Friday, December 19, 2008

"Yes" or "no" vote for a SAG strike authorization? It's all a matter of self-interest.

As the year comes to a close, most of the conversations I’m having these days have little to do with holiday plans, but, mostly, have to do with the SAG strike authorization ballots that are going out to union members just after the first of the year. I have been asked, a lot, about whether or not I think there will be a “yes” majority and if I think the chances of the authorization (if gotten) will, indeed, be used to force a work stoppage in the business of acting.

Tough questions; difficult answers to ponder.

This has been a very contentious year for SAG and, as the year ends, the union finds its members more divided than ever over this issue. In the process, SAG has also created an enormous public relations problem for itself, both internally among its members and externally among the general public. It’s a tough climate in which to call for and execute a strike – and receive any public sympathy for the cause.

In an era where the future of hard copy newspapers is in jeopardy, the Los Angeles Times has proven itself a valuable tool in this discussion. On December 16th, the paper published an opinion piece by actor and former SAG president Melissa Gilbert that has stirred much controversy. An opinion piece published today by LA Times columnist Patrick Goldstein puts much of it in perspective. They are both well worth reading. Regardless of where you stand on the strike authorization issue, these two columns do a good job of discussing the landscape in which this is all occurring.

You can read Melissa Gilbert’s article here.
You can read Patrick Goldstein’s article here.

Today I wrote an update on the Web site to chapter 8 in my book, The Business of Acting, about the union crisis we now find ourselves in. I hope you will read it.

As I wrote there, when the book was first published in 2002, the prominent union issue at that time was whether or not SAG and AFTRA would, could or should merge into one union to serve all actors.

The opinions on that issue were loud and strong. But, nothing seems to top the rhetoric over this current dilemma now facing the business of acting. It’s not just about the strike authorization vote SAG is seeking in an attempt to move along (and resolve) stalled contract negotiations with producers; it’s also about the core strategy the union leadership has opted to take in this bumpy journey.

A merger would have been a piece of cake compared to this one.

Clearly, this issue has gotten lots of people talking, not just union members, but the general public, as well.

In a conversation with a prominent working actor (who is a SAG member) the other day, I asked how concerned he was about the impact a work stoppage would have on other people and other businesses, many connected to acting (like talent agencies, management companies, and publicists and PR firms), but many not (like dry cleaners, coffee shops and restaurants). Most everyone is feeling the pinch from the recession we’re in; many simply couldn’t survive the financial damage a strike would do to them and their businesses.

This actor’s reply: “Fuck ‘em,” he said, “Let that be on the heads of the producers.”

My response: “Well what if the collateral damage includes your agent or your manager having to close their business? Doesn’t that matter to you?”

Again, the actor replied: “Fuck ‘em.”

Hmm. When last I looked, no one who has achieved any level of success was ever able to do it on their own. Given that agents and managers spent a tremendous amount of time and money representing their clients and given that most submissions don’t result in obtaining an audition for a client (or any commission income from a job that a client might be lucky enough to get), my unspoken response was, “Well who the fuck are you? Where is the respect and decency towards the people who are consistently pro-active in the interests of your career every day? Where is the appreciation for the amount of work they do for you that generates them nothing in dollars and cents? When you met with these people for the first time about working together, were you arrogant enough to both seek their assistance and let them know that you would toss them to the wolves if you had the chance to do so?”

“Fuck you,” I wanted to say out loud. But, I didn’t.

Instead, this exchange made me think about self-interest. Where do we draw the line, in both life and career choices? How much are we willing to risk?

Indeed, at the end of this day, the big question for those who will be given the responsibility of making this strike or not-to-strike authorization decision is “How much are you willing to risk?” and, when it’s all over and done with, either way, “How and where do you pick up the pieces that are left and reconstruct a working career in whatever the new landscape is?”

I admit, I’m a little pissed off from having had this conversation and wondering, really, how do we all financially survive should a strike really happen – and how do we all pick up the pieces, either way, and rebuild in a very uneasy environment.

Ah, the grinch.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

To (SAG) strike or not to (SAG) strike? Much more than a matter a dollars and cents.

Does it make sense for SAG actors to vote for a strike authorization? It all depends on who you ask.

The SAG actors I have been discussing this issue with as recently as today all say, “No.” Given the economy, given the times, given the current landscape and given that the producer’s have made it clear that SAG negotiators will not come away with anything more than the AFTRA deal now in place with that union’s members, it seems clear that we might very well be headed for a no-win situation very quickly.

Richard Verrier’s coverage in today’s Los Angeles Times presents an important overview on where things stand and what’s at stake. I urge you to read it.

It’s mostly about the Internet. SAG’s intent is to squeeze out whatever it can for its membership from “new” media, almost at any cost. But is this worth striking over now?

Seventy-five percent of SAG members will have to say “yes” to a strike authorization before the march to a work stoppage can officially begin. But, will 75 percent of the SAG membership be willing to endure the additional hardship the inability to work will cause them?

It’s tough enough just to get an audition for a job in this business when the industry is operating at “normal”; take away any opportunity to work for not only (SAG) actors, but the tens of thousands of people in related and connected industries who will feel the big pinch of a strike, as well, and you have to question the sanity of such a move at this time.

Does anyone ever win from a strike? Can any member of the Writers Guild actually claim to be better off financially right now because of their walk out? Admittedly, arguably, there may be a few folks who can answer “yes” to that today, but for the majority, the stress from bills that went unpaid and opportunities that are still being felt. Will they feel any differently a year from now?

What’s an actor to do?

Tough question. If you’re a SAG actor, what will you do? What can you afford to do? What are you willing to risk? How much risk can you tolerate?

Should a SAG strike occur, those actors who are also members of AFTRA will be expected to honor the strike and not accept AFTRA-contracted work: AFTRA members who are not (also) in SAG, will have a choice to make: will they be asked to or expected to honor the SAG walk-out? What official position will the leadership of AFTRA take?

Indeed these are tough times in the business of acting. I know I want my clients to work and I know they want to work. How exactly are we all expected to survive what could be a long strike – and how much discomfort (or worse) are we willing to tolerate? Finally, how much might all of us stand to gain? Could we ever really make up the losses we would all suffer from another long strike and, even if we could, would those gains really be worth the toll of the stress, strain, and the (lifestyle and financial) compromises that it would take from all of us on the road to that or any victory?

