When the Child Becomes the Parent

USA Today reports that Macaulay has put his career on hold for the duration of the custody dispute. Full story.”
From the “Houston Chronicle”: Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin is willing to dip into his fortune to save his parents from the financial ruin brought about by a long-running custody battle. The 15-year-old actor, whose worth is estimated at $17 million, also has no interest in acting until his parents’ squalling ends, said his lawyer. The actor’s never-married parents, Christopher “Kit” Culkin, 51 and Patricia Brentrup, 40, have spent so much on their legal fight that they are near bankruptcy, the Daily News reported Monday. Macaulay is unable to focus on his career because of the custody battle involving him and his six siblings, his lawyer said. To help smooth things out, his lawyer and accountant have asked a judge to approve a bailout plan for the parents.

The Situation

It has been reported that Macaulay Culkin is going to court to ask for permission to withdraw money from his trust fund. His parents are running out of money, and he feels this is necessary to protect them from financial ruin.
At this point, the facts currently known become sketchy. According to Reuters, he needs at least $1.9 million dollars in order to buy a new and larger home for his family. His worth is currently estimated at between $13 million and $17 million. Note that CNBC recently estimated his worth at $60 million. The current estimates are now down more than 2/3 from what they were less than a year ago.
This is, unfortunately, a common occurrence. Parents can have funds removed from their working child’s supposedly “safe” trust fund … and all too frequently the “safe” funds are all but depleted before the child reaches majority. In this case we have a family where the children work and the parents are fed, clothed, and housed on the children’s earnings. When the main earner (Macaulay) ceases to work, the family is faced with financial ruin.
The child has become the parent.

Our Position

Obviously, the family should not be thrown into the street, and the welfare of the other children in the home is of the utmost importance. At the same time, Macaulay should not become another child actor who turns 18 only to find that the money he earned no longer exists – as happened to Jackie Coogan. The family needs a home … but should Macaulay have to buy his family a $1.9 million home? The following would seem proper:
  1. If Macaulay is having to support the family out of his trust fund, then the family should adopt a reasonable and modest lifestyle. A $1.9 million home is excessive. Likewise, the four luxury apartments now held by them is excessive. To protect his trust fund, a less extravagant lifestyle should be mandated by the Court.
  2. The days of his parents spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year must end. If their income is coming from Macaulay’s trust, then they should be placed on a reasonable limit.
  3. The welfare of Macaulay’s brothers and sisters must be assured. The parents, however, should be assumed to be responsible adults capable of earning an income. Let them demonstrate their ability to be parents and adults.
In considering our position, remember that the amount of money that Macaulay has in his trust fund is tenuous at best. There has been more than one child actor who reached majority only to find that all his earnings had been squandered by his parents. Macaulay has given up his childhood for his work; it would be a travesty if his future security were lost as well.

Webmaster’s note: There has been some discussion on various newsgroups concerning the role of agents and managers. As there will always be children trying to get started as actors, we thought that it would be helpful to publish some information on looking for representation.
Please note: this is a rough business. If you are going to make the attempt, please MAKE CERTAIN YOU ARE INFORMED. The Screen Actor’s Guild Young Performer’s Committee holds monthly orientation session for kids and their parents who are getting started. If you are in the Los Angeles area, you can attend one in person. If you are not in the Los Angeles area, the other SAG jurisdictions have a video tape of this session.

