This post is (mostly) for my Seattle actors, but I would love comments from my LA peeps. You know who you are!
1. Acting in Film is different than Acting in Theater. There are far more opportunities for work on the Stage in Seattle. It is a bit harder, at least in terms of numbers, to get a “job” in front of the camera.
2. If you are represented by an agency, you are going to have more opportunities for paid, on-camera work. However, having an agent MIGHT prevent you from working on unpaid on-camera gigs.
Okay, let’s get started. I have been working in the theater since July 2000. Between 2000 – 2010, I never worked for free. I think my smallest paycheck was $50. I averaged 3.5 shows per year. In 2010, I was invited to join the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Henry V.
Since joining AEA, I have averaged 1 show per year. Making me ineligible for insurance benefits (you need 20 weeks per year, and one show gets you about 8 weeks), and, apparently, harder to cast. I do not regret joining the union (most days). I earn a bigger paycheck when I do work, and working less in the theater affords me more time to develop my skills as a film actor.
Before I move any further, I will say this: Even if I was not a member of AEA, I would never act in staged play for no pay. Most staged plays in Seattle run for 4 weeks and rehearse for 4 weeks. At least this is my experience. If you are working in the “fringe” or doing “community theater”, you are probably rehearsing 15 – 20 hours per week. I don’t have 15 – 20 hours per week to volunteer my time as a stage actor. But, I have been working for over 10 years. I have been plying my trade for 10 years. If I was a blacksmith who had been working his craft for 10 years, I would expect to be fairly compensated for my work. Now, if I was JUST starting out…maybe a different story…
Which brings me to another thought: Are you a careerist or a hobbyist? If you are “only in it for the art,” and are financially secure, you might not care on whit about not being paid. I get it, but I would not do it.
Then, we have the “acting intern.” Often a recent grad of an arts institute who is getting their feet wet at a “more respectable” company. This variety of employ seem to lead to the most future work, especially within the company. It is a real form of “paying one’s dues,” which seem to be most available to new graduates entering the “career path of professional acting.”
Now, here is the meat and potatoes of this post: Should actors work for free for film? And, if so, for how long? If you are shooting a commercial or industrial…or modeling, etc., you should most definitely expect to get paid something. Don’t let someone capture your image and your being if they plan on selling it to make a buck while not paying you a dime. One of the first commercial gigs I ever booked was during college. I got paid $100 for some stock photo thing. I used to see the picture on the internet – a big group of people nicely dressed and looking cheery. It was a few hours of work and it was painless.
In late 2010, I shot a short film which I have yet to see. I did not have an agent at the time, but booked the gig through a mutual friend. I did audition (in early 2010, I think), and we shot later in the year. I worked for NO PAY AT ALL. If I remember, some kind of meals were provided, and everyone on set was great (which helps when you are working for free). I signed with an agent in late 2010, and since then, have booked one student film (working for free – about 5 hours of shooting – something I would not do again, per agency guidelines), shot a TV pilot with North X Northwest (paid SAG scale), a feature (paid SAG Ultra Low Budget daily rate) and a short film (paid SAG Ultra Low Budget daily rate). Last year, I also booked a commercial and two industrial videos, all of which were paid (about $600/8 hours). Now, would I work in front of the camera for free tomorrow? No. Why? I have an agent who frowns on this practice. For me. For me, as a careerist, I am not going to tell the world via my willingness to work for free, that the cost of hiring me is nil. I am more valuable than that. My talent is worth, at least, $100 per day (8 hours). That ain’t much, now, is it? Barely over WA State Minimum Wage. If you are a producer, and you are reading this, take note: Get the funding required to pay actors what they deserve.
The “problem” with filmmaking (for the actor) is that it is a director’s medium. To put together a halfway decent product you don’t need Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And, since there are innumerable actors willing to work for free, we have plenty of opportunities for actors desperate to “work.” Now, don’t get me wrong: I want to work, too. And, if it was the “right” project, I would probably work for free again (with agency approval). My main objection to working for free is that it seems to set this precedent: in order to make indie films, all producers have to do is provide credit, copy, and the occasional PB and J.
The other reason I touched on this topic is because I know there are hard working, super cool, highly talented actors who are in my city (Seattle) who work for free and have amazing expereinces. I want to hear your stories! And I want to know when you will, if ever, decide to no longer work for free and why.
Thanks for reading, and, as always, please comment! I love the discourse!