To my peers: why wouldn’t you offer more to your actors when you can?
If you’re producing a web series on a dime, great. But if it goes somewhere, gets turned into a movie or a successful pitch to a network, why not offer in writing some guarantee to your actors up front about that. Something more than what SAG-AFTRA requires.
If you’re producing theater on a dime, great. But what happens if you keep raising ticket prices, it extends, sells out. Why not offer the actors more than the small stipend you put in the breakdown for your Membership or Self-Produced code show. Not something AEA requires, but something you promise upfront if it’s a hit.
If you’re producing under the new “SPA” in SAG-AFTRA you can defer pay, but what if through some extra-successful pre-production you find a way to pay some of that non-deferred – why not pay the actors more than the zero dollars SAG-AFTRA stipulates?
If you’re a playwright and you’re getting paid, even though I know it’s likely to be peanuts for a ton of time you spent creating this play, and if you’re covered by the Dramatists Guild or some such, but the actors who made your play an unexpected success, with royalties from Sam French sales beyond what you had imagined … well, they are not covered by a good contract, so why not offer, voluntarily as an enlightened artist and not at the behest of AEA, why not offer subsidiary rights? Why not offer to share your profits with the actors who helped you create those profits?
If you’re shooting under SAG-AFTRA’s ULB agreement, and paying your actors a mere $125/day, but hey it goes great and you get distribution, why not bump your cast an extra chunk of change? SAG-AFTRA doesn’t require it, but why not put that in writing. It costs you nothing unless your film goes somewhere.
And it’s not just about a few more dollars. The worst 3 auditions I’ve had in this town (not for my performance – which was great! – but for the people on the other side of the so-called table) were for a film made by actors and theater made by actors.
And while the scheduling from low-budget projects is often very wonderfully flexible, when it’s bad, it’s way worse than fully financed projects.
Lastly, I also want to make it clear that all of this is completely different from the problem of well-funded non-union commercials and non-union national tours. We should all be doing everything we can to fight that, to shut that down. What I’m talking about is a tweak of what seems to be a growing amount of low-budget stuff, but it’s stuff that doesn’t need to be shut down, just be improved.
So in summary, I’d like to see more producers and especially actor-producers move from “we have no money, end of sentence” to “we have no money now, but our aim is high and here is a lovely contractual obligation I am voluntarily promising you if this happens to be one of those projects that go somewhere, and yes indeed it is in writing and it’s not some sort of vague oral statement about how I’ll reciprocate somewhere down the road.”
So I don’t want to go full Melania and tell you to #BeBest, but why not #BeALittleBetter every time?