By David Robb (BPI)
Three weeks ago, Roger Velasco, the 18-year-old "Green Ranger" on Saban Entertainment's Power Rangers in Space, showed up 45 minutes late for a looping session--an infraction of Saban's rules that cost the teenager $1,000 in "bonus" compensation, or more than his take-home pay for shooting an entire episode of the non-union kids' TV show.
Saban's contract with the show's performers provides that in addition to their salaries--which are far below union scale--the actors receive $200 per episode in the form of a "bonus" for "good behavior." When an actor is late or commits some other minor infraction, the company deducts the penalty from the actor's "bonus" pay.
This practice will probably come to an end when Saban finalizes an agreement with the Screen Actors Guild covering live-action children's shows--the one area still subject to negotiation after Saban agreed in February to sign SAG's basic contract (Back Stage West, 2/12/98).
SAG declined comment, although a SAG source said that "it's certainly not surprising to hear this sort of practice occurring in a non-union environment. One would assume that this sort of practice will no longer be possible once their live-action children's programming is covered by a SAG deal."
The practice of hitting actors with heavy penalties for being late to work, which is virtually unheard of anywhere else in the industry, was detailed recently in a sternly worded letter to Velasco from a high-level Saban business and legal affairs executive.
"Arriving late for your ADR (looping) session is a violation of your contract," the Saban executive told Velasco in the Mar. 26 letter. "As you have been advised previously, (we) consider this to be a serious breach of your contract and unacceptable conduct which we cannot reward with 'bonus' compensation. Therefore, we will not be paying you bonus compensation in the total amount of $1,000."
Sources say that several other young performers have been similarly penalized by the show's producers for minor infractions over the past year. Christopher Khayman Lee, the show's Red Ranger and lead actor, was penalized $400 recently for being an hour late to the set.
"I'm very angry," said Lee's manager, Sharon Lane. "It's like they are children who are having their allowance taken away. But they need this money to live. Christopher relocated to Los Angeles for this job and he supports himself. When they docked this money, he had to cut his expenses."
As for the penalties, Lane said: "They have the right contractually to do this, but we didn't think they would go to these extremes when we signed the contract."
Saban officials insist that these penalties are not "fines"--a distinction without much of a difference to the young performers.
"I can say unequivocally say that we have never fined an actor for anything," said Saban spokesman Barry Stagg. "We are not fining our actors and we have never done so."
The letter to Velasco from the Saban official, Stagg said, "acknowledges that high professional standards are met, and in this case, because they were not, the bonus compensation was not awarded. The way this is set up is to reward bonus compensation when the highest professional standards are achieved. In this case, holding up an entire group of professionals and studio equipment resulted in a significant waste of dollars for the company, and that kind of unprofessionalism will not be rewarded."
Said Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents and a former official with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, "I believe that if it were a union show this would not have been permissible. There were times when I worked at AFTRA that a certain daytime serial would attempt to reduce an actor's overscale compensation for being late. We took the position that they could not do that."
SAG ordered all its members to stop working and auditioning for Saban"s shows in January, declaring the company "unfair" to actors and accusing Saban of engaging in the "economic exploitation of children" who work on its shows (BSW, 2/5/98). Six days later, Saban agreed to sign SAG's contract--but only after SAG apologized for accusing the company of exploiting children (BSW, 2/12/98).
The SAG deal, however, did not cover live action children's shows such as Power Rangers in Space, although Saban agreed to negotiate a separate deal with SAG covering those shows. Those talks are expected to resume in the next few weeks.
Raphael Berko, the agent for several of the series regulars, declined to comment on the specifics of the contract, but acknowledged that "these penalties have existed for the last two years. I am currently in negotiations with Saban's upper management to try to resolve this issue, which I am confident [Saban CEO] Haim Saban is unaware of."
None of the show's stars would agree to be interviewed for this story.
David Robb writes for The Hollywood Reporter