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The Working Actor

Speaking Up

Speaking Up
Booking a gig is always cause for celebration, but there are times when the party is cut short. You're on set, putting in your best, when you notice that something isn't right. Maybe you aren't getting your meal breaks when you should. Or perhaps you're being asked to do more than your job—standing in for yourself or another actor, performing your own stunts, ironing your wardrobe, or staying late without overtime. When you suspect you're being treated out of accordance with your contract, how can you speak up?

In some cases, when the issue is small and could be a misunderstanding, it might be best to start with a call to your talent representative. "In general, I believe actors should call their agent or manager first, unless it is an immediate safety issue," says talent rep Phil Brock of Studio Talent Group in Los Angeles. "Usually, a call from a talent representative may be able to resolve an issue without production becoming upset with the actor. Our job is to shield our actors while doing our best to protect them. If there is an urgent safety issue, call your union rep ASAP."

All three actors' unions encourage their members to reach out for help. Kathy Morand, a Screen Actors Guild senior manager in entertainment field services, sent this statement: "If a performer is working on a production signed to a Screen Actors Guild contract or voucher, and production is in violation of their contractual obligations, the performer should contact SAG. Depending on the contract the member is working, they should contact the appropriate department. For theatrical, (323) 549-6828; for television, (323) 549-6835; for commercials, (323) 549-6858; and for background actors, (323) 549-6811. It is better that the performer not engage with the production over the violation. When a field representative shows up to set, that person will automatically be 'pegged' as the one who called and reported the violation to their union. The guild exists to be a powerful advocate for members' rights, which includes protecting members on set if a production is violating union rules."

SAG provides extra support for members who fear that a production is violating safety regulations. For general on-set safety questions, call the National Stunt and Safety Department at (323) 549-6855. After hours, call the emergency hotline number, (323) 954-1600.

Similarly, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is available to step in. Joan Halpern Weise, AFTRA's assistant national executive director of entertainment programming, wrote: "At AFTRA, our representatives visit sets and meet with performers on a regular basis. In the event of a violation, the performer should contact their [union] representative, who will make an effort to investigate and, if appropriate, put an immediate stop to the violation. If the representative is not on the set, the union should be called. If possible, the representative would then visit the set to observe the violation firsthand. Additionally, a call would be made immediately to the production company to alert them of the possible violation. If a representative is not immediately available to observe the violation, the individual who is on the set making the report should take as many notes on the situation as possible and provide the information to the union when contacted…. A list of the AFTRA offices and their phone numbers is on the AFTRA website at"

AFTRA, like SAG, strives to stand between the actor and the errant production. "It is important to note that calls made to the union are confidential, and the union does not reveal the identity of any performer who calls to report a violation," says Weise.

Finally, Maria Somma, spokesperson for Actors' Equity Association, explains its reporting system: "If an actor is a member of Actors' Equity Association working on an Equity contract and observes a violation of Equity's rules, the actor should speak with the deputy—a member of the company elected by the cast who serves as the liaison between the show and the Equity business rep who handles that contract. In turn, the deputy will alert the business rep about the situation, and the business rep will look into it with the goal of resolving the problem with the producer or theater. It is not recommended that the actor confront the producer or the theater; Equity's business reps are experienced professionals who will address the problem."

In brief, when production goes astray, here's what you do: Keep your cool, call your rep, and call your union. Let them help you get out of what could be a tough spot.   

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