How Much? Claim Agency through Financial Savvy

By Adrian Galley

The notion of Financial Planning has many of us freelancers burying our heads in the sand. And for good reason; our income is erratic at best and our job security is nonexistent. As independent contractors we enjoy none of those safety-nets afforded the regular nine-to-fivers: pension fund; paid leave, including sick-leave; unemployment insurance; medical aid and access to workman’s compensation and, for those fortunate enough in these tough economic times, an annual bonus. No, we’re independent contractors, we’re free agents. Continue reading

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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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What kind of actor are you?

WHAT KIND OF ACTOR ARE YOU? by Darren Kelfkens

“Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four.”
(Katherine Hepburn – Actor)

As a director and actor I have had the opportunity of working with the best and worst actors that South Africa has to offer. From the consummately professional to the tardy and utterly talentless. Although, to be fair, the marginally talented yet direct-able goofball can often be more appealing to a director than the ego-centric, self-aggrandizing genius.

So what is it that is expected of you on a professional set? In pursuit of professional longevity, let’s consider those sins for which you will invoke the ire of the director and wrath of the entire crew … and for which you will seldom be forgiven.

NEVER, EVER BE LATE
Yes! You will wait for the crew and the director. They are late because they are working! They have been working for hours before the first shot of the day. All those lights and cameras were rigged to shoot ‘your’ magnificent performance. The make-up and hair truck, or room, was prepped and ready for ‘your’ arrival. Those beautiful clothes (which you abhor) were selected, cleaned, ironed and laid out to assist ‘you’ in ‘your’ performance. Long after you have left the set and are basking in the glow of your brilliance; that self-same crew will be packing, ironing and cleaning in prep for the arrival of the next batch of ‘stars’. You already have the coolest job. You get all the adulation. Don’t disrespect those who carry you to those lofty heights, by being late.

ON SET – YOU ARE NOT BETTER THAN THE CREW!
Believe it or not, this crew has seen better actors than you come and go. They are not impressed by your fame, your talent or ‘your process’. What will impress them is your professionalism. Get them on your side and they will applaud your brilliance and carry you through those dark moments of insecurity which are integral to your craft. They are a group of immensely talented film-makers who never get the recognition they deserve. Their talents build your career. They HAVE seen it all, and when they see ‘it’ in you, they will tell you, and you will know that you are becoming an Actor!

“When I come up against a director who has a concept that I don’t agree with…I’d be more prone to go with them…I want them to have control, otherwise it’s going to become predictably my work”
(Jack Nicholson – Actor)

BE DIRECTABLE AND KNOW YOUR LINES
I work with two types of actors. The first type is the ‘I have a PROBLEM with this scene’ actor. Inevitably this actor is confrontational, judgmental of the writing and ill prepared. Beyond their own performance, they have little understanding of what is required of the scene and have left it to the last minute to ambush a weary crew and director with their ‘motivational’ issues.
The second type is the ‘I’m really struggling with this scene’ actor. This actor HAS invariably done his/her homework and is honest enough to admit to an inability to arrive at a suitable interpretation. A blank canvas – a director’s delight.

Real acting begins once dialogue is out of the way. Watching an actor fumble through a scene without knowing their dialogue is akin to watching a carpenter trying to hammer in a nail with a banana. It’s a small industry; you will work with many of these people again over the coming years. Blemish your professional name at your peril.

‘I never said actors are cattle, I said all actors should be treated like cattle’. (Alfred Hitchcock Director)

STARS WORK IN HOLLYWOOD
Let’s get some perspective: In Hollywood terms, you work on a tiny production, in a tiny industry, in a tiny country, on a tiny continent at the arse-end of the world! So if your CV compares to those of Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep and your mantelpiece is bedecked with Academy Awards, then yes, you are indeed a STAR and I’d love to work with you on my next project!

SMILE … YOU’RE AN ACTOR!
It’s a glorious day when you first climb into your car and drive to a set with that dizzying, self-affirming thought ‘I am an actor!’ Be proud, you’ve worked hard to get here. You are one of a brave few who has beaten out millions of wannabe’s. The actor’s journey into this wonderful industry is intoxicating, exhilarating, terrifying and immensely gratifying. If you want it to last beyond your first job, respect your craft, your director, your crew and your fellow actors. Be a team player…and leave the adulation to the fans.

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So, what’s your real job?

By Adrian Galley

“…Yeah, I’ve only seen that kid in class, but he never does anything. He’s more like a prop”.  (Eric Cartman – ‘Southpark’)

As the long-running soap-opera ‘Generations’ goes off air, the 16 actors at the centre of the storm have filed papers with the CCMA, challenging their dismissal. The first question the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration will have to answer is whether or not it has jurisdiction at all in the matter: are the actors ‘employees’ as defined in the labour legislation, or are they in fact common law ‘independent contractors’.

There is a raft of legislation that requires a clear distinction be made as to the legal status of an employee versus that of independent contractor: from the Income Tax Act, the Unemployment Insurance Act and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. It is unfortunate that many contracts being issued within the Entertainment Industry serve to muddy the waters rather than to provide the necessary clarity.

