This is a long post. Read it.

By Chantal Herman.

(What follows may affect sensitive actors – because it’s true)
But I’m sad because this year in particular, I’ve realised, there are 2 kinds of actors.

There’s the one who reads his contract, phones her agent regularly, seriously contemplates not accepting bad-paying gigs on principle; works on her accents, networks, follows up with production offices who owes him money and calls friends up to create something new or mess around on camera to hone her technique. This actor will call up another who got the part, to congratulate him, knowing that that is just how it goes. – an ACTor who takes ACTion in the business of their career.

These people become the automatic ACTivists because the industry is so rife with exploitation and pays so badly that sooner or later, when you start knowing your worth as a human being and then an actor – because you know what you can bring to a production and the character – you can’t, in good conscience, take the abuse anymore. These are the people who end up being at the forefront organising SAGA to come in and assist when the poo hits the windy place. They’re also the people who belong to SAGA way before the poo happens because it makes sense to any professional, concerned, business-minded actor to do so.

Then, there’s the other actor. This actor believes he can play the lead in any production going. She also believes her agent has to find her work and waits for the phone to ring. She doesn’t go to gym, accent classes, brush up classes, or watches plays because she says she can’t afford it. This actor is the first to complain when not given a chance to audition for a role they fit, the first to complain to their friends about the bad pay, the first to complain to their friends (not their agent) about what their agent is not doing for them. They are also the first to take bad-paying gigs (without fighting for better fees) because the bills need to get paid and they don’t want to rock the boat. They are usually resentful of other actor’s success because they could do it better. They rarely pick up a phone to call producers or directors to tell them they’re available for work or have a new voice demo to drop off. These people are stuck in the quagmire of ever-diminishing work opportunities and ever-diminishing pay-cheques and resign themselves to the fact that it has always been thus, and thus it shall ever be.

It’s sad because these actors don’t realise the damage they are doing to the industry by being the assumed ‘powerless’ cog in a huge mechanism. They cry “Pity me” because they’re way past the poverty line, EXPECT other people to get up and make the change and yet growl and complain when the boat-rocking starts and they are called upon to do their part to make their own lives better. Don’t they know that we’re all suffering? Their bills are no more important than their peer’s yet they’ll grab the scraps that no one should accept and derail anyone’s concerted effort to get a morally acceptable wage.

It’s sadder because there is a small few that are at the frontlines, having worked professionally in the industry and know that something must be done. They, out of their own, have started something because they know it is the right thing to do and it will eventually lead to huge, positive change in the industry. But their work is consistently hampered by agents with poverty consciousness grabbing at ANY commission to keep their business afloat. One wonders how much their actors work or what kind of actors they represent if this attitude pervades their business. I know of agents who want to set the bar at the MINIMUM suggested fee so that advertisers don’t have the audacity to go below that. But we have actors saying they’ll take what they can get and use their agent’s mandate against them. And yet, they still want the industry to change and are totally fine with that small bunch of ACTors, agents and Guild people working on their behalf to standardise contracts and demand repeat fees with NO remuneration – like some people were just BORN to use their free time and resources for our benefit.

And what is even sadder is that the actors who are successful in the SA industry are so tired of this constant battle for minimum wage or just a little respect that they consider emigrating because the countries with a union or equity just work. And these are the people who are attending the meetings and actively involved in their own careers, contracts and copyright. But why must they be the ones constantly fighting while the rest of us sit and watch or just complain when they get ‘our’ role – not realising that we’re being taken in by the celebrity BS veneer when we SHOULD KNOW BETTER.
The thing is, it shouldn’t be this tough to be an actor in SA. The only reason you shouldn’t be able to make a living as an actor, is because you suck or because you’ve chosen the wrong profession. No seriously.
Think about it. If you were paid your day rate + 200% + a fee for not being able to audition for anything similar for 3 years – one advert would mean feeding your kids for at least 6 months, right? If that nameless channel started airing that disastrous comedy you were in from 1998 and actually paid you repeat fees, it would cover your expenses for 3 months – as well as your shame. You’d feel optimistic and able to make the right decisions about your career in the comfort of your own home (cos you were able to buy one).

Morally acceptable rates means you have a buffer so you can keep yourself upskilled, ready for action and sane – even when you’re not officially working. And maybe, you can even start working on that play you’ve been wanting to write.

And it’s not incorrect to assume that we all want to be paid what we’re worth.

Something’s got to give.

We can complain that we get no respect as actors but, with respect, we’re perpetuating that status quo.

