What Actors Should Ask Their Reps Before Accepting a Job During COVID-19

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Are you ready to go back to work? Do you feel safe stepping onto a set? Do you understand your role in keeping yourself well? Ask yourself these key questions and then have a conversation with your agent and/or manager about the next steps–and about their role in getting you back to work and keeping you safe in the process. The good news is that opportunities are bubbling up in impressive numbers lately and while we who represent you are happy to get back in the saddle with you, there’s also tremendous responsibility that comes along that journey.

An offer of an acting job is not the reason to accept it. With a job offer, comes a set of questions to be asked and a batch of boxes that need to be checked to ensure COVID-compliancy is guaranteed for you and everyone else at work on the project. While production companies, studios, and other content producers should be providing this level of production across the board, they’re not all legally required to do so.

SAG-AFTRA has joined with the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild, IASTE, and Teamsters in creating and adopting a set of recommended rules and a protocol to be followed when back at work in this work-in-progress, “new normal” landscape. But it’s voluntary adoption that can have little, if any, impact on a nonunion set.

Recently, I was in the final stages of completing a deal memo for a client to play the lead role in a nonunion feature film project. The reasons why a former, life-long SAG-AFTRA member would resign her union membership so that she could accept an important career opportunity like this need to be explored in another column. But her availability to play this role and her desire to do so were immediately embraced by the casting director and the others involved with the hiring decisions on this project. There was the usual back and forth in the negotiation for this six-week, out-of-town shoot, but the issue that stalled our path forward wasn’t money, billing, paid ads, photo approval, dressing room requirements, or even travel and housing. We were stalled over COVID-compliancy and safety on the set.

Nowhere in the deal memo we initially received was there any language about health and safety precautions. There did not have to be, but there should have been. COVID-compliancy is costly, but it needs to be funded and implemented in all production situations, whether they be professional, student, or any other classification or designation.

I requested that a COVID-compliancy provision be added to our deal memo and had the producers not been so sold on my client to play this role, I’m confident that we would have lost this opportunity in my attempt to keep her safe. Truthfully, that would have been OK. No job opportunity is worth accepting if it puts you at risk. I’m not sure if the next deal we make will turn into a stand-off over health and safety issues or not. But I’m sure of the questions you must ask your rep and that you insist your rep ask of the casting director before any deal for an acting job for you is finalized.

Will the workspace (both the set and surrounding areas) be maintained as COVID-compliant safety zones? What precautions are being put into place to ensure participant safety? Is the production adhering to all of the union and guild’s recommendations? You don’t have to be a union-designated production to embrace, commit to, and implement these guidelines. If your agent or manager cannot ensure you of this commitment, my advice would be to take a pass on the job. The exposure liability is potentially too great a risk and while the rate of infection has dipped a bit since last spring in some locations, the prognosis for winter and spring is not encouraging. The truth is that we’re all figuring this out and tweaking our COVID-compliancy plans as we go in an effort to keep everyone safe.

What does all of this mean for the working or want-to-be-working-again actor? Patience. If you’re not yet or not currently represented, you have to play a dual role in assessing any acting or production work opportunity that comes your way. Ask the questions and insist on the answers. Whether repped or not, if you find yourself back at work and what you walk into isn’t what you expected or were told to expect, address it. Call your manager, call your agent. If it’s a union production, call SAG-AFTRA or be prepared to address it yourself by finding the right person to talk with about your concerns.

Your safety has to be your number one priority. Eventually, we’ll be on the other side of this. But until we are, it’s a new business that requires all of us to proceed with care and caution, and sometimes that may mean sitting it out and safely creating art, content, and evidence of your career potential on your own–for now.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Brad Lemack
Brad Lemack is a Los Angeles-based talent manager, educator, career coach, and author. He established Lemack & Company Talent Management in 1982. The company specializes in the career development of new and emerging artists and the brand maintenance and career enhancement of legacy artists and working actors. He also teaches The Business of Acting at the Emerson College Los Angeles Campus. His latest book is The New Business of Acting: The Next Edition.
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