A couple years back, a manager I'd been working with asked me to sign with him. I was flattered and scared and wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into - especially since managers aren't held to certain legal standards like agents. I called one of the pay-to-be-seen venues I'd worked with many times, and asked if they had anyone on their staff who I could talk to regarding this issue. In the end, I had some answers to my questions and was able to have a better-informed dialog with this manager - who was happy to be engaged and questioned and we met halfway on some issues. I was lucky. Some people, however, are not.
We're always in search of representation - the ideal proof-positive of which being a signed contract. Lord knows, after that one year, I haven't signed anything with anyone since. I still look forward to having that "first" someday with an agent. But having a contract - of any kind - sometimes isn't all it's cracked up to be.
I started reading this column about American Idol contracts. I found it shocking (in my naivete) that, yes, these contracts aren't necessarily all fairy wings and gumdrops for those who sign them. And I particularly found Ju'Not's statement about his questioning of the contacts to be important: "...Some folks were like, 'Just shut up and sign on the dotted line.' I know better than that...I wasn't complaining...I was asking basic legal questions. There's a huge difference between the two."
I did a print/video shoot for an online campaign almost a year ago and was sitting amongst a group of actors when the contracts were handed out - complete with W-2s. Just happy to be working, I filled mine out, but an actor next to me refused. I may not have shared his concerns, personally (signing a W-2 makes you an "employee" of the company instead of a contractor and therefore certain expenses cannot be written off, for one thing), but he has a right to his. And a right to have an open discussion where his concerns are listened to without feeling pressured by his peers or those he is working for.
It's always a little dicey I find when I get a contract on set, halfway through or at the end of my day. It's good to read through it carefully - ask for more time if you need it - and to calmly ask for clarification. A couple times I've had to raise the point that the +10% isn't listed on the form, and asked someone to please write it in before I sign. It's no biggie, but it is totally an ok thing to do. And when in doubt - call your agent from the set, and if you don't have an agent (maybe you were called through a CD), ask a former teacher, cast-mate or friend.