I expec that there will be lots of phone calling between lots of agents and managers and their clients tomorrow.

How about you? If you're a SAG actor, will you vote for a strike authorization? If you’re an AFTRA or non-union actor, what would you do?

Post your comments here or e-mail me directly at I look forward to hearing from you.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

A note of appreciation in tribute to talent agent Barry Rick (1945 – 2008)

My friend Barry Rick died recently. He was a remarkable talent agent, with a skill for representing actors in a way that we rarely see in this business any more. As founder and president of the Los Angeles-based commercial talent agency BRick Entertainment, Barry, in a short period of time, managed to carve out a respected niche for his “boutique” agency that he launched in 2003.

We held a memorial tribute for Barry last Tuesday night, at the Lillian Theatre, in Los Angeles. Nearly 100 current clients, friends and industry colleagues were on hand to celebrate his life and his contributions. I was honored to have been asked to emcee the evening. I was also happy to meet Barry’s son, Tom Popp and Tom’s wife, Felicia, who flew in from Washington, D.C. to share in the tribute.

In what was an upbeat, respectful, sometimes tearful gathering. Memories were shared, stories were told, and one thing became very clear early on: Barry was much more than just an agent; he was a mentor, he was a surrogate parent, he was an innovator in how he walked through the business of acting (and in life).

I’ll miss him, as will Tom, Felicia, and Barry’s sister, Elizabeth, and his mother Sally. So, too will he be missed by those who joined in our tribute and those whose lives he touched, but who were unable to attend.

A scholarship fund has been established in Barry’s name to provide an honorarium to students from Emerson College, in Boston, who intern at BRick Entertainment during their semester in Los Angeles at the school’s acclaimed L.A. Center. Barry was a staunch support of this program. Many students who have interned at BRick under his mentorship have gone on to either work at the agency or be represented by the agency after graduation.

I encourage you to make whatever size donation you can in Barry’s name. Checks should be made payable to Emerson College, noting “Barry Rick Scholarship” in the memo line of your check.

Contributions should be sent to:
Ms. Amy Meyers
Emerson College
120 Boylston Street, 7th Floor
Boston, Massachusetts 02116-4624

Barry wanted his agency to survive and thrive after he was gone. Last summer, he named another remarkable person, Kenny Suarez, to succeed him at the helm of the agency he worked so hard to build.

Sometimes the business of acting shows its true colors; not industry life as it’s portrayed on “Entourage,” but industry life as it’s lived by most of the people who have chosen it as their livelihood. We lost a great guy, but the family of actors he created as his client roster, and the community of industry professionals he interacted with, are forever impacted by how he did what he did.

Bravo, Barry. Bravo.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Union membership: Prestige by assocation? Hardly.

I was happy to hear back from Michael, an actor who first wrote me several weeks ago in response to my Blog comments on the latest episode in the ongoing industry drama that has become, as I call it, “the AFTRA SAG dilemma."

Michael and I corresponded about the consequences of union actors filing for Financial Core Status. I posed several questions back to him in my response (which you can read in the Blog entry).

Michael wrote me again with some key questions that I wanted to share with you, along with my response to him.

Michael wrote:
"I joined AFTRA thinking it would make it easier for me to get into SAG, get more legit auditions, and make me more noticeable to agents when blindly submitting (or from seminars, etc.). But now I see little to no opportunities for union as of now, and I still want to do student films, indie projects, etc. I mean, as you said, there's no real way they would know unless I am a recognizable face (in which case, I'll probably be doing union projects anyway). Thanks for the heads up. So, it is still ok to do non-union work as of now, right? Also, any advice on getting an agent and/or into SAG so I can get more legit auditions?"
I responded:
"Your reasons for joining AFTRA are/were honorable —as they are for so many others who join thinking (or expecting) the same thing. It’s a tough call, really. A couple of years ago, when it looked like AFTRA and SAG might actually merge, lots of actors who couldn’t (yet) qualify to join SAG raced to join AFTRA thinking that when the (expected) merger happened, they would automatically become members of the “new” union that covered all forms of the (acting) business. Alas, that wasn’t to be the case. When the vote was taken, it wasn’t meant to be (yet). Ultimately, given this new landscape, a merger might not only be inevitable, but be the only way both unions can move ahead and survive (and thrive). As soon as they both stop playing politics and leave their egos at the door, we might see them both actually start being in the business, again, of truly representing the best interests of all true career actors.

I can’t tell you that it’s (still) okay for you to do non-union work; the union rules are the union rules. But, having said that, I think you will be unscathed from the experience, should you choose to return to it.

Lastly, there are many agents (and managers) in this new landscape who do, indeed, represent non-SAG talent. No one was born with a SAG card. SAG cards, like careers, have to be earned. Good agents (and managers) recognize that they can develop good actors into great clients and let them earn their union status on the way, when it’s the right time/right place."
I hope that this perspective is helpful to any of you in a similar situation to Michael’s.

Always ask questions; always seek as much advice as you can. Then, weigh your options and make the choice or choices that make sense for you. Often times, circumstances dictate direction. You're in this business for a career, not just a job. Always consider your options from a "bigger picture" perspective, as well as for the short-term -- and always proceed as a smart, informed actor.

Got a comment or question? You can post here or e-mail me at


Monday, September 29, 2008

"Working Actor" Hal Linden: So much more than "2 down"

I spotted Hal Linden’s name in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar crossword puzzle. The clue read, "'Barney Miller' star Hal.” It’s always nice to get 2 down. It makes the rest of the puzzle so much easier.

There could have been another clue to arrive at the same answer: “Working actor Hal.” While Linden is widely known by audiences for his television series work, many forget that he has a long and respectable career in theatre, including a Tony Award.

Hal is the guest we chose to launch our new Web TV series “Inside the Business of Acting” with because he represents the philosophy of our new series on the Virtual Channel Network in every way possible.

“Inside the Business of Acting” features one-on-one conversations with working, successful actors talking about their career journeys, turning pointing and lessons learned along the way. Like the book The Business of Acting, this exclusive VCN series is designed to empower young actors and others in the journeys of their own careers.