If you’re not treating your career as a business, checking your contracts, actively participating in your career and a working relationship with your agent, making sure you are on top of your game and show ready and prepped for your work, your voice over or audition and just generally hustling every day to be employed, better or making your own work then you don’t have enough respect for your craft and vocation either. Why should others treat us better when we behave like school kids at break-time.

We need to be proud of our vocation. Proud of our work and proud to be part of a community of creatives like no other.

WE ARE COMPLAINING ABOUT SOMETHING THAT WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT – IF WE ORGANISED OURSELVES.

The DTI rep at the SAGA/FIA conference told us that marching to parliament about our copyright issues may be the only way they pay attention and make sure we are heard. WHO’S UP FOR A MARCH!??
Yeah, thought so.

Have you even listened to the copyright interview on the saactors.rockthisuniverse.com site?

The International Federation oF Actors and SAG/AFTRA/ACTRA were bemused by the total lack of actors at the conference – a conference that other international people sponsored to bring them here to HELP US because it is in everyone in the world’s best interest, for SA to have a strong guild. “Surely actors would want to be involved in better rates, repeat fees, how their image is used and paid for overseas, how they are cast in international gigs; getting a pension?” One actor remarked that if the international unions kept experiencing our apathy, they would give up trying to help us. I hope that doesn’t happen.

And what feels even WORSE is that we believe it is morally wrong to work without getting paid and yet think it’s perfectly fine for people who have organised a guild to work on our behalf (to get us more money) without getting paid because there are not enough paying members to foot the bill.
This is not a call to join SAGA. What this is is a call to take an empowered role in your own career. Yes, it will probably mean that you start to really see what problems are facing us and you may start getting as frustrated as others but at least you can start to move toward making stronger decisions about your career and encouraging others. When all of us respect ourselves and the work we do, we can start to make unanimous decisions about what is best for our continued careers and bank balances and then urge our agents to not accept below minimum rates. Of course we can try for more but WE SHOULD NOT BE FIGHTING FOR MINIMUM RATES.

Production houses will then HAVE to budget appropriately because they won’t get a professional, represented actor for less. And then you won’t have to feel like crap knowing you got the role because you were cheap, not the best.

And, as far as adverts go – that R500 extra you don’t want to fight for? They spent R10 000 flying in and accommodating the client’s wife that day. R500 is the craft table’s extra kitty for breakfast.

So, what can you do.

Call your agent. Ask questions. Ask how you can help. Find out what is happening where and attend a meeting. You won’t be disappointed and you’d wish more people were there to hear what you hear.

Ask if your agent is a PMA agent (or equivalent) and if she’s using the latest standard contracts for your gig or what the producer has given them. Ask why they are accepting below minimum rates. Go to the PMA website and see what rates are the suggested rates (you’ll be shocked). Download the standard contract. Read it.

Ask how you can up your profile and status. Do you have the latest pics of yourself, latest voice clips, latest pic of you at your weight now on your agent’s webasite? Ask for feedback from producers (so you can learn and fix). Talk to your fellow actors with a solution as your goal. Contact SAGA or a Board member and chat. Find a way to contact the rest of the actors on your agent’s list and see if you can get a vote on collective decisions to help all of you. Aim to be of service to the acting community and not just your rent.

A long letter, I know. But you needed to hear this.

Thank you
C

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3 Responses to This is a long post. Read it.

  1. Extremely well said, Chantal. You are right in every way.
    Though some have been fighting this fight for so long that we are actually worn out. I find that after negotiating rate after rate for work, it gets to a point where I just want to hide and not have to spend my days fighting.
    It is a difficult balance for us as artists, cos none of us got into this business to spend our days doing admin and fighting. All we want to do is work, and get paid a decent salary for it – but the endless hours of negotiating and arguing over rates is extremely draining.

    The other side of it is, going through the rate cards on the PMA website is pretty darn depressing. All of the prescribed minimums are actually around 15 – 20% less than I would accept as a bare minimum. I know we need to start somewhere, and the first hurdle is getting producers to agree to the prescribed minimums, but it’s depressing to see how low they are.

    Having said that, I do not absolve myself of responsibility. I have missed a number of SAGA meetings, mostly due to having work on those days, but sometimes also just cos I was tired and didn’t feel like schlepping out. You are correct, though, unless we ALL get behind SAGA and our own careers, nothing is gonna change – SA is a giant all-you-can-eat buffet for unscrupulous producers to sit and take advantage of – and a lot of the time it’s the locals who are screwing us over, which genuinely breaks my heart. We’re cannibalizing our own industry.

  2. Thamsanqa Joyisa says:

    Power to the wise words, again I have learned something new. I will treasure this.

  3. Thank you, It needed to be said.

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