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Signing In, Signing Out

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Signing In, Signing Out
Last month, I offered a list of things actors do that annoy casting directors (Back Stage, March 12-18, 2009). The final item provoked the most heated discussion, so much so that the CDs quoted asked not to be identified by name, a request I will honor again for this article. The issue was actors signing out at auditions, and the CDs' consensus was that some actors take advantage of this Screen Actors Guild rule.

But first let's recap: According to union regulations, an official SAG sign-in/sign-out sheet must be present at every union audition. After an actor has spent more than an hour at a first audition or a callback, he or she is entitled to $35.45 per subsequent half-hour, or fraction thereof, of his or her time. (The amount varies depending upon the call and how long the actor is held; go to www.sag.org to see the different rates.) Hence the desirability of signing in and out.

As I noted in my previous column, actors have the right to sign out. But not all do—and there's the rub. When a casting session is running long and the majority of actors don't sign out—thus forgoing the overtime pay they're entitled to—the actors who do sign out become a particular irritant to the CD. As one longtime Los Angeles session director told me, "If every actor would sign out at every audition, no actor would get shit for signing out, then there would be no repercussions."

I received a furious email from an actor who called the advice of one CD I quoted in the column—who told actors to "let it slide" if they go a few minutes past the one-hour mark—"cowardly." The SAG rule was created to protect actors from overly long audition calls, he said, and actors who skirt the rule are kowtowing to CDs, an act he finds lacking in dignity. While I understand the sentiment, his argument shows a glaring lack of understanding of casting realities. (The inability of actors to see things from the CD's side, I hasten to add, might well be another item on the list of things that annoy them.)

"We strive to run an organized session to benefit those performers we are in essence trying to employ," says a New York casting director. "Yes, sometimes we run late, and if it's very late, of course they should sign out. But actors run late too, which we don't tell their agents so they don't look bad." He says actors come to auditions with their children, their pets, and their problems, and nearly all CDs accommodate them—something that would never happen at a regular job interview.

 "We really try to accommodate actors in every way possible," echoes an L.A.-based CD with 25 years' experience. She tries to help them book the job however she can—despite the fact that actors are chronically late, roll in without knowing their sides (which were available for download the day before), dress inappropriately, chat in the waiting room when they should be studying their lines, ask if they can go early because they're in a rush, or don't show up at all. "The other day I had 35 no-shows," she laments.

If a casting director is planning to see 100 people for a role one day, you can imagine how disruptive that would be, especially after the CD has carefully worked out husband-wife or mother-daughter audition pairs. When actors don't show up—and worse, don't tell their agents to let the CD know they won't be there, so their slots can be filled by other actors—or show up out of category, the CD has to scramble to make the day work in order to show the client the best options. The most vital thing I wanted actors to take away from the previous column was that it's a very bad idea to make CDs look bad in the eyes of their clients. Showing up late or not at all, especially to a callback, does exactly that.

I'm not saying that actors shouldn't sign out at auditions. I'm only suggesting that if it's two minutes past the hour, it strikes me as rather petty and unappreciative of all the things CDs do regularly behind the scenes to help actors book jobs. Moreover, it's not exactly a well-kept secret which casting directors hold a grudge against actors who sign out. So if you want to sign out each and every time, that's your right, and I support that right. But for myself, I'd rather do it more judiciously.

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