Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How "low" can you get ... ?

The unrest and rioting against the U.S. in the Middle East this past week has, according to press reports, been sparked by a poorly made and cheaply produced “ultra low budget” film.

This fairly new SAG-AFTRA classification of production makes it possible for union actors to appear in films produced by students and other people with limited budgets (or people or organizations who may have money, in general, but who choose to spend as little as possible producing a film — for whatever reason).

Whether or not the film in question is truly the cause of the latest round of violence is not a Business of Acting topic, but the category of “ultra low budget” productions and the risks actors can face when they choose to appear in one of them is very much a part of the new business of acting landscape.

What happened to the actors in the cast of this film raises the question, "At what price act?" In other words, is every breakdown for a project that seems right for you worth submitting on? Is every audition you are called in for worth going in on? And is every role you are offered from a self-submission worth taking?

In short, no.

I spend a lot of time encouraging young and new-to-the-business actors to be pro-active in every way that makes sense, but there is also a responsibility is this process to perform due diligence at every turn -- and even if if you do, there is no guarantee that after the performance you gave was filmed, that the producers won't go in and do apparently what was done to the actors in this film, replace dialog and edit to an extent that the end result is a film that you would never have choosen to even submit on, let alone act in, if you knew up front what the producer's agenda was.

If a producer meets the SAG-AFTRA requirements to earn the "ultra low budget" classification for their production, it doesn't sanction the production as "worthy," only as "qualified."

Countless organizations produce agenda-driven films, including every political party and the Church of Scientology. I'm not a Scientologist, but at least their breakdowns identify who they are. An actor on a sell-submission and reel-building mission can then determine if he or she is comfortable or interested in appearing in one of this group's films.

The Los Angeles Times ran an excellent front page story the other day on this exact issue. It's worth a read.

It's a discussion we will be having in my Emerson College Business of Acting class tomorrow night and worthy of a discussion here.