Linden’s history is full of pro-activity, even before we knew what the word really meant. His longevity, his career success, is rooted in his ability to stay focused, to remain flexible, to always be level-headed and to always be prepared.

In our four-part interview, Hal talks about his roots and his struggles; he also talks about the valuable lessons he learned all along his journey that still matter today. He also reveals some fascinating behind-the-scenes tales about the TV series that made him a household name and the role that “Barney Miller” played in opening the doors to the opportunities that have followed.

Part one with Hal Linden is now playing on-demand. It’s entertaining, it’s informative, and, in it’s own way, it’s empowering conversation to absorb with lessons and a perspective that might prove very helpful to your own career plan and perspective.

As Hal says, “It’s all about the journey.” Amen to that.

Please feel free to post your comments about the interview here or send me an e-mail at


Saturday, September 20, 2008

You can't be a little pregnant; either you are or you're not. It's kind of that way with union status.

I just received an e-mail from an actor who posed a series of important questions about exactly what it means to be a member of one of the actor unions, in this case, specifically AFTRA, and, specifically, what kinds of work he could and could not accept. He didn't say, but I take it that his membership is fairly new. He didn't say why he joined AFTRA at this particular time, but his concerns are valid and some perspective is needed that I hope will be helpful to him -- and to you.

Indeed, as the old American Express commercial said, "Membership has its priviledges." In this case, however, membership also comes at a price and with some significant drawbacks, especially for a young or new-to-the-business actor.

Michael wrote:

"I recently paid to join AFTRA. What projects can I work on if they are not AFTRA? Can I work on a SAG project (I'm not SAG)? Can I work on student films? Can I work in non-union theatre or Internet projects? If I do, how will AFTRA know? If I do, and AFTRA finds out, what happens to me? What the heck can I act in as an AFTRA actor (and no other unions)?"

I responded:

"The 'official' rule is that once you are a union member, you are prohibited from doing any work that is non-union, whether it is for a project that could have been sanctioned by your union (for example, a non-union television show that could have been under AFTRA’s jurisdiction had the production company opted to go union) or sanctioned by a 'sister' union, in this case SAG or even AEA (Equity) -- and, as the rule is written, that includes student films.

Of course, everything is open to some interpretation and in this changing landscape, a lot of options are up for grabs.
There are two ways in which you can work in a non-union project if you are a union member: 1) File for financial core status, which is your right, which, essentially, puts your union membership on hold and allows you the opportunity to do non-union work. You don’t pay union dues during this time, but, also, the non-union work you do doesn’t count or apply towards (union) pension and health contributions. Also, SAG, in particular, is getting tough on any union member who opts for financial core and later wants back in. Often times, they want you to explain yourself and 'earn' back your union status; other times, nothing happens.

Of course, while it is your right under the law, SAG discourages this because your semi-annual dues are based on a percentage of what union work you do. The more money earned from non-union work, the less money SAG (or AFTRA) can expect from you for dues payments. It’s really, like most things, all rooted in economics and not always in the best interest of the actor.

2) Many actors who hang on to their union cards and union status will often do non-union work, but under a name other than their own. As long as the credit (and the pay check) aren’t traceable back you to, odds of being “found out” are slim to none. However the more successful (read: more recognizable) you become, the less valid this option becomes.

SAG has a special contract agreement for student filmmakers, in their desire to get young filmmakers used to the idea of making union-sanction films. It costs them (the students) very little for the agreement from SAG, which then allows union actors to work in these productions with either a waived (or deferred) fee or a very small stipend.

The truth is that neither SAG or AFTRA can keep on top of the business they ought to be watching, so you’re pretty safe doing student films, whether “sanctioned” by a union or not.

The penalties for a union actor who gets caught doing a non-union job can vary from (usually) a slap on the wrist to hefty fines, depending on who you are and what the circumstances are. For example, during the last commercial actors strike, Tiger Woods appeared in a commercial that was shot non-union. While a great golfer, he’s also a SAG member because of the many commercial endorsements he does. He claimed he didn’t know he couldn’t do the project SAG caught him on.

SAG both slapped him on the wrist and fined him a ton of money (primarily to make an example of him and because they know he had the money to pay the fine).
I always urge young and/or new-to-the-business actors to delay joining one (or any) of the unions for as long as possible.

The goal is to build your resume. In the early stages, it shouldn’t matter whether the work is union or non-union. Experience is the goal. Having said that, you’ve already taken the plunge and the way to proceed is always with caution and always having explored and considered all of your options first, before saying 'yes' to anything."

I hope this is helpful to Michael who already has -- and to anyone else who is contemplating the leap to union membership. I'm a big believer in not joining any union until you have to.

A client of mine was just in this situation. Long an AEA member, he found himself up for a SAG-sanctioned job last week that required his joining the union if he was to be hired. Together, we weighed the benefits and the potential losses his joining SAG at this time would bring -- and together we decided that the opportunity in front of him (and the great, new resume credit that he would earn) was too great a boost not to take the leap. So, he did -- and with good reason.

That's the bottom line, really. If it makes sense, if the financial investment seems worth it, then take that leap of faith and of membership and continue your career journey as a union actor. If not, hold off. Most career actors will have to join one, if not all of the unions, eventually. It's all a matter of time and timing.

Are you a union actor? What were the circumstances under which you signed up? Share your story with us by posting here or by sending me an e-mail to


Monday, September 1, 2008

"Inside the Business of Acting" Coming to the Virtual Channel Network on Monday, September 22!

Admittedly, this is more an an ad than it is a Blog. But, I think it's worth it!

Based on the popularity of The Business of Acting book, we will be taking to the World Wide Web with a new television series for actors to be seen exclusively on the Virtual Channel Network.

Inside the Business of Acting
, which I am thrilled to be hosting, will feature one-on-one interviews with successful, working actors and other industry professionals talking about their career journeys, turning points and lessons learned along the way. Like the book, the television series is designed to empower you on your own career journey. We have a terrific line up of guests, including at least one Tony and two Emmy Award winners.

We're hoping that you'll find it entertaining, informative and helpful, regardless of what stage you are currently at in your career. Whether new to the business or looking for a new perspective on the career you have been having, we think Inside the Business of Acting will be worth your time.

While you're at the Virtual Channel Network (which is a service of Breakdown Services, Ltd., the people who also bring you, make sure to check out the wide variety of other programs being offered up for actors, artists and any one else seeking a career (or to advance a current career) in the business of acting.

