Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Should we do self-submits?

Self-submits: there are a whole range of opinions on this one!  A self-submit is when you scan (or scour) the casting websites (in NYC, there is NY Casting – or LA Casting on the west coast; Actors’ Access, and Casting Networks, to name a few) and they often have “ads” in which a casting director/company/filmmaker would post a breakdown for actors (parents) to submit themselves for a role.  These can range from print opportunities to student films to indie productions that want to save money by doing the casting themselves – and one friend (shout out!) submitted her son for a role in a film that was released at Sundance and received wide acclaim – score!  So honestly, there can be some cool stuff out there.  We have done some self-submits in the past that have resulted in auditions and bookings, and my daughter has worked on two Columbia MFA films, which were great experiences.  There are also casting calls for extra work, which I addressed in a previous post.  Allegedly, politicians have used casting websites (or companies) to fill audiences when necessary.  I’m thinking the actors probably signed NDAs (non-disclosure agreements: they cannot talk about it).

Anyway, should you self-submit?  My first nugget of advice is: always ask your agent or manager.  Some agents and managers may feel strongly about this, and you should know their opinion right off the bat.  Personally, we tried a few when we first started, and I sort of gave up looking.  Especially when your kids are older and have more school and extra-curricular commitments, it might not be worth it to do castings, auditions, and jobs in addition to what your agents send you.  The student films my daughter worked on were in the summer, and didn’t interrupt any of her scheduled activities.  I found the students to be professional and kind to us, and I really enjoyed those experiences.  My daughter did, too.  They didn’t involve any pay, so I didn’t need to worry about working out financial concerns with agents and overall, which helped in my decision whether or not to submit.  When I discussed extra work, I said it might not come with the type of experience that can make your child a better actor (and some of you disagreed and shared experiences that were beneficial to their kids, and that’s cool too – but you know my opinion on the subject).  These WERE experiences that were beneficial to my daughter learning to take direction, be patient, and persevere.

If you don’t have agents, self-submissions are probably your only way to get into the business.  And the following advice can apply to everyone.

My general opinion on self-submission is this: beware.  I often think there is a reason things are open to self-submit and not (necessarily) going through agencies.  Sometimes totally legitimate projects are looking for really specific people that agencies might not be able to find: unicycling skateboarders with punk-rock looks might be too specific for agents to find, so casting is casting (tee hee) a wider net in hopes of finding that specific person.

But, often, there may be something to the job that agents aren’t really going to like.  Let me post one that I screen-shot for you to examine.  Can you see anything here that an agent wouldn’t like?

The first thing that may jump out at you is the rate.  The range is WAY off.  $250 for a commercial session fee is WAY below the going SAG rate.  It’s about $100 more than an extra rate for a TV program, but about $350 less than the going session fee for a SAG commercial principal.  If your child would be on set for more than 2 hours, that rate pays less than print.  And that’s ridiculous for a “commercial.”  Anyone can look up the SAG rates to make comparisons between what these breakdowns offer versus industry standards.

Are you thinking, “But what about that buyout fee?”  It’s still SIGNIFICANTLY lower (and I mean, lower by like FIVE FIGURES) than what a national SAG commercial could gross for your child.  That alone is really suspect.  AND, how many kids might they shoot?  Two?  Twenty?  What are your chances of ACTUALLY getting the buyout fee?  What’s going on here, I’m wondering?  It just doesn’t sound like a commercial for a tech giant with oodles to spend on their advertising – something like that would usually go through a major agency, be SAG, and… show all of that in its pay.  Google is not a mom-and-pop local shop looking to buy some time on cable channels to try and expand their business.  This is a HUGE red flag.  Now, you may not know all of this if you are new to the business – but that’s why I’m here, right?  This must be something like a spec-commercial, which an independent group may be doing to try to pitch to Google to get their attention and hopefully maybe somehow convince them to use the commercial or use their agency.

But there is an even worse problem with this project.  And it’s really a potential deal-breaker for future jobs for your child.  Really GOOD future jobs, like the ones I described above – that a real Google commercial should be.

Can you find it?

One word: PERPETUITY.  Perpetuity means FOREVER.  You are giving that group the right to use your child FOREVER for a tech ad.  In addition to that strange money configuration, there is no way an agent would touch that.  No agent would give a company the right to use your child forever.  Especially for a tech company!  And here’s why.

