Thane Camus & Talent Agencies
It’s been awhile since I saw Thane Camus, Japan’s favorite foreign ‘talent’, on Japanese TV. A recent article on Crisscross News has revealed why:
This year has seen a bit of an upheaval in Camus’ life after he decided to leave the agency he had been with for 14 years, resulting in a bitter court battle. Camus says the worst is behind him, but adds that the protracted negative publicity has had an effect on his work offers. “I used to have regular spots on TV, but at the moment, I am limited in what I am able to choose. Fortunately, I have been in the industry for 15 years, so I have established a lot of relationships, regardless of whether I change agencies or not.”
In the meantime, having learned the lessons from his past agency, Camus and a colleague, Michael Anop, have established a new talent agency for foreigners, Eclipse Production (www.eclipsepro.jp). “We are foreigners dealing with foreigners, which is a little bit different. It will be for foreigners who speak Japanese fluently and have an area of expertise. We will be open from the very beginning about how much we are getting and what percentage we take,” Camus says.
I may not be much of a fan of Camus, but his move to create a talent agency by foreigners for foreigners seems like a good idea. For too long, Japanese talent agencies have made a killing by whoring out Japanese and foreign actors and comedians. It’s not uncommon for such agencies to take nearly 90% of their stars’ earnings. Many entertainers are paid set salaries much lower than what they would actually make if they were paid based on their actual television appearances. In Japan’s climate of one-gag comedians and fads that rise and fall quickly, this often leaves comedians and ‘talent’ in the poor house when their popularity dies and they are cut from their agency(in other countries, being paid to appear on TV several days a week over the course of a year might leave you with enough money to live comfortably for years). Most Entertainers see joining the greedy talent agencies as the only means to become popular, and they are pretty much correct. Most TV programs only accept performers who are provided by the major talent agencies. It doesn’t matter if you have a hilarious comedy act that beats the shit out of lame-asses like Neko Hiroshi, if you aren’t signed with a talent agency who is buddy-buddy with all the networks, you don’t get on TV. You’d think that entertainers would try to organize themselves and fight this horrible system, but it just isn’t happening.
Most Japanese people I’ve mentioned the system to think it is fair. After all, the talent agencies often provide housing and some pocket money to entertainers before their popularity takes off. It’s a risky investment to provide food and housing for an entertainer who could fail, so that entitles the talent agencies to take a gigantic cut out of any earnings that entertainer makes when he/she becomes popular. No need for change, right?
Clearly Thane Camus and other foreign entertainers are not putting up with this bullshit. Right now Thane’s agency is focusing on promoting foreigners who can fluently communicate in Japanese and speak intelligently about topics. Perhaps this is good, since it’s kind of degrading to provide foreigners for the typical “wacky foreign dancing monkey” segments on variety shows. It might also spare them the fate of Bobby Ologun, a foreign entertainer who constantly degraded himself by playing moronic negro minstrel roles on TV.
Bobby tried to break free from his greedy talent agency, eventually culminating in a brawl in the offices of the agency back in January. The agency punished him with a 3 month ban on television appearances, which appears to have been extended indefinately. While Bobby remains under contract with the agency until December 2007, he has nonetheless started his own talent agency. He still isn’t appearing on any TV shows, but he does seem to be making a living from K-1 matches. Considering what Bobby’s television personality was like, this isn’t exactly a tragedy for foreigners in Japan.
There is a new survery translation over at What Japan Thinks today. The Japanese internet site ‘goo’ asked Japanese people what foreign-born celebrity they would most like to go on a trip overseas with. Thane Camus was the top-ranking celebrity. He might have trouble appearing on TV as much as he used to, but his fans still like him. Hopefully this is a good sign for Thane and his new talent agency. As an opponent of lame talent agency system, I’m all for the success of Thane’s venture (as long as he doesn’t actually end up ripping off entertainers worse than the Japanese talent agencies do).