Agents typically work for their clients, but in the XXX industry it often seems to be the other way around. It’s the agent who dictates how often work is booked, at what rate, and when to choke it off. With more applicants than there are openings, adult-entertainment agents seem to have an endless supply of fresh meat, even with the high turnover rate.
Many agents lock performers into lengthy exclusivity contracts, and while the enforceability is debatable, few companies in the business will risk filming a model an agent doesn’t explicitly authorize. After all, one model isn’t worth the wrath of an agent who can withhold 50 more. These days it is the agent rather than the director who recruits new talent, and it is the new talent that directors want to shoot and audiences want to see. The longer you’ve been in the business, the better known you are by directors, and perversely, you may still depend on an agent to find you work, no matter how big your star: Either do what they say and when or be benched and broke.
Porn stars don’t have power—the agents do.
Frightened and worried that even more work will be lost, few are willing to speak openly about what have now become commonplace issues. “I’m not scared. My contract is up in four months and I have an income I can sustain,” Adria Rae tells The Daily Beast. “Being treated like you’re just a number or livestock to someone who claims they work for you is absurd. It can push somebody over the edge. I enjoy what I do, I love performing and he’s almost ruined it for me.”
Rae, now 21, has been in the adult-entertainment industry for three years. She began as a webcam model in the Midwest before making the leap into porn and researching adult-industry agents. Rae remembers speaking with a few agents before finally signing with LA Direct Models, a top porn agency run by agent and occasional performer Derek Hay.
“The first two and a half years were good years. I had no issues with them but I also had no issues in my personal life, nothing traumatic had happened to me,” recalls Rae. “I was a good worker. It was when I had medical issues that we had issues. When I wasn’t making him money, I was no longer of value.”
Toward the end of last year, Rae was hit with some surprising news—and that’s when the relationship began to unravel. “My agent and I started to butt heads because I found out I was pregnant. I found out the same day August Ames’ death was announced and the next day I had an anal scene booked,” recalls Rae. “I called Derek and told him I wouldn’t be able to shoot tomorrow because I was a wreck. I was charged a kill fee of $500.”
Though LA Direct Models did not represent Rae’s colleague, 23-year-old Ames, at the time of her death, Ames did call out the agency on social media—in a tweet that attracted a torrent of cyberbullying that, some say, led to her death by suicide:
Rae says she later began experiencing complications from the pregnancy, and was forced to rethink her work schedule. “I’d started bleeding a lot and was informed that my pregnancy had moved into my fallopian tube, stuck there causing an ectopic pregnancy. I had to have an emergency abortion,” says Rae. “I was not only charged a kill fee for a scene I missed the next day, I was also charged a kill fee for a scene that was booked at the end of the month, which I had canceled two weeks in advance. I’d just gone through an abortion and now I was out of work for a month.”
Posted on Adria’s Tumblr account is an invoice for $1,354—the amount her agency claimed she owed for canceling with advance notice.
Kill fees, according to Rae’s posted screenshots with the agency, seem to be a standard $200 to the producer per day plus the price of travel.
Hay agreed to comment—but by email only. Concerning their standard practices once a scene is booked, Hay was asked if there was any criteria in which a model might cancel and not owe a kill fee. “Yes, so long as a model cancels and it is not ‘same day,’ no kill fee would be due. Kill fees are almost always only due for a ‘same-day’ cancellation,” wrote Hay. “And again, so long as there was no other expenditure made by the studio employer related to the employment, such as plane tickets, hotel rooms, custom-made costumes, etc. We define ‘same-day’ as anything after 6 p.m. the evening before the shoot, as do most studios.”
Paying kill fees isn’t optional either, even if a model disagrees. It’s not uncommon for a model’s checks to go directly to the agent when there’s a debt to settle. Sometimes the model doesn’t discover she won’t be getting paid until after the work is performed, when she’s waiting for the check and the company basically says, “Sorry, this is going to your agent, they said you owed them.”
On May 9, Rae tweeted out (from an account that’s since been suspended), “On May 6th I attempted to take my life. Luckily I was unsuccessful and the next morning I canceled the scene I was supposed to shoot. I was charged a $200 kill fee even though they found a replacement.”
Rae’s admission shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s been less than a year and the adult industry has already buried five young women—some suspected suicides, others confirmed. LA Direct Models represented two of the performers: 23-year-old Olivia Lua and 20-year-old Olivia Nova. (Full disclosure: I had a half-dozen agents in the industry and one of them was LA Direct.)
LA Direct has been keenly aware of the industry’s tragedies, as reflected in a statement it issued this year: “Much comment has been recently made on the number of adult stars having passed in the last year and with great sadness we must inform that the list has grown longer. We learned today that Olivia Lua passed away this morning—may she rest in peace.”
When Rae told her agent that she’d attempted suicide that night, she said her agent’s response was to put her on medical leave until her mental health improved. “He said we’ll settle all debts today and until you have a medical note from a doctor you will not resume shooting. Then he sent me an email and said if I do try to shoot while I am under this medical leave they will sue me,” says Rae. “Not one person from my agency has reached out to ask if I’m OK.”
Regardless of the situation, once a model has signed with an agent, options for alternative representation are severely limited. The Daily Beast posed the following question to Derek Hay: If a model no longer wants to work with LA Direct but is locked into a contract with you, that seems to give your agency the power to starve a model from work until she sees it your way or quits the business. The years it would take to wait out your typical term agreement would be devastating to a young model’s career, which has a shelf life. So what options does a model have for getting out of her contract and being an independent freelancer?
Hay’s response was as follows: “You ask the question in a disrespectful and derogatory manner though i cannot say I did not expect that, when I agreed to E-mail interview with you. In the first place the State requires talent agents to be licensed and to be licensed they must meet all the criteria the State sets forth to meet that standard and become properly licensed, and to be of good financial standing and credit to obtain a Bond. Furthermore the State stipulates the contract the Agent shall use with its clients and the Talent Agent may only use that contract with no changes to it—which I also mentioned in the previous set of questions and answers. The question assumes a nonsense, because the agency never wants a model to be starving, for obvious reason, if a model is not found employment then the model generates no commission for the agency, besides other ethical considerations which a professional agent would always wish to work in the best interests in good faith and to the best of their ability for all of their clients. An agency is only paid a commission (percentage) derived from the employment obtained on the models behalf by the agent. No employment = no earnings.”
Agents are indeed commission-based, but an agency can represent hundreds of models simultaneously, so the impact of keeping a non-booked model may be fairly low.
“I feel really angry about what’s going on,” says adult performer Gia Paige. “People are worried about being legitimately sick because they're going to get hit with a kill fee for not working when they physically or mentally can’t. Some of these kill fees aren’t even coming from the company but are coming from the agent, which seems unethical to me.”
Paige, who is not represented by LA Direct, has also had some negative experiences with agents in the business. Her first agent took advantage of her naiveté. When she realized it and wanted to leave, he threatened to blacklist her. Using the contract she’d signed, she was barred from working for certain companies for three years and faced a backlash. Perhaps even worse, there was no support from within the industry. “Companies knew this guy was a scumbag and they still let him be an agent until he was recently arrested,” says Paige.
In an industry that prides itself on self-regulation—keeping performers safe because everyone agrees to the same testing protocols and holds one another accountable—where is that for the agents? When an agent, who holds the ultimate power, is abusing their authority and taking advantage of young women, who will stop them?