I hope, too, that you will share your comments about the new series with us here. It all premieres on September 22, 2008 on the Virtual Channel Network - and once each program segment is launched, it will always be available for viewing - and reviewing on-demand.

Please join us!

Brad Lemack

Neither rain, nor sleet …

The postal service motto “Neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night …”, about always getting your mail delivered (no matter what), applies, from my vantage point, to the first week of September of any year, although this year is, admittedly, special. Neither presidential campaign politics nor weather disaster will stand in the way of the annual back-to-school brigade that happens this week at colleges and universities across the country. Whether first year student or final year senior status, the new academic year is usually, always, filled with anticipation, hope and a bit of anxiety about the school terms ahead. But you forge ahead anyway.

While I can’t directly help with the angst I refer to, if you’re heading off to (or back to) your studies in acting, theatre, performing arts or related field, I can offer up a subjective perspective that I hope will be helpful.

You can never undervalue the importance of a solid academic base. But, at the same time, the focus of academia is, obviously, education, not (always) how that education applies to the real world.

If you’re a student, as you return to class, so do I. About to begin the fall semester of The Business of Acting class at the Emerson College Los Angeles Center, I am about to face the challenge of taking well-taught and well-trained students beyond the safety and comfort of the arena and the environment they have grown comfortable in.

The challenge is in not discounting their academic training, but in teaching them how to apply that experience to the real world, as they begin to consider their transitions from students of the performing arts to careers as professional, working actors.

In a business where the best trained, most talent, highest qualified candidate will not get the jobs based only on those credentials, it is critical to explore how what you know and how your passion for the career you seek can turn you into a pro-active business person who will approach the launching of a career in stealth-like and strategic ways.

My students and I will explore all of the options available to them that they already know about – and then they’ll get exposed to a sizable collection of new ideas and new approaches that they weren’t aware of before. Yes, they must be talented. But, they must also be highly skilled and then learn how to apply those skills to the bigger picture of the career journeys they will soon embark upon.

This applies to you, as well.

So, just because you’re not in my class, doesn’t mean you can’t be my student. Here is what you must do:

Be inquisitive! Ask questions in your classes about how the material you are asked to study applies to the real world in which you want to live in and act. Respectfully challenge your teachers, your professors, your fellow students and yourself. It’s important to learn not just theory, but application and perspective.

In the end, it is the personal perspective you arrive at that will be the most beneficial to you. But, perspectives, like people, like careers, are works-in-progress. You must leave room for change and adaptation as you grow and as you are exposed to newer ideas and opportunities. You must be a smart actor. But first (and always), you must be a smart student.

My comments won’t (necessarily) get you an A in any class. But, I can guarantee that if you start thinking outside the “box” now and if you begin contemplating how you can apply what are learning in class (and in performance training) to what happens beginning the day after graduation, you will be better able to plan for, execute and maneuver all of the twists and turns of the incredible journey that will soon follow. "Smart student" doesn't necessarily mean great grades. But striving to achieve greatness begins at home, is expected in school and is a requirement throughout life. At least that's my philosophy. Long after teachers are grading you on your performance, we need to grade ourselves on how well we are doing all along our journeys of life (and career).

To the incoming class of 2012, congratulations on departing on your four-year transition from young adult to young professional. To those of you with your graduation in sight, relax. The spring is many months off. Don’t rush this last year. Embrace it for all you can. And for those of you in between, be mentors to those new arrivals (remember how daunting your first year at school felt at first?) – and challenge yourselves as often as you can beyond just the requirements of any class or course you take. An “A” is nice, but planning for and thinking about how what you have learned and your experience at school relates, in terms of the bigger picture of your lives and careers, will get you much more.

Oh, to be a student again … I envy you.

Brad Lemack

Thursday, August 14, 2008 celebrating "classic" television celebrities and American pop culture launches

I'm a big pop culture fan. Being a member of the first generation raised on and by television, I was forever influenced by Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, the shot at a free bicycle on Art Linkletter's "House Party" and the frustration over why I couldn't just move in with "The Brady Bunch." I got caught up in the adventures of the stranded castaways on "Gilligan's Island" (when it was a first-run show!) and longed to travel to unknown places if only I could step into "The Time Tunnel."

I'm not old; I'm experienced. And experience (and a career in the business of acting) has taught me a tremendous appreciation for the people who brought escapism into my life during my formative (and not so formative) years. I know I'm not alone.

I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity, and an outlet, starting when I was just 15 years old, to meet and interview so many of the people and personalities I had become in awe of. Moe Howard of "The Three Stooges," June Lockhart from "Lassie" and "Lost in Space," Desi Arnaz, Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz"), and so many others.

Having recently unearthed this massive archive of audio and video tapes, I have discovered a history that I wasn't aware of previously. In their own words, actors, authors, personalities and others who have helped shape and define American pop culture, talk about their work. I became in awe all over again.

The result of the passion this project has unearthed in me can be seen on the new Web destination we have just launched at

At the site, you can view clips from hundreds of hours of these interviews that date back to the 1970's. You can also have an opportunity to purchase DVDs, CDs and books associated with every guest featured on the site to begin or to enhance your own personal collection.

Please check the new site out. There is also an Audience Page where you can share memories of your favorite shows, favorite actors and favorite moments from television that was meaningful to you.

It's about the business of acting from another perspective.

We got to where we are today because of the hurdles faced, challenges met and achievements earned by those who came before us and laid the ground work for what we watch and what influences our lives today. We've come a long way since black & white TV in the 1950's. But without the pioneering spirit of this amazing group of people, YouTube and all of the other media sources that provide us "entertainment content" today couldn't exist. is my way of saying, "Thank you" to that generation of media pioneers.

I hope you'll check it out.


Can I Have My Excedrin Back?

What a waste of two tablets. I was on the verge of a migraine wondering how us managers, my agent friends and all of the actors I know (and those I don't) could survive another work stoppage (read: strike) in the business of acting. Then the results of the new AFTRA contract vote were announced and then ... nothing!

