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THE WORKING ACTOR

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DEAR JACKIE:

I recently booked the lead in an Internet series—a webisode. This series is union, so it's under SAG, and since it's being referred to as a series, I'm assuming that it is not a pilot that has to be picked up. My agent doesn't know too many details, because they are still in negotiations with the budget and contract, so I just have to patiently wait. However, I was hoping you could clear some things up for me.

How does a webisode work? Is it shot on 35mm, like some television shows and features, but will air online? Are there any residuals due? Seeing that this is a SAG project, I would assume that residuals come with the territory.

I don't know what to expect from this series, but I am hoping it provides a gateway to bigger opportunities and allows me to make connections that will land me in feature films—my ambition as an actor. My anticipation is eating away at me. I hope you can provide some insight on what to expect.

—ND

Los Angeles, Calif.

DEAR ND:

Congratulations on the booking. The Internet is opening up exciting new possibilities for actors, but the medium is still a no man's land when it comes to precedent: There are no standards from which to make assumptions on how your particular deal will play out. The Screen Actors Guild is trying to bring online media such as webisodes under its umbrella, but even when a show, like the one you've been cast in, operates within SAG's radar, there is no Internet version of scale, so questions like pay and residuals remain open.

When I asked SAG to comment on the pay arrangements for webisodes, its response was cautious and vague. "That's a tough one," a union representative answered in an email. "And it's impossible to answer in a general way. While Screen Actors Guild covers all Internet content, including webisodes, it is a very dynamic area. These agreements are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, and since no two situations are ever exactly alike, there's no one-size-fits-all answer."

Then the rep put the ball back in our court with, "The best way to find out more about a particular webisode, or Internet content, is to contact the SAG Theatrical Contracts Department at (323) 549-6828, and one of the guild's business representatives can provide personal, individualized assistance. We also remind actors to check with the guild to confirm a producer's signatory status before you supply services on any production, including original content for the Internet or cell phones."

Try as I might to nail down specifics from SAG, all I could get was a general comment about all situations being different and a reminder to adhere to Global Rule One. This frustrated me until I spoke to Brett Carducci, an agent at Sovereign Talent Group who has negotiated several webisode contracts for clients.

"SAG is right," he says. "[Internet is] pretty much the Wild Wild West." As the newest medium on the block, Carducci explains, the Internet doesn't yet put up much competition for the advertising dollars companies are still pouring into television, and so the money for high production values and actor salaries just isn't available—yet. A lot of Web producers are working with very small budgets. "As far as I know, most webisodes aren't paying residuals, and there's no scale [as in SAG basic pay scale]," he continues. "There's no standard. I think it will evolve, but it isn't there now. In some ways, that makes it a great time to negotiate, if you have a good agent and the producers really want you. You can get creative." Carducci recounts negotiating a deal in which the actors were paid, in part, with free product of the kind they were helping to sell. He also tells anecdotes of actors who have received producing credits and back-end deals in lieu of large paychecks. "Don't expect much money on Internet deals right now," Carducci warns. But that doesn't mean it's not worth your while. "They aren't paying actors much, but actors are getting discovered off of it, " he adds.

Case in point: Actor Jessica Rose jump-started her career portraying Bree Avery in the ostensibly real and incredibly popular YouTube blogs of Lonelygirl15—later revealed to be the fictional creation of the actor and two filmmakers. Rose's Internet Movie Database entry is flush with credits this year, barren before Lonelygirl15 made her, at least in the short term, a sort of phenomenon. There are others: Stevie Ryan (LittleLoca), Brooke Brodack, and Lisa Donovan (LisaNova) to name a few. But remember, the Internet is still in its fledgling stages, and though it has worked wonders for a few lucky souls, there are thousands upon thousands of videos and webpages that can't boast more than a trickle of viewers.

I'm sure you're beginning to see that you've made assumptions you'd be better off unmaking. Although the series is under SAG jurisdiction, there are no universally accepted guidelines in this medium, so scale and residuals are not likely to come into play. Your agent will do his or her best to get you a meaningful salary, and you'll have to decide what the exposure and experience is worth to you.

As for whether the series is a pilot, it's possible the producers are still fishing for funding with a pilot-style episode of a planned series, so don't count those chickens quite yet. And keep in mind that the Internet doesn't operate within traditional television boundaries and seasons, so the same rules aren't going to apply with regard to pilot versus series taping. I don't know what the show will be shot on, but I can't imagine an Internet series being shot on 35mm. The size of the final product makes Internet content a great match for digital media, and that's what viewers have come to expect. Most Internet content seems to accentuate "reality," and "real people," with plenty of room for improvisation. I'm going to wager a guess that, without exception, "reality" shows are shot digitally, which grants producers the freedom to record ad nauseum without breaking the bank. Besides, because they lack the prime advertising dollars and track record of television or film projects, Internet productions are typically less well-funded. A small budget makes expensive film stock a luxury.

Though there are a lot of uncertainties in this new medium, don't let those cloud your opportunity. You're getting a chance to work in front of the camera, get exposure, and meet an up-and-coming director and producers. If you are at a point in your career where experience is more valuable than a few bucks, saddle up and ride on out into the frontier.

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