Monday, March 14, 2011

An actor responds: the Ethics of Getting Paid

Becka, Mallory
Photo: Becka & Wendy backstage during 3PO. Hair/Makeup by Jackie Horn, Costumes by me.

Recently, the Ethicist responded to a query about the ethical obligation to reveal to one's freelancers the fact that they weren't going to get paid. Other than immediately calling to mind the website, it began a tussle within me of the moral implications of some of the casting calls I have seen.

I'm a little picky about getting paid: I'm the one who will talk to the management on behalf of the whole cast when a portion of everybody's paycheck is missing. If I am going to be working on a student film, I feel like I am getting paid in experience: everybody is learning how to work on a film together, & everybody walks away equally fed: another credit on their resume, & something to put on the demo reel in exchange for a finished work.

I shouldn't be pretentious about what I work on, & for the most part I'm gung-ho to work for 'the big gay feet show!' or 'vampire zombie killers from space', but remember that thing about first impressions? It's still true. So while I might be willing to stand around in my underwear right now if it means I am in the cast of Mad Men, I am not about to drop trow for something which is an obvious attempt to use boobies to lure people to a crappy movie.

Another thing I dislike is Stock Photography modeling- call me strange, but I feel hugely uncomfortable allowing just anybody to license my image. I know that modeling in general is selling out your image, but at least when you're under a contract you know what the image is going to be used for: shampoo, wristwatches, whatever.  Stock photography is a little different: I don't mind being on the company safety manual, but what if I am selling dating sites? Or anti-woman propaganda? How would that reflect on me if anybody saw it & made the connection?

But it's the transparent "commercial competitions" that I resent the most. Why should talented people fork over their time & energy giving free ideas to a multi-billion dollar corporation? If there's $5 million up for grabs, then why can't you pay your actors? Some people find me strange for taking such a strong moral stand on these things, but I guess it's just the way I was raised: I hate people who don't pay their taxes and park in the fire lane.

I understand that in the beginning it will be difficult for me (or anybody) to get work, & that most of the things I am applying for don't have money to give out, but unfortunately "it'll look great on your resume" doesn't pay the bills. Cold hard cash does. So if you want 12 days of rehearsal for a 1 weekend run of a show, I had better be seeing some money for the $1,000 I won't be making at my other job while I work for you. If, on the other hand, you want to get together and play through Shakespeare and we're all walking away poor, why then drinks are on me tonight.


Kristin said...

This is such a great post. It's so hard, and so important, to know how much you're worth. Kudos to you for figuring it out early!

I really liked this post about the very same thing - - Hope you enjoy it, too!

Bef With an F said...

@Kristin- Thanks so much for that link! I guess I hadn't bothered thinking about this issue through that particular lens, but it is a good one, & absolutely applies.