I will wear two hats to talk about Agents and Managers, the first as the President and Founder of AMC, and the second as a member of the YPC at Screen Actors Guild.
The Guild has no policy on Managers, and everyone should take that as a precaution to be very careful before signing with anyone…no matter what their promises or alleged skills at the curious world of personal management. Let me tell you a story about the best personal manager I know, Jay Bernstein. He handled Farrah, Suzanne Sommers and hundreds of others over his forty year career. I had the chance to listen to Jay at a conference at USC when he was asked, “How does anyone get started in show business and how do you know when you need a personal manager?”
Jay’s response was telling. “I have no idea how people get started in the Business. Everyone comes to the Industry in a different way. If you look at the Industry on a One-to-Ten scale, with One being the start, I have to tell you honestly that I don’t know how to get you from One to Five. My job, and one I do well, is to take you from Five to Ten. That’s what a personal manager does.”
My friends, you are a fool to sign with anyone as a personal manager at the beginning of your career. With a bottom rate of fifteen percent, why are you giving away your potential income to a person who probably knows less than you can find out by simply letting your fingers do the walking?
Managers of rookies have a bad reputation because a good manager can’t waste his or her time with a rookie. The money is in managing a career that is already underway. Are their exceptions? Of course, but in the main, the person who comes to you for a piece of your pie is doing the same to a whole bunch of people in hopes that one or more of them strike gold and they can cash in without doing anything more than getting a signature on the dotted line.
Mary McDonough (The Waltons) stood by helplessly while her parents signed her up to a personal manager before she even went out on her first audition. She didn’t even have an agent! That first interview was for the Walton Movie (remember that?), and out of the movie came the television series which last nine years! Without a bit of effort her “personal manager” was in for fifteen percent! Ridiculous…and costly.
Some of you may know how I feel about Parents taking a management cut when they are just as naive and inexperienced as their children…and it kills me that the Courts allow these percentages.
Let’s be realistic. What kind of person wants a fifteen percent cut of nothing? Only the unethical…only the pariah…only the bottom-feeder.
There are dozens of firms who sole claim to fame is that they sign up tons of foolish kids and their parents and then sit back to see which one of those kids gets lucky.
By Law (in California) Managers MAY NOT NEGOTIATE for you. That is the Agent’s job. Giving away fifteen percent to a manager in hopes they’ll get you an agent is putting the cart before the horse.
SAG publishes a list of Franchised Agents. Send for it
Screen Actor’s Guild
5757 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Sign with no one else…and Franchised Agents will not ask for a dime up front. Not a dime.
Do some Franchised Agents ask for a minimal payment to be included in the book of head shots they send out? Yes, sixty to one hundred dollars at the most…and some of these booklets sent out to casting agents are actually read and used as a resources. Be careful. You don’t have to be in that book…especially at the start.
Speaking of starts, you should expect to pay between one hundred and two hundred dollars for a professional ‘head shot,’ the kind of portrait you’ll need to mail to prospective agents. Then you’ll need about one hundred dollars for copying that selected photo (lithograph is fine, about 3 cents a copy) and postage to mail to potential agents whose names you got by writing SAG. Okay so far?
Good. The note you send with the picture says, “I’m looking for representation,” and gives a brief (very brief) description of your size and talents. No more than three paragraphs, please. One cover page with your picture. If they’re interested they’ll call.So, for three hundred bucks you’re at least getting started.
In your own region, draw a circle with a five hour travel time circle and contact agents in your area, sending along a photo and a request for representation. In most areas (but not California where 85 % of the work takes place) you can have several agents…and you should if your driving circle takes in two or more large cities.
You’ll want to find out who hires “talent.” Advertisers, shopping malls that put on fashion shows, community theaters, local cable companies. All this information is available to you for low or no cost on the Internet or at the Local Library. Don’t give away fifteen or more percent just because you haven’t the stomach for an information search. If you don’t have the stomach to get started, then DON’T START!
Now then, a legitimate agent calls you back. Great. make an appointment and let your instincts guide you. What is that agent’s client list? Remember, you also compete with actors you share with your agent…and too many in your “category” makes for ill-feelings. You want to be “special.”
Remember, no money is required up front…and if you’re asked to sign on for lessons or sent to “a better photograph,”: beware. This is the money machine that preys on naive ambition. I have seen kids and their parents spend up to five thousand dollars!!!! For nothing.
It may be you are shown a booklet filled with this agent’s client list and asked to participate to the tune of sixty or eighty dollars. Be wary, but remember, that if the person’s legit, that booklet will go out. It might be worth the investment.
But a Manager is perfectly useless at the beginning…and I’m sad to say that you can count the good Managers for kids on one hand.
And Parents, what makes you think you know anything useful to justify that fifteen percent management fee?One day we’ll get a ruling that no one can be a Manager unless they show that they have five years experience with children NOT THEIR OWN. ‘Til then, beware.
Screen Actors Guild has to tackle this issue of Managers because far too many kids are being raped…sometimes up to thirty percent of the gross for a Manager which is unconscionable.
Remember, the government is your partner and in for forty-six percent as it is. Add an agent for the usual ten percent, then a manager for fifteen, and you’ve gone to seventy-one percent of the gross and you haven’t seen a nickel.
Now guess what it’s like when the Court (that allows these percentages) now tells you have to save twenty percent of the Gross for a trust fund!!!!
See why kids get hurt?
See why there are so many recriminations when a child turns eighteen and asks, “Where’s my money?”