Tech companies – and pharma companies, I’ll add – usually demand exclusivity.  That means your child could not appear in ANY ads, print or commercial, for another tech company for… PERPETUITY.  Forever.  That is what’s called a conflict, and a company does not want your child to be a face of some product and… also their product.  They see your child and is it for Samsung or LG?  No.  They want consumers to associate the visuals with their product and their product alone.  If your child was pitching a tablet two weeks ago, the next tablet company would not want anything to do with your child for a long time.  You know that guy who is in the cell phone commercials saying, “Can you hear me now?”  Why did he show up now for some other wireless company?  He is no longer under the terms of his conflict.  DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH MONEY THAT GUY EARNED… and now earns AGAIN by being in that second campaign?  I’m going to guess no less than seven figures.  (If anyone knows the guy and I’m wrong, please correct me…but if I’m wrong, it’s probably closer to eight figures than six.)

A SAG commercial is going to pay actors in 13-week segments.  And maybe even DOUBLE scale if it’s a product that would demand exclusivity for usage.  And they need to keep paying you in 13-week segments while that commercial airs.  AND another tech company won't even want an actor for a period of time (like one to three years) beyond the time the commercial airs.  That’s often why a project might pay double scale – they know that their ad would limit earning opportunities for similar projects.

My daughter made it to the commercial and print callbacks (same ad campaign but two different casting directors) for a major tech company a few years ago.  The commercial would have paid double SAG scale and the print had a payout of – wait for it -- $30,000.

Can you see why I wouldn’t touch that particular self-submit with a ten-foot pole?  Or a hundred-foot pole?  (Sorry for the cliché – it seems like that kind of day in my world.  I’m sitting on my couch in my PJs writing a mommy-blog with Real Housewives on in the background.  If that’s not a cliché, I don’t know what is.)

Bottom line: my advice for self-submits is this:  BEWARE.  Scrutinize the terms.  Back to what I said before: there is probably a reason why this is not going through agents.  Keep your self-submissions to the guidelines of your agent, if you have one, and really, really, really consider what’s probably wrong with the project.

Thanks for reading!  Check out my Instagram @thebizzymama, email me at theBizzyMama@gmail.com and like my Facebook page (The Bizzy Mama) to know when I make new posts.  I also share these posts on the Backstage forums if you want to comment there.  Happy holidays and bring on 2017!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Should my kid do extra or background work?

Ah, extras…they are everywhere.  Any street scene, courtroom scene…restaurant scenes…airport scenes…dystopian zombies marching...you get the point.  Many of those people you see on the screen in a film or on TV are not just real people who happen to be in the background when the scene was shot.  (But sometimes they are: my brother-in-law was at Fenway Park when they filmed that scene in Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore running onto the field to stop Jimmy Fallon from selling his season tickets…and they just asked people to stay around after the game to be people in the stands.  Anyway, HUGE Sox fan here…I could go on…)  Where was I?  Oh, wiping a tear from my eye remembering 2004.


So, extras, or background work, are pretty important to filling in scenes in all sorts of productions.  If you subscribe to the casting breakdown sites in any major production city, you will see daily work available for extras.  Many adult actors work as extras between gigs or if they have some down time and need some cash.  For SAG members, who cannot work on non-union projects, extra work can help pay a few bills while running around from audition to audition to get principal work.  Productions sometimes need children.  Classroom scenes, playground scenes, and sometimes just kids to be walking down the street holding hands with their parent all may fit production’s vision of what they want to bring to the screen.  Learning to navigate the child performer business can be quite challenging – then add in this question: Should my child do extra work?  And it can get even more confusing.

