I'm an actor, somewhat new to New York City, and I don't have my Equity card. (I'm an Equity membership candidate who foolishly turned down his card twice in a smaller city, due to the lack of Equity houses, for more opportunities to work.) This recession and the closing of so many shows has sent so many people to Equity auditions lately. Being an Equity candidate, I'm used to waiting for an opening to audition. But as of late, I haven't seen any! It's almost as bad as being nonunion now! I've spent entire days at casting offices without being seen—and I've been as close as No. 10 on the EMC list!
What can someone like me do? Are there new rules with so many artists unemployed now? Is it time to abandon ship and head to greener pastures while New York sorts itself out? Should I be trying to find an agent—someone to get appointments for me? Or would an agent even touch someone like me who doesn't have his Equity card yet, when so many actors with Broadway credits are seeking work and probably new representation? Is Equity doing anything to help the poor budding artists in its EMC program?
—EMC in the Dark, via the Internet
Dear in the Dark:
Sometimes I feel like a broken record when writing this column. (It occurs to me I may need to explain that reference. Long before compact discs, before cassette tapes, we old folks used to listen to phonograph records. Sometimes when a record got scratched, one little phrase of a song would repeat over and over until you moved the needle that picked up the sound. So I'm saying I seem to repeat the same phrases again and again.)
My biggest themes here seem to be: 1) Show business isn't fair, it's hard for everyone, and it's crazy to expect it to be different for you. 2) Show business is an unpredictable, pattern-defying profession, so no one can provide cause-and-effect formulas ("Do this and this will happen"), unless your adviser is psychic.
In this case, once again—and I know this isn't what you'd hoped to read—I must tell you that no one knows whether you'll do better sticking it out in New York or trying another city. My advice: Make a plan. Try it and don't look back. If it doesn't work out, try something else. I know: not much help. But the help I'm providing is giving you the truth of the situation. I'd love to tell you where to go to find the most success in this profession, but there's no such answer.
As for getting an agent, certainly, if you can, you should. Will an agent take you on without your Equity card? Surprise: I don't know. Some do, some don't. But this we do know: Agents have access to more audition information than actors do, and a decent one can get you appointments, so you don't have to wait in line. Getting an agent is a definite career improvement. Do it if you can.
I brought your question about EMC audition procedures to an Equity representative, who reminded me that the union's obligation is to its members. The EMC program was put in place as a way for actors to become members. That's what Equity has done to help the "poor budding artists." But no, there are no new rules to help you get seen more frequently. As you know, it's tough all over. With so many unemployed union actors, it's unlikely you'll see the union offering much in the way of help for nonunion actors. In fact—and my contact agreed with this—the way things are, and depending on where you end up, you may decide that turning down your card wasn't so foolish after all.
Yours was the best explanation of residuals I could find on the Web, and I thank you. But I'm not an industry insider and I still have a very basic question: Roughly, what is an actor paid for a TV rerun, assuming he or she is not especially famous? Is it pennies? Dollars? Hundreds of dollars? Thousands? How about a movie shown on cable? I realize there must be a large variation due to the factors you describe, but I'm curious to know a ballpark range, since I'm totally clueless.
—Ron Masson, via the internet
The following information is provided by the Screen Actors Guild's contracts department:
"Mr. Masson is exactly right when he mentions that there must be a large variation in residuals payments for television reruns. Attempting to come up with a ballpark range sort of feels like trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
"First, it's helpful to know that there are two ways residuals are paid for television: 1) Fixed or run-based residuals are due based on how many times a television episode reruns on television, and performers are paid a percentage of scale (SAG minimum at the time of principal photography), or based on what they were paid for doing the work originally. 2) Gross receipts–based residuals are due based on a percentage of the money paid by the exhibitor (HBO, Showtime, Disney Channel, FX, Cartoon Network, etc.) for the right to air the picture, and all performers in the cast share in that percentage payment.
"Here are some ranges for fixed residuals based on the current contract terms as of this date: For a network series episode rerunning on a network (ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox) during prime time, most performers will receive residuals somewhere in the range of $750–$2,700. The maximum payment anyone, even the highest-paid series regulars, can receive on a half-hour show is currently $2,311, and on an hour show it's $3,290. Keep in mind, this residual is not paid the first time a show airs, only if it reruns on the network in prime time.
"Residuals are also run-based if the television show is made for a basic-cable station or if it's airing in syndication. But those payments are generally lower and get smaller with each rerun. Syndication is usually higher in the range than basic cable. The residuals generally are somewhere around $130–$1,100 for the first rerun, down to about $10–$125 if it continues to repeat. Syndication residuals are based on 40 percent down to 5 percent, and made-for-basic-cable are based on 17 percent down to about 1 percent, of SAG scale for each type of performer.
"If a network show or theatrical motion picture airs on cable, that is a gross receipts–based residual. This type of residual doesn't really have a ballpark range, because many factors can determine how much the license is for, and the size of the cast also has a big effect on the residuals ultimately paid to each individual performer."
Hope that better answers your question.