sometimes costing you money you didn't anticipate.
When an agent or manager asks you to sign, you the actor should approach this very serious offer with a cool head. Don't be emotional, don't succumb to peer pressure ("everybody's doing it"), or look for bragging rights to friends and family. Take a deep breath and proceed logically.
Generally, signing means you have an exclusive relationship with an agent or manager. This means you are choosing to only go out through them, no one else. You are handing over a part of the governance of your career to someone else, for better or worse. In some markets, you can sign for commercial representation only and you are free to freelance for film, print, and TV through others (as an example). There is no firm rule. It is what the talent and agent agree upon.
Signing can be for a number of years, and can also be dependent on how many auditions or amount of income is generated with this partnership. Sometimes, a contract can stipulate they represent you in the U.S. or throughout the world or even retain the right to use your name and image indefinitely, even if the contract lapses. Any contract is going to be written in favor of the writer, not the signee. That is ok as long as you understand your commitment and what to expect of their services.
Signing is a show business marriage. On the personal front, hopefully you don't marry someone on your first date to Starbucks. Do your research and give yourself time to make a solid decision.