SAG-AFTRA, the on-camera actors’ union, sets rates for all types of roles and markets and how much actors get paid based on where the commercial airs, or the network that airs the program…etc.  They have many combinations of negotiated rates as well as rules and guidelines for both productions and talent with the goal of creating safe, reasonable, and fairly-compensated work.  (Full-disclosure: I am pro-union.)  So, for the most part, extra/background work is paid at a set, consistent rate.  Principal actors are paid at their set rates…and talent can negotiate UP from there, but there can be no negotiation down on rates.  Now, working one’s way through learning all about SAG rules and payment structure can be a huge task.  For the most part, it seems like you need to talk directly to people at SAG or maybe a really experienced parent (with like, 3 SAG kids…there’s a mom on Backstage who is a whiz at this stuff) to know the drill.  Essentially, it makes sense for a kid to put off joining SAG until they are designated a “must-join” – which means you would need to pay the $3,000 membership fee before you set foot on set for your next SAG job.  (This typically happens between the child's second and third SAG roles.)  There are more opportunities if you can audition for SAG as well as non-union jobs, and since you CANNOT work non-union jobs when you are SAG, you want to keep your options open for as long as possible.  You also want to make sure you are able to pay the membership fee from jobs your kiddo has worked or is about to work – that’s why some agents won’t submit kids who are “must-join” if the role is not a well-paid one.

Ok, so hold onto all of that info for a minute.  I needed to set some background.

In all of the rate structures established by SAG (these are negotiated by union members and production management for a period of time for all members), let’s take TV as our example.  A one-day role on a program, such as a pilot, would pay about $950 per day.  A one-day extra job pays about $150.  So there is the money aspect.

Now here is what is really, really, really important.  You cannot – CANNOT – use extra work on your resume, or in a discussion with someone you are hoping will offer you representation or a role.  It’s basically a necessary, minimum-wage job (like many other necessary, minimum-wage jobs) that anyone can do – and it would not serve as any type of experience for landing principal roles.  This may sound snobby, but think of it this way: are you going to bring up the summer job you had at Taco Bell when you are interviewing for a CPA position after college?  No.  It’s just not relevant and serves as superfluous information.

Go back and read that again.  You CANNOT use it on your resume.

If you are wanting to do things in the industry with your kid to get experience, learn the business, build a resume, or – ugh, this one – gain exposure, this is NOT the way to do it.

Extras are often not treated in a manner we would prefer for our children to be treated.  There are SAG rules and workplace regulations, and I’m not talking about mis-treatment, but I’m talking about things like being out in the blistering sun without shade for hours while production sets up scenes in which you may actually shoot for five minutes or – not at all.  Or the cold.  Or bad weather.  Essentially, what I'm getting at, is stuff that's pretty uncomfortable and boring for kids.  I could go on and on, but on multiple occasions I have had moms say to me things like, “Wow, I really felt sorry for those kids who were extras while my kid had an air-conditioned (etc.) trailer…”  Production is focused on the principals.  It’s just the way it is.

Ok, so the money is lame, the treatment is lame, you can’t claim it as experience…so why do people do it?

I have a few friends whose kids do it, and they are perfectly equipped to do it when they feel like it.  They live in the city, they are homeschooled or do it during the summer, they like to experience interesting things – like maybe work as an extra in a period production (cool clothes) – and maybe pick up a little money.  In other words, it costs them nothing, they aren’t missing anything like school or their activities, they’re up for an adventure, and why not?  I have friends (adult friends and sometimes their kids) who might do it just for fun if it’s one of their favorite shows; I’ve never done it myself but I wouldn’t say never – I might not mind being a member of a mob behind a crime-scene tape on SVU.  Or in a restaurant scene in Odd Mom Out (LOVE, by the way).

Now here’s where I was going up above with all of that SAG background info.  If your kid is a must-join, and you do a SAG extra job, you are about to write a $3,000 check to go earn $150.  And then your child can only work SAG jobs.  And you have to pay dues, which is either a set minimum fee or a percentage of your earnings.  (Remember, I am pro-union, but I believe your kid should join SAG when it makes sense financially and based on the quality of the roles involved).

Would I let my daughter work as an extra?  No way.  I can’t imagine a worse way to spend a day with my kid than waiting around, probably being uncomfortable, essentially trapped until they release you – for not very much money.  It's bad enough when that happens at a well-paid gig (which has happened, and will happen to every child performer).  Would I work an extra job?  Like I said, just for fun – but I am an adult, and I can keep myself from whining or getting annoyingly bored and can understand that I am not there to be pampered.  Kids don’t understand that one job they may be treated really well and another there is no food or place to have some down time.  And – if there is no benefit to your kid professionally?  Why do it?

So, if you fit into the category of not spending a cent to do it and your kid isn’t missing out on anything better, maybe you could give it a try if you feel like it.  But, otherwise?  Trust me on this one – don’t.