They say that, if you're going to do background work, the real money's in commercials. They say, "just do commercials, and you'll get upgraded to a principal contract most of the time". They don't say how to break in to that portion of the industry, any more than they'll tell you how to break in to any lucrative industry. I've gotten some training and plenty of positive feedback and cut a demo reel for voice acting work, but I still don't quite know how to break in to that portion of my industry either. Needless to say, I don't make much money in commercials or voice acting. Whatevs.
Yesterday, I was on set for a television show that's set in the 1960's. I got there early, with my hair in rollers, and discovered that there was no hot breakfast waiting, nor would there be a hot lunch in six hours, and I'd be lucky if I didn't have to buy my first cuppa coffee. Had I known that I needed to eat a bowl of cereal and prep my cuppa at 6 o'clock yesterday morning, I'd have done those things. Instead, by the time I made it in, I was starving and sleepy, and by the time I got my cuppa, I had to throw my ass in the hair and makeup chairs to get beautified. Some hot breakfast did arrive, but since it was from Craft Services rather than Catering, there wasn't going to be anything I wanted still hot by the time I had access to it. No worries; live and learn. Find some protein and move on. #FirstWorldProblems are not actually "problems". I'm blessed.
There were twelve of us booked as a specific group, and early in the day, we were informed that we'd be chanting, in unison, some scripted lines. We'd not been given the script ahead of time; most of us do consider ourselves actual actors, but we weren't being paid to speak something we'd have to learn, and the question arose whether what they were asking of us fell under the guidelines of our "background" contract.
We had discussions with our PA about the best way to provide the production with what they needed without screwing ourselves. The PA had discussions with higher-ups. They came back with solutions that we were all willing to follow-through on, but we still had questions about our contracts. So we made a few phone calls to the union. A union rep just happened to show up to set in time to hear us doing the bit, and during our "walk-away" lunch, he got the scoop from the folks he was representing the union on behalf of: us, the background actors. (I know, it sounds like that should have been a "we" but I'm pretty certain that the background actors are the object rather than the subject of this sentence, so I'm going with "us".) An email or two were exchanged. We, the background actors, continued to provide the production with what they'd requested, and we hoped for a positive, equitable outcome. The final phone call with the union indicated that we, the BG actors, would need to inform production that they'd breached our contracts or file a claim with the union after we'd received our payments, and wait potentially two years while it all got sorted. More emails were exchanged with the site rep. By the time we wrapped for the day, the site rep reappeared and asked US, the background actors, whether we would allow him to take up our case with production. This meant none of us had to risk being classified as a "ringleader" or rock the boat, as it were. We gladly accepted his offer.
We wrapped out for the day having no idea what would come of it. It was great to be on set, as always. It was frustrating to think that a big-budget production would try to cut corners by going a certain route, or even change the route to get into what could possibly be considered "gray areas". We had an advocate, but we had no idea how effective he might be. It made the whole experience less than what any of us had expected, going in. Still, I decided to just leave it be. I'd done what I could to get an answer, and there wasn't anything left for me to deal with. Worst-case scenario? I'd be paid for my background work, and the union would inform me that the speaking bit did in fact fall under "Omni" guidelines. No harm, no foul.
At 9:12 this morning, I received a call from the production. I was expecting an email from the union site rep by Tuesday, not a phone call from production TODAY. So at 2:30, I grabbed Stephen from his walk home from work, and the two of us headed back over the hill. At the end of the next set of errands, we stayed on that side of the world to dine with friends we'd not seen in awhile. A lovely end to a day that hadn't really started out particularly "productive" or special.
Here's what "going with the flow" and "allowing" and "due diligence" got me: an upgrade from background to principal contract, with a much fatter "mailbox money" paycheck when it arrives (posted by Thursday of next week, according to union guidelines, I think), and the potential for residuals on down the road.