It feels a lot like gay marriage. It became the law in California (at least until November) and the clocks still tick, the traffic lights still work, and gas prices are still too high. Now, we have a new AFTRA contract that, according to the SAG leadership, would, if passed, have been the ruination of all things we have come to know: Actors would stop seeking work as actors; sportscasters and newsmen in Peoria would start to dictate how much "top of show" on a sit-com would be; why, it looked, for a time, that had SAG prevailed in its mission to derail the new AFTRA contract, that we might even have seen the end of talking pictures!

A little sarcastic? Well, maybe. A lot sarcastic? Definitely, though all in the journey of making a point.

There was so much negativity circulating in the business of acting community about what union members should do, what they should not do, how all would suffer if the new AFTRA contract was ratified by its members. And what was accomplished, really?

It's been a month since the vote and it's been business as usual -- and while AFTRA has a new work agreement in place, SAG, still, does not.

Both unions need to be (back) in the business of representing the best interests of all of their members and not in the business of politics. There has never been a level playing field in the business of acting; there never will be. It's hard enough in a business where talent has little to do with who gets the jobs. Both unions need to focus on bridging the divides that exist. That's in the best interests of the members of both unions. Going out on a limb, it might even be time to perform a "gay" marriage of another kind and merge these two entities so that they can move into the future as one, united force. In the end, we're all in the same business. Let's behave that way.

If you have a comment about the "new" landscape as the dust settles from the Battle of the Unions -- and how both unions should proceed from here, post your comments here or e-mail me at and I'll share them.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Score is in For Round One: AFTRA 1; SAG in PR Trouble

Last night AFTRA announced that its new, three-year contract was ratified by 62.4% of its membership giving it the victory sought and, in the process, backing SAG leadership into corner in their own contract negotiations with producers and studios.

In its attempt to put a PR spin on the nasty, dead-on-arrival campaign undertaken by SAG to convince its members (who are also AFTRA members) to vote down this agreement, SAG President Alan Rosenberg released a statement to the press claiming a “moral (if not numerical) victory” against AFTRA. Rosenberg claims that less of the eligible voters voted for the new contract because of SAG’s high profile campaign to derail the agreement they believe isn’t in the best interests of (union) actors.

Maybe the reason the AFTRA agreement was voted in by a majority of AFTRA members is simply because a majority of AFTRA members believe it’s the right agreement for the landscape in which the business of acting currently operates?

SAG has a duel problem now, one that is rooted in a tainted image both within its own membership community and with the general public. Its divisive campaign against AFTRA pitted actor against actor in a battle that has caused far greater damage than anything positive achieved by it. It’s not that SAG waged this anti-AFTRA campaign; it’s how they did it.

So, Mr. Rosenberg, go ahead and claim a “moral” victory for your union, but what about the moral decline and confidence slip in SAG so many of your fellow members now feel because of how SAG behaved throughout this process? How do you now ask these same actors to sit (or morally stand) side-by-side to help you achieve a new SAG contract that most industry insiders now believe is unachievable because of the position you and your team have placed your union in?

My clients, like most actors, just want to the ability and the opportunity to work. They’re not necessarily “political” people, but they are all people of “morals” who, today, feel very unsatisfied, not because of the ratification of the new AFTRA contract (that most of them voted for), but because they’re uncertain how their other union can now possibly go to bat for them, as actors, when the leadership seems too concerned and too preoccupied with playing a different game that has little or nothing to do with them.

Politics and show business … neither should be entered into lightly. Usually, blending the two creates an environment where someone usually ends up paying a price. Have you seen the Dixie Chicks documentary “Shut Up and Sing?”

Your thoughts and comments on the AFTRA vote and where both unions go from here? Post on the Blog page or e-mail me at


Monday, June 30, 2008

Actors ask, “Who’s union is it anyway?” as AFTRA members cast ballots

Reaching a peace accord in the Middle East might be easier than what it will take for AFTRA and SAG, the two actors union, to come together after the eventual end of SAG’s divisive campaign to get dual union members (those actors who belong to both SAG and AFTRA) to defeat the new work agreement assembled by AFTRA that is being voted on right now.

July 8 is D-Day in Hollywood. That’s the date AFTRA officials will announce the results of the voting by their members on whether or not to ratify the new contact. SAG has spent a ton of its member’s money in a nasty campaign to attempt to get this contract kicked out of Hollywoodland. SAG says that it can negotiate a better agreement for all actors. But SAG has also made a lot of enemies in the process of their own negotiations with producers and studios, none the least of which are members of their own union.

Regardless of what happens on July 8, one thing is clear: SAG will have a lot of kissing and making up to do once the dust has settled. Whether or not the AFTRA deal passes, the bigger picture of “What next?” will still linger.

Regardless of how AFTRA members vote, the current SAG contract still expires at midnight tonight. Regardless of whether the new AFTRA contract is approved, SAG will still be contract-less, unless a deal is reached today or night, which no one expects can or will happen.

Assuming the AFTRA deal passes (and many industry observers believe that it will), SAG will be left with a big mess to clean up. But that can only happen after they finally get a contract of their own they can present to their members that is worthy of a “yes” vote.

The (union) actors I have talked with about this issue seem to all agreed that they just want the opportunity to work whenever and as often as they can. Yes, they want to be compensated fairly for their talents and their contributions, but the last thing any of them seem to want is a work stoppage, thus titling the playing field into “out of order” status for a community much larger than just actors.

What a tangled web. This is a crisis of image and reputation that will require lots of strategic PR for both unions to fix. In the end, it’s also going to require a lot of bridge building. The two unions exist to serve the same population, not to pit member against member.

How do you feel about the damage done and the need to rebuild those relationships for both unions? Post your comments here or e-mail me at


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The AFTRA SAG Dilemma - Is an Actor's Strike Now Inevitable?

Could there really be another strike in the offing in the business of acting and, if so, what would that really mean to most “working” and “wanting to work” artists?

As SAG and AFTRA publicly battle out their differences and disagreements with and over a new contact AFTRA has secured that SAG claims is almost evil, what, really does all of this mean? Who’s to blame? Is a strike inevitable? Where do we go from here?

One at a time …

I was one of about 50 or so managers who participated in an invited meeting with SAG leadership last week to hear their side of the AFTRA contract story and to hear them plead their case against the new AFTRA contract, which members will soon be asked to vote on, SAG's position is that the AFTRA agreement is not good for actors of any union nor the business of acting in general. That's what they said, But, let me be honest. What I heard (instead) seemed to me to be a lot of propaganda that seems to be rooted in protecting the business interests of the union and not in the best interests of the members of either or both unions.