I argue that the prevailing confusion results from a fundamental misunderstanding as to what an actor actually does, which may also account for the frequent question, “So, what’s your real job?”

An actor who impresses is said to have ‘delivered a good performance’, while a negative criticism will often note that one could ‘see the actor at work’. Could it be that many of us simply confuse the delivery of the work for the work itself? An actor shows up in front of the camera or on stage to deliver the results of their work, not to do the work per se. No self-respecting professional actor would arrive on set without having, at the very least, learned their lines beforehand. In the same vein a professional actor would not turn up at rehearsal without having done background research into the play, the character they are to portray and a host of other factors to be considered in the crafting of their performance.

As a professional actor, my work is done out of the glare of the spotlight, in my own time and space, and using my own resources. It is entirely unsupervised, I don’t punch a clock-card and I pay for sessions with a vocal coach, a dialect coach, movement specialists and various other resources that may be required from time to time. I then attend scheduled consultations, or rehearsals, where I offer proposals based on my work thus far and invite a second-opinion. The director and other members of the creative team may have differing interpretations and these are considered as I continue my work. Finally the agreed date arrives, the curtain rises at the appointed time, and I deliver.

This shift in ‘mind-set’ referred to by the much decorated veteran actor John Kani, allows the actor to claim agency in the work they do and to assume the appropriate responsibility for delivering the goods. As the courts apply their minds to the conundrum in respect of the ‘Generations 16’ it would be to the benefit of the Professional Actor and the Entertainment Industry at large, were they to adopt the relevant mind-set.

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Who pulls the strings as the puppets dance?

By Adrian Galley

The recent Generations debacle elicited much heated discussion on the social media with lengthy threads of self-replicating spirogyra clogging the pond for days. Strong opinions sprouted from all corners but very few hard facts emerged amid the bluster: everyone had an answer but it seemed that no one was willing to ask the right questions. Now, as the thunder rumbles on beyond the horizon and mop-up operations get underway, perhaps it’s time to reflect on some lessons learned.

If nothing else, the circumstances under which 16 actors were dumped from the SABC soapie have highlighted the reigning confusion as to the legal status of freelance actors. Am I really no more than a wage-slave or do I, in fact, have a say in shaping my circumstances?

At a media briefing, Executive Producer Mfundi Vundla made repeated references to his “employees”, while the broadcaster’s COO Hlaudi Motseuneng insisted that actors were no more than “workers”. However, a respected and much decorated veteran of our profession, John Kani, offered a rather apt rejoinder:

“I am an actor. I am professional … therefore, when you engage me, you engage me on a contract with terms and conditions. We are both equal: you do not employ me. You cannot employ me; I do not work for you. We are in contract; we are stakeholders, we are partners”.

As our venerable colleague points out, actors are not mere servants who do the bidding of their all-powerful masters. Professional actors are not simply “units of labour” to be packaged and traded in job-lots.

The South African Guild of Actors was founded only after it had been clearly established that, as Independent Contractors, freelance actors are legally precluded from forming a union; the Department of Labour had told us as much and in no uncertain terms. What’s more, the Labour Courts have been consistent in rejecting actors who have sought their help, while the relevant Statutory Councils have been equally clear that Independent Contractors are on their own.

So where does that leave us?

If we had the choice, would we rather the government step in and regulate our industry? Or would we prefer the option of self-regulation, making the most of what we have with the range of legal tools at our disposal. It may surprise you to learn that as Independent Contractors we have many financial and tax benefits due to us that are denied the salaried employee. What’s more, these perks extend way beyond whatever security ordinary workers are given by regulation of the Labour Laws.

Wherever ignorance holds sway, we must be willing to ask the right questions. Whose interests are being served while the independent legal status of actors remains vague? I would argue that those who stand to benefit most seek our continued exploitation under the archaic mindset of the master/servant model. We actors can stand firm and demand clarity regarding our contractual independence, or we can dance on in muted silence while others pull the strings. The choice is ours.

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The fruits of our labour stay ripe for generations to come; why go hungry?

By Adrian Galley

The South African Guild of Actors is in the process of negotiating with various stakeholders on contractual matters, particularly those governing the further commercial exploitation of the work of performers in the broadcast media. And do you know what? We are being heard.

When performing in live-theatre, an actor will continue to receive their negotiated fee for as long as the show continues to draw audiences and the producers are convinced of it’s ongoing financial viability. But what happens when a performance is filmed or recorded for broadcast in perpetuity? The out-of-work actor looks on while their creative contribution and their ‘likeness’ continues to generate income for others, be they producers, broadcasters, distributors or sellers of popcorn. An actor who finds success in a particular role may even battle to find subsequent work, being indelibly associated with a character that lives on to haunt them. It is therefore vital that any actor, particularly when performing a principal role, secures a stake in the future exploitation of their work.

