Thursday, June 30, 2011

Merge Unions

I am a member of both SAG and AFTRA and a SAG signatory producer. As long as there are 2 unions they will be played off of each other by producers to the financial ruin of actors. It is that simple.

Producers need and will always need professional actors who can dedicate their professional lives to the craft and skills of acting. Producers need actors who can literally afford such dedication, actors who can pay rent, eat and raise children while peopling the projects producers make. Producers need concrete things like retirement and healthcare handled for actors beyond the scope of each project so actors can continue to provide acting services with their health and retirement provided for (it is too complex and expensive for each project to configure its own pension and health insurance). Producers also need less rigid items, like wage and working conditions, to be specified as a standard and keep producers from incurring the transaction costs of redetermining all deal points on each and every project for each and every role separately for every project. Producers cannot produce if actors cannot afford to continue to provide actor services. Producers cannot produce efficiently without standard contracts.

Whatever feelings and grievances anyone on any side may have, including entirely valid ones, the audience is abandoning both producers and unions while actors and producers bicker, fighting over who gets which slices of a shrinking pie. TV ratings in North America continue to fragment and shrink across channels. After adjusting for inflation and 3D up-charges, theatrical box office is flat or dropping. The explosion of the inventory of online ad space has diluted ad prices by expanding supply. All of this is while Americans now spend more money on entertainment than they do on food (this began to be the case a few years ago). There truly is plenty to be had by all.

For the sake of maintaining and building the industry as a whole, zero-sum thinking helps no one especially over the mid or long term. No union needs any other union or union member to lose money in order to make itself and its members more money. No producer truly gains by taking money out of the pockets of actors, and crippling their own human resource. We all improve the world, for ourselves and others, by adding net value to it. The audience, the actors, and the producers can all be enriched, financially and otherwise, simultaneously. We can make the world better than it was before we got here. The idea of what is fair may differ from time to time and person to person, but infighting helps no one. Ever.

A merger may be awkward and uncomfortable, even painful in the short term, but actors, producers and audience need one actor union.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Foster on Normal

Normal is not something to aspire to, it's something to get away from.

- Jodie Foster

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SAG Pay Increase

July 1 SAG rates go up 2% to:

Actor pay has not quite kept up with inflation (current inflation is about 3.57% according to inflationdata.com). Thanks to Jessica's A List for the reminder about the increase. SAG's website lists all SAG theatrical and television rates, also known as scale.

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Online Profits Actors Don't Receive

In February, CEO Jason Kilar said Hulu will have 1 million paying customers by the end of the year and generate nearly $500 million in revenue, up from $263 million in 2010. He has said the company is profitable

(from Yahoo Finance). Under current contracts, Hulu shares little of that profit with actors. In 2009 I wrote the current internet streaming residual structure effectively ends residuals and Jon Healey in the Los Angeles Times pointed out:

...many writers and actors don't view the new residuals for programs streamed on Hulu and other online sites as being "more generous" than what they've relied on for years in television. Nor are there any residuals to be paid when a program made for the Internet is resold to other new-media outlets.
The ad-supported streaming provisions of the contracts are the real flash-points, because many union members see Hulu and its ilk taking the place of reruns on TV. In their minds, they are trading [back in 2009] hefty TV residuals for parsimonious Internet ones.

According to The New York Times, the producers have planned to end residuals since at least 2007:

[Producers] were emphatic in calling for the dismantling of a system under which specific payments are made when movies and programs are put on DVD, shown abroad or otherwise resold.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

SAG and AFTRA Convene Formal Merger Talks

Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists convened this weekend for the first, formal face-to-face discussions between the AFTRA New Union Committee and the SAG Merger Task Force at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland

(from sag.org).

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Good Datebooks and Calendars

Datebooks and calendars matter.

80% of life is showing up

(usually attributed to Woody Allen).

An actor who does not show up on time, or at all, is sabotaging themselves. A teacher in acting school said Early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable. I have been late more often than I would like; my goal is to never be late, ever.

I suggest using what works for you, and refine or change it as it makes sense to change it. The logistics of ensuring you are where you need to be, when you need to be there, are not unique to acting. Tracking the results of marketing (submissions) and sales meetings (auditions) is not unique to acting either. Neither requires special acting-specific paper forms or software.

There are at least 2 companies offering actors career specific datebook/calendar/planner options. They are expensive, more expensive than a paper datebook from an office supply store, or drug store, and the software that is already built into your computer and cellphone. If the offerings of these companies work for someone, great. If they are worth the premium price to a specific actor, fantastic. I simply remain unconvinced they are actually providing value that reflects their cost.

The key is to have whatever system used to coordinate appointments, marketing and sales activity do the job and be worth the time, money and attention spent. I'll try to give a brief version of why actor-specific, maintained-by-a-non-software-company solutions are not ideal. In the wider world, tracking sales efforts and customer relations often falls under the area called customer relationship management or CRM. There are entire companies that make software and systems to consistently, efficiently and effectively keep track of how corporations are finding new customers and how they interact with the ones they already have.

I was comped admission to a convention of the biggest CRM software makers, including many of the largest software companies in the world. I asked their sales and marketing people if they had anything that would work for actors, and described my needs. As I've found in my own research as well, the answer was mainly "not really, you may want to try using one of the 'off-the-shelf' database or contact management programs already out there."

Any system you use to track your calendar and submissions/auditions must have these attributes of good computer software:

Accessibility
You must be able to get to the information when you need it. If it is down or out of reach, it is useless.
Intergrity
You must be able to rely on the information having not been changed, lost, or having errors added to it. If you can't rely on the accuracy, it is useless.
Security
You must be able to control who can access the information. If people you didn't allow can get your data (like your calendar), at minimum, your personal safety can be at risk.

The actor-specific software and those 2 companies do not publicly disclose their disaster or security plans, and since they don't have the resources to hire the best network engineers in the world one can guess they do not have the strongest systems. Since they aren't transparent about their methods, their users are relying on luck, rolling the dice. "My actor-specific-cloud-based-calendar was down/lost my data/saved it wrong" does not replace missing an audition or call-time.

More mainstream software usually has the resources to reduce outages, data corruption or loss and maintain their cloud systems well. Remember, nothing is perfect; having a back up plan of your own is a good idea.

As for their paper products, I'm not convinced paying extra for actor-specific forms is better than using a standard datebook and loose-leaf in a binder. Aside from that, paper can work. While paper can be misplaced, lost or burnt, it is pretty durable, and predictable how it functions or fails. In all cases what works for you and is worth your time, money and attention spent, is best. Break a leg!

Update June 17, 2011: The 2 companies offering actor-specific organization solutions are very different and their products are very different. There are useful elements to some actor-specific products, and I encourage actors to evaluate them themselves. Best of luck and caveat actor.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wendy O'Brien on Headshots

You must have a great photograph that looks like you. I feel like everybody says that, but it's true and it's the most important thing. All you need is one great shot.

Casting director Wendy O'Brien in backstage.com.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

How to Get Auditions

I've been asked, by a few people in the last 2 weeks, how to get, or how to get more auditions in LA. My short answer: beyond agents and managers, best bets are probably http://www.actorsacess.com/ and http://www.lacasting.com/

Subscribe to http://www.showfax.com/ for $68.00 a year and get your ActorsAccess submissions free.

Also worth remembering: your goal is likely not to know how to get more auditions; a career is built faster by learning how to book more acting work.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Central Casting Reacts to Legal Crackdown

Ron Cogan, marketing director for Entertainment Partners, which owns Central Casting, said the city attorney's letter was misdirected.
We definitely feel like we didn't do anything wrong, he said. But