It’s all economically-based. The bottom line is always the bottom line. Yes, actors, performers and artists should be fairly compensated for their talents and their contributions in a marketplace that has seen far less of the fair share go to them and more and more going to the studios and the producers. But how do you level the playing field? There in lies what should be the crux of the issue for both sides.

Since union members pay their bi-annual dues based on a percentage of the union work they have been paid for, it is in the best (financial) interests of both unions to scoop up as many production contracts and affiliations as possible. SAG, the long time leader in this area, stands to lose a huge chunk of change if productions that have been (or would be SAG sanctioned), started becoming produced under AFTRA’s jurisdiction. On the other hand, AFTRA stands to gain tremendously by collecting increased dues from its members who would work in formerly SAG jurisdiction productions that they would now control.

Yes, the talent should be paid more for Internet use and downloads of material in which they appear. Yes, talent should share in a greater percentage of the profits from DVD sales on products containing their work. Of course talent should have control over where and how the use of clips containing their images and performances are licensed.

But my fear is that what now seems to be a school yard bully fest started by the SAG leadership isn’t getting anyone anywhere, except closer to a strike that no one can afford.

The long-term solution is unity, not divisiveness. SAG’s behavior isn’t productive in this process. AFTRA played politics, too, in this election season and, for now, seems to be ahead.

So where do we go from here?

It was historic that SAG, who has never before officially welcomed nor acknowledged the role we talent managers play in the life of a client’s career (in fact, they have gone out of their way to take a stand against us, as witnessed in Rick Siegel’s long legal battles in the California State Supreme Court over the rights and protections of managers to be paid for the work they do for the clients who hire us).

Interesting that now SAG thinks we matter; interesting that now SAG recognizes that we have some positive influence with our clients in the decisions they make regarding their careers; interesting that SAG has tried to “sell” us on the merit of our (union) clients turning down the AFTRA deal in support of what SAG claims it can better achieve later. Interesting that SAG now wants us to take that message to our clients.

AFTRA hasn’t invited me to any breakfast meeting, so it doesn’t appear that they’re all worried. It’s not that I’m looking for a free breakfast or a commute to Museum Square at 8:00AM, but it remains interesting that they have been silent to the talent managers community at large on this issue.

What does all of this mean?

Who knows, really? I just get to rant and share my perspective – hoping that you will do the same. For union actors, a strike would be devastating. For non-union actors, I really think that, while things slow down, things won’t stop. Non-union actors will work as they always have (for non-union wages); union actors who elect to take Financial Core status will also have a opportunity to work (in non-union projects), but to what end and how many will actually go this route.

An actor acts – or ought to whenever and wherever possible when it makes sense to do so. For new or young actors, very little will change, strike or no strike. The leadership of both unions say that these struggles are not just for now, but for the future.

I’d say it’s looking pretty bleak right now.

I hope I’m surprised by the outcome of all of this. Agencies, casting offices, managers, writers, producers, directors are all still struggling with trying to emerge healthy from the writers strike of not so many months ago. How possibly could most survive in the climate of another ugly strike?

It’s all perspective and opinion – and I’d love to hear yours. Post your comments directly here or e-mail me at

Here’s hoping for a sane strategy to follow …


Friday, May 16, 2008

Class of 2008: Ready, Set, Launch!

It’s that time again: Graduation! Parents rejoice in the celebration, amplified by the realization that they’re done paying for their children's educations, while students also rejoice in the celebration, tempered only be the slow onset of the realization that soon enough debt incurred during college will soon be theirs to manage.

With degree in hand, millions of graduating college seniors will seek to begin their career journeys in their chosen fields, counting on their education, their training and their potential to carry them far. While that is often the case in most fields, it’s hardly the case in the business of acting.

There is no level playing field in this business; the best, most qualified person rarely gets the opportunity simply because they are the best, most qualified person for the job (or in this case, the role).

What’s a graduating performing arts or acting student to do?

1. Think strategically.

2. Create a plan for your immediate future that consists of how you intend to generate income while you pursue your career.

3. Be gift smart! Ask anyone who might gift you for your graduation to gift you with something that will really benefit you. Instead of a watch, a business suit or a gift certificate to your favorite store, ask for financial assistance in launching your career.

The Business of Acting Conceptual Gift Registry strategy is yours to use for free.

Ask for money towards a professional photo session; ask for money to help you pay for post-college, professional-level classes and workshops; ask for some assistance in helping you get your professional actor’s tool kit in order by helping to pay for your online subscriptions to the critical resources you will need from day one:, LACasting, Back Stage and/or Back Stage West.

It’s always nice to be gifted, but in this economy when giving can be tight or impossible for some people, accept whatever assistance you can in any form that you can get it to help you in your early career journey.

You can’t get to step one, until you have gotten through step two. With confidence, fortitude and the belief that your talent and skills, will always be a work-in-progress, but will also take you far, you can do this!

Creating a business plan to help organize your life as you launch your career will empower you in these early days of your transition from student of the performing arts to working, professional actor. There is a step-by-step guide to help you do this in a chapter devoted to this topic in The Business of Acting book. You can also access my Back Stage West article on the topic to help you get started.

My congratulations to the class of 2008! I know what a struggle getting to this point has been from time to time. I also understand the fear generated from the uncertainty that awaits you. This is the time to seek inspiration and support from friends and family who want nothing less for you than you seek for yourself.

I know that as my students from this year’s classes at the Emerson College Los Angeles Center begin their transitions, they do so with respect for the process and the knowledge that each person is own their own, individual career journey. No one will ever be able to take from you what is yours to have. They also know that opportunity knocks when you’re ready for it. Train for that opportunity in strong, healthy and emotionally fit ways. These are important concepts to embrace for all of you.

I wish you all much success as your take your first steps and hope that you will also share with us your progress and lessons learned along the way.

If you have a comment or question, please post it here or e-mail me directly at


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Driving in L.A. is taxing enough; The least you can do is deduct it!

It’s tax season and before you get too deep into what you might owe for the privilege of having worked in the business of acting in 2007, don’t forget to take a good look at what it cost you not just to generate the work you did but, what you spent – or rather invested in support of your career.