Internationally, actors have enjoyed the protection of the Rome Convention since 1961, but in South Africa there has been little attention given to residual rights. With the more recent advent of the internet and the development of sophisticated digital technologies, the scope for copying and digital manipulation of performances has increased vastly and the industry has become truly global. The World Intellectual Property Organisation’s ‘Beijing Treaty’ of 2012 addressed this reality, but South Africa’s signature is notably absent from that document. The truth is that our local IP legislation is outdated and, in the current environment, it is vital that actors secure the necessary rights through the particulars of the contracts they are willing to accept.

The standard SABC contract is currently being updated in consultation with SAGA, with the broadcaster agreeing to a transparent process for calculating actors’ compensation where programs are sold to other countries. Also on the table is a standardised schedule of minimum rates which, it is proposed, will be re-negotiated every three years. While negotiations on a new contract proceed, it has emerged that certain external producers commissioned by the broadcaster to create programs have been unilaterally amending provisions contained in the existing performer’s contract; a law unto themselves. However SAGA is now insisting that the SABC actively enforce the contractual terms throughout the commissioning chain. Well, the Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) is currently reviewing the Guild’s proposals and we await their response.

On another front, ETV’s free satellite offering has seen a slow uptake of decoders, with the ‘Openview’ platform not yet sustainable through advertising revenue. Nevertheless, the broadcaster is obliged to continue to create content, even though it is anxious to limit its financial exposure; wouldn’t you be? But when a recent production attempted to omit entirely the contractual provision for commercial exploitation and repeat broadcasts, SAGA dug in its heels. Together with the PMA we stood firm and the broadcaster listened. In the interests of stimulating local production, however, the Guild has agreed to consider a certain ‘window period’, yet to be defined, which closes when an agreed number of decoders has been sold. Once that threshold is reached, principal actors are automatically eligible for recurring payments each time the production is aired. Given the preponderance of ‘repeats’ on this particular channel, actors can look forward to a reasonably constant residual stream of income.

The South African Guild of Actors has been receiving valuable legal advice from our union partner UASA, the quality of which has undoubtedly contributed to the relative willingness of both broadcasters to commit to open channels of communication. And, of course, SAGA continues these discussions secure in the knowledge that we enjoy the support of our growing membership.

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A taxing ordeal: sleeping with SARS.

By Adrian Galley

“Has anyone had a call from the Taxman to say you owe him money?” An awkward murmur rumbles through the gathering, but no-one’s putting up their hand.

“Not?” Still, there are no volunteers.

“Then chances are pretty good that He owes you money”. And with that the room falls into a rapt silence. “But he’s not going to tell you that: you have to ask for it”.

Independent tax practitioner Tess Fairweather was addressing a breakfast meeting of SAGA members in Cape Town, and everyone there was suddenly glad they’d rolled out of bed a little earlier than usual on this particular Saturday morning.

In line with the subject of my previous blog, Tess emphasises the need for actors to remember that they are each, in effect, an independent business entity. Being self-employed, a freelance actor doesn’t benefit from the country’s stringent labour laws; on the other hand, as a business, they are entitled to all the tax-breaks that other commercial enterprises take for granted. Perhaps we’d do well to consider SARS as a sleeping partner in our business affairs.

“What? Sleeping with the enemy!”

Well, not really. You see, the Receiver of Revenue actually wants businesses to succeed; if he squeezed them too hard, he’d cook his own goose! So, he calculates his slice based on a company’s profit, not its turnover. Profit is what’s left of your income after you’ve subtracted all the expenses you’ve incurred in making sure your business is able to continue operating. As your silent partner, SARS thoughtfully takes 25% of your turnover and keeps it aside, while you take care of the marketing and delivery of your services. If at the end of the tax period there’s no profit, he gives it all back. That’s right; it’s yours to spend as you wish, but not if you don’t claim it.

Think of it as a windfall from your stokvel.

In fact, if you earn an average of R5000 a month or less, SARS doesn’t want anything; the first R63 556 of your business profit is tax-free. If your total income was less than that in the 2013 tax year, and if you had 25% deducted at source, you’ll get a windfall of R15 889. No questions asked; you don’t even have to claim expenses. For any income above that figure, you can legitimately subtract the cost of running your business.

Just be sure to keep a good record of everything you fork-out.

For instance, any business needs to advertise to survive: your headshots and the cost of producing a show-reel are fully deductible, as is publication in The Limelight and your listing on Voicebank. And, of course, it goes without saying that your SAGA dues are also fully tax-deductible. You’d be surprised at the many expenses you are entitled to claim: from a portion of your gym membership, haircuts and manicures to a percentage of your rent, garden-services and even armed-response security.

But SARS insists your claims are both reasonable and justifiable; your sleeping partner may be fair, but he’s not dumb. So, you might have a hard time explaining the relevance to your business of your child’s dentist bill or that group outing to Gold Reef City. On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to have lunch with an influential director, and you’re feeling flush, by all means pick up the tab. Just make sure you keep the slip.

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