Thursday, August 2, 2007

A young actress experiences the excitement of getting a job, then the frustration of dealing with the landscape of non-union work

I received an e-mail the other day from Kelly, a young actress who was excited to tell me that she had finally booked an acting job. Then, she was quick to share with me her brewing frustration over the lack of options she seemed to have available to her when it was time negotiate the deal. Actually, she was quick to learn that in non-union work (generally speaking) and for new-to-the-business actors (generally speaking), there is no “negotiating.” You either accept the job or you do not.

There are some important lessons here for all actors, which is why I want to share my correspondence with her with you.

Kelly wrote:

“I booked a national brand product packaging model shoot. It's non-union and for a new hair care line that is branching off of its national brand mother company. At least that’s what I understand. I am scheduled to shoot this Thursday and am concerned about my image being used to their free will without me receiving compensation from it. In other words, because this is a modeling shoot, I am afraid that they will be able to use and reuse my image without ever having to pay me for it or for new shoots.

I don’t know how much you know about these sort of contracts, but I am being asked to sign a rather general consent and release form. I was wondering what your opinion on this is and if you think that are any questions I should ask these people before I do actually sign it.”

I responded:

“This is the danger and the frustration of work in the world of non-union. There are often no limitations as to how the work can be used -- and most contracts that you will be asked to sign include a very specific buy-out clause the includes "use in perpetuity" without any additional compensation to you.

The ongoing problem is that, if this is the case, the buy-out is usually (read hardly ever) enough money to warrant your giving up your rights to further compensation. I would see if the contract has this or similar terminology or language. I would attempt, if it does, to negotiate a limited time use for the payment you will receive, say all media for one year. If your image is to be used beyond that time frame, additional payment would be required.

They probably will never go for it, which means you won't do the job, unless you quickly adopt a ‘never mind’ attitude, that is if you really decide you want this particular work. As far as they are concerned, unfortunately, if it's not you, it will be someone else they hire for exactly the terms they offered you in the first place. There will always be someone to take the job and sign the contract, no questions asked.

The upside for a savvy production company is that they know that there are many actors who never work enough who will always say yes to any contract without reading the fine (or even the bold) print. Sometimes a bird in the hand, as it were, is not enough.

I'm assuming you submitted yourself on this and there was no agent/manager involved? This is mostly often the case when the production company doesn't want to deal with agents and managers who fight for fair compensation for their clients and say no to anything that is not right or appropriate.

Ultimately, of course, this is your decision to make. Be a smart actor in this process, Kelly, weigh your options and then once you have made your decision, proceed with no regrets.”

Most actors will find themselves in situations like this, particularly during the development years of their careers. Has this happened to you? How did you resolve it? How you handled this or a similar situation might be helpful for other actors to learn about.

Your comments and postings are invited, either through the Blog or by e-mail to me directly at


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