I call it “Fiscal Fitness” and chapter 9 in The Business of Acting discusses how to organize your business life to take advantage of all of the write-offs and deductions you’re legally entitled to take. It’s true that you have to have earned money as an actor during the reporting year (and actually report it as income) in order to write-off related expenses. But it’s also true that the expenses you incur in the pursuit, development, education, training and growth of your career can be worth some money back into your pocket if you do it right and if you follow the legal rules.

Because you are your own business, you’re entitled to file a IRS Schedule C with your 1040 tax return form. This is where you get to list all of the items you spent money on during the year. Most actors know that the cost of photo sessions and photo reproductions are deductible. But you would be surprised to know that there are a large number of actors who either don’t know or don’t remember to deduct the costs of other key expenses, like the cost of your memberships to Web site services such as and and the costs of those holiday cards you sent to your industry contacts (including postage).

Another often-overlooked deduction is the cost of parking when you go to an audition. Cash-strapped actors (even actors with lots of available cash) rarely will park in the rip-off garages of office buildings where the privilege of parking for the duration of an audition could easily set you back the cost of a week's worth of Starbuck’s lattes. Street parking is (usually) where it’s at, when you can find it (which is why it’s always a good idea to plan to arrive at your audition location at least 30 minutes early so you’ll have plenty of time to hunt down a place to park without stressing that you’ll be late).

The government wants to see receipts, but what can you do if you’re dropping quarters and other loose change into parking meters that won’t issue you a receipt? Always keep a pad of small notepaper in your car with either a pen that works or with a pencil that actually has a point. When you can’t get a receipt for what it cost you to park, write down all of the pertinent information on a piece of paper: Day, date, time, location, how much money you put in the meter, the meter number and what the audition you went on was for. When you get home, put the piece of paper into the file box you created (every year!) just for this purpose in the folder you’ve labeled “Parking Expenses.” At the beginning of the next year, when you begin to add up what your career cost you, total up the “receipts” you’ve generated and accumulated and viola! Now you have a legitimate deduction.

Of course, parking expenses incurred during the course of conducting your business during the year aren’t just limited to when you go to an audition. Parking for a class, parking when you have a meeting with your agent or manager, parking when you go to see the new George Clooney film to study his process of character development … It’s all money spent in the development of your career.

Often, even the mileage you drive to and from these career-related activities can be written off against a percentage against your earned income.

Check out chapter 9 in the book for a handy worksheet listing all of the deductions you may be entitled to. The chapter also offers up a perspective on other fiscal fitness matters that might prove helpful to you. You should also talk with any CPA or certified tax preparer, although one who specializes in the business of acting with clients who are actors or other creative types will ensure you get someone who “gets” the uniqueness of the acceptable write-offs for you that people in other industries wouldn’t get.

True, I’m not a CPA, but I am a “businessperson.” Besides, I’ve learned a lot over the years from my own CPA and financial guru, Christopher Debbini. At least I can pass some of that on to you. We’re entitled to write-offs that standard employees are not. The worse thing that you could do is to not take advantage of what might be due you in return for filing your return.

Consider all of your options as you consider how to tackle tax season 2008. Happy calculating!

Your comments and questions are welcome. You can post here or e-mail me directly at


Friday, February 29, 2008

Post-Writer’s Strike Presents a New Landscape With a New Challenge For Actors

There is danger when one becomes a “Blogger.” It’s a danger that lies within a Blog’s reader or host site visitor that new Blogs will be posted often and regularly and be current with the times. The truth is that, for this particular Blog and this particular Blogger, only three of those criteria apply. I am, admittedly, not a person who posts “often”; I’m not a person who posts with any predictable regularity. I am, however, a person (at least I think of myself this way) whose posts are “current.” That is to say, when I have something “relevant” to contribute, I do so. So, with appreciation to all of the people who write me and ask, “It’s been three weeks. How come there hasn’t been a new Blog lately?” the answer is rather simple. I really haven’t had anything to say.

Having said all of this, I also want to say how appreciative I am of the loyal following “The Business of Acting Blog” has achieved. I value the time you take to return here to check out my ramblings, my opinions and, hopefully, some pieces of sound advice and perspective.

Now, let’s get down to business.

Indeed, today, I do have something to say.

As busy as it has gotten in the last two weeks around town, it’s almost easy to forget there ever was a writer’s strike. Literally, over night, the amount of casting notices sent to agents and managers alone increased by tons. Well, not “tons” exactly. But it was a lot!
In the frantic state to get back to business, it seems to me that several strike-related developments that may have been resolved to the writers’ (and directors’) satisfaction, have the potential for many actors to have to pay a cost far larger than any writer on the strike line paid during the walk out.

The landscape that is the business of acting has forever changed. What has since transpired in just a short period of time is not just a trend that may eventually pass. We have a new level of how business will now and forever be conducted that needs to be addressed.

CBS-TV, in the their search for how to serve up new content in the future that will be as strike-resistant as possible (regardless of which union is the instigator), has decided on filling critical programming slots with purchased programming from foreign producers, particularly Canada. Yes, Canada is a “foreign” country, with a prolific entertainment industry of its own. CBS folk realized that massive dollars could be saved and viewership loss potentially salvaged by purchasing already produced-and-on-the-air programming from Canada for its own American primetime line up.

Then there was word from NBC-TV that they were changing the playing field that used to be known as pilot season. According to NBC, pilots are now out. The peacock network intends to save (GE shareholders take note) millions of dollars each year by not producing pilots. So where will new content come from? Most likely, from seasoned, proven, previously successful producers who will pitch a concept, maybe offer up an abbreviated presentation of their idea and go from there. Not to be outdone by NBC, CBS itself announced in the trades days ago that pilots are all but dead there, too.

Why does this matter to actors?

It’s simple. To me, it translates to less opportunity all around. Less programming locally grown, less product locally developed, less work for local actors.

The writer’s strike, unfortunately, also gave a another life span to a round of ridiculous “reality” programs that any smart viewer should be embarrassed to admit to watching, especially actors. For every reality show on the air, there is less work for actors. It’s a big win for broadcasters who love the fact that this stuff is cheap to produce. With audiences fleeing broadcast television in huge numbers, ratings are down, ad revenues are down and networks are struggling to find a way to both embrace the new technology and to create a new demand (and find new audiences) for their over-the-air programming.

