Toronto film & TV industry rallies to help actors who were bilked by shady talent agency
While rewarding, exciting, and sometimes even glamorous, being an artist can come with a lot of stress, particularly in the financial stability department.
So, unless they're mega-stars or independently wealthy, most full-time professional actors rely on the payments they get from gigs to survive. Like anyone, they deserve and need to be paid in a timely fashion for their labour.
Agencies are supposed to ensure this happens by collecting funds from whoever is producing the film and (after taking a pre-determined cut) passing those funds along to clients.
One now-defunct agency in Toronto has come under fire in recent months for failing to do this job — or half of it, rather.
About 60 different actors say that Compass Artist Management collectively owes them about $500,000. Some individuals are out as much as $50,000.
Many of these actors have been sharing their personal stories with local media outlets in hopes of spreading the word and getting some type of justice after having their finances and, in some cases, their lives, ruined.
It worked; The Toronto Police Service opened an investigation into Compass after the company abruptly announced that it was closing, and police have reportedly received some 50 separate complaints against the former agency for withholding funds from clients as of this week.
Agency director Daniel Philip Friedman responded to the allegations in a statement to The Toronto Star in late October, noting that he didn't do anything "with bad intentions."
"I couldn't feel worse or be more genuinely sorry and sad about how this has affected people. I hope people will believe I left no stone unturned to try and resolve this before it got to this point," he said at the time. "I also want people to know that I am not sitting on money, assets, secret homes in the Bahamas, etc."
Compass, founded only two years ago, was described by The Star in that piece as having been "one of the city's most prolific agencies, with a large roster of artists and a team of agents who were well respected in the industry."
So what happened?
The people who are owed about half-a-million dollars between them would like to know, as would police, and it doesn't look good for the now-shuttered agency.
But even with an investigation into Compass open, it's unlikely that actors will get much back any time soon (unless Friedman somehow finds the funds and settles all his debts.) The legal process can take a long, long time, and the former Clients of Compass are suffering.
Many artists are not only owed tens of thousands of dollars in back-pay, but have been left without talent representation.
Enter the kindness of Toronto's creative community.
Ali Momen, an actor who was not represented by Compass but has many friends who were, decided to start a GoFundMe campaign for those impacted by the scandal.
"Arts work is work. Behind the bright lights and glamour are 15-hour days and immense personal and familial sacrifices. Many of these clients are owed what is equivalent to a year's work after having spent months auditioning for jobs while unemployed or employed in other jobs to keep ahead for lean times.," reads the campaign, which is titled Support the victims of Compass Artist Management.
"This situation is dire as the money may not be made up elsewhere, and the performers counted on this money for mortgages, childcare, rent, retirement, and many other expenses."
With a total goal of $150,000, the campaign had raised just under $22,000 as of Wednesday evening.
Momen says these funds will be used to help pay for legal fees and compensate the artists for what they're owed. Should the overall amount be higher than what the actors are owed, remaining funds will go to charity.
Some pretty generous donations have been rolling in lately, including $1,000 from HighballTV, a streaming service for film festival movies.
"HighballTV expects the companies, agencies, and unions in this industry to act in the best interests of the artists we employ, and we refuse to sit idle when the money we pay them for their work is stolen by criminal middlemen instead of going to the artists themselves," reads a comment left by the donor.
"We will work to help these artists find the justice they deserve."
Says Momen: "This disaster could have happened to any of us... Some of these victims are my friends, and I knew their stories, but through starting this GoFundMe, I have heard the stories of other Compass clients, and each story breaks my heart."
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