It’s all about commerce and economics. After all, it is the “business” of entertainment.
When all is said and done, in this new environment, actors must be smart, pro-active and forward thinking in new ways to both empower their careers and survive the changes until the dust settles and America has had enough (again) of “American Gladiator,” “Celebrity Apprentice” and the spate of other shows that have overpopulated the airwaves with content for cash at any cost, and with a job loss for actors.

I was also going to carry on about this year’s Academy Awards telecast, to, which you perhaps have heard set a new all-time low record for television viewership of this annual, aging (now apparently former) American tradition.

With gas approaching $4.00 a gallon, movie tickets over $10 each in most markets, and even Starbucks struggling to discover a way to serve up a cup of coffee for $1 to bring back their former throngs and still make a profit, things are changing all around us. It is, indeed, a new world. Broadcasters cannot successfully program the same way they did even five years ago.

What does all of this have to do with the business of acting? Everything. Producers must be in touch with the attitudes of the “new” audiences; actors must be in touch with the demands on producers to create content to attract these new audiences.

Push the envelope. Think outside “the box.” Don’t be afraid to push your own limits in the pursuit and growth of your career in this new landscape by creating content – and thus opportunity for yourself. ABC/Disney has smartly embraced the technology that is the new media by offering up a slate of Web-only series to the previously network-only advertisers. Lots of work for actors in the creation and supply of this content can only be a good thing. This is a trend I happily embrace. It seems that the need for “unlimited” programming for the “new,” global audience potentially presents lots of opportunities for actors. An article on the cover of yesterday’s (2/28/08) Los Angeles Times business section discussed ABC’s move into this new world and is worth reading. I have sent the link to all of my clients and here it is for you:,0,7683008.story

It’s worthwhile reading.

Next time, I’ll tackle something far less important, like how to save some money of your taxes. ☺

Please feel free to share your comments. Either post here or e-mail me at


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Court Ruling is a Start in Managing Manager and Client Relationships

My friend long-time personal manager Rick Siegel won an important victory yesterday that potentially impacts every manager/client relationship in the business of acting.

After fighting in court for several years to recover commissions owed him from a client who decided not to pay him for his alleged violations of the Talent Agency Act, Siegel decided not only to take on his former client, but to take on the system, as well.

In today's Los Angeles Times, reporter Josh Friedman writes about the history of this issue and the ruling. It deserves to be read. Here is a direct link:,1,7380326.story

I sent Mr. Friedman an e-mail this morning with some of my thoughts on the subject. In my e-mail, I wrote:

"This ruling is, indeed, a step in the right direction, (however), as a talent manager for more than 25 years, the issue and ruling currently on the table fail to address one very key issue in the landscape in which many of us conduct business, and that is: what about those actors who either can't find a talent agent to represent them or those who choose to have only a manager represent them?

Remember, whether agent or manager, it is the client who hires us. We work for them.

With about (roughly) 110,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild, tens of thousands of AFTRA members and countless of other non-union actors, there are simply not enough agents in the business of acting to represent all of the actors who seek representation.

It is this imbalance that necessitates that managers do a lot of the same (sales) work previously associated with agents alone, in addition to the 'career development' we allow 'allowed' to do.

The truth is that no actor who seeks a manager wants that manager to do anything less than everything they can do to get them and keep them working, whether or not an agent is a part of their bigger picture.
The unions and the law ought to embrace our efforts. Whereas the unions earn semi-annual dues based on how much an actor earns during a given reporting period, why should they care who is involved with getting that actor work as long as the actor pays what they owe?

We are not a threat to the talent agency community. Many of us do work hand-in-hand in the representation of some clients. But many of us also work with actors who are flying solo. We all need protection on that journey: The actor needs to be secure in the legitimacy of their manager and the manager needs assurance that they will be paid for their work.

This isn't really much of an issue when an actor is young, new and/or struggling. It's when that rare commodity of success strikes that, for some of them, things can start to look a little different in that albeit often temporary light that bounces off a contract to work."

As an actor, how do you feel about this ruling?

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this issue. Post your comments here or you can reach me by e-mail at


Thursday, January 3, 2008

All I wanted for Christmas was … a settlement! A new year’s perspective

I was hoping to return from the holiday break to find that Santa (or Hanukah Harry, perhaps) had left a gift of settlement in the writers’ strike for all the connected and not-connected-but-impacted-anyway. No such luck. While this week, you can get up to 50 to 75 percent off on already reduced merchandise in nearly every store in nearly every mall in American, it appears that there are no “salvage the season” deals to be had between the WGA and the producers.

Of course it was good news for David Letterman’s writers that Worldwide Pants (Letterman’s company that owns and produces his late night show) had struck an interim deal with the WGA for those folks to return to work, although it seems to me that Letterman’s playing field is in a different ball park all together, thus, perhaps, the reason an interim deal was possible or easier to structure.

It’s really the movie and theatrical television production areas that are at the core of this battle and it looks like pilot season 2008, already on life support, is about to be given its last rites.

What does all of this have to do with the business of acting? Plenty. At whatever stage your career is currently at, there’s nothing quite like a work stoppage (whether or not you agree with it) to kill your momentum.

As I wrote in my last Blog entry prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, now is not the time for actors to do anything drastic. This is not the time to seek first time or new representation; this is not the time to talk with your current agent or manager (if you have one) about why you haven’t been getting out lately. Instead, this is a great time to work on addressing the other critical needs in the business of your career that matter all the time.

Is your head shot current? Is your resume up to date? Have you updated your profile and resume on self-submission sites such as and (if you are listed with one of these or another similar type service)? Spend some time hunting down and reading new or undiscovered (by you) plays. Get together with fellow actors and perform readings of some of this work.

It’s important that you keep your engine tuned all the time, but, particularly, during this extended down period when the opportunity to audition has been taken away from most (union) actors (commercials and theatre excepted, of course).

Stay positive, keep the faith. Soon, once again, Donald Trump will utter “You’re fired” one last time and the new, heavy crop of reality shows will once again give way to a renewed energy in the production of scripted everything.

The new year is still very, very young. This can still be your best year yet in the business of acting.

Happy 2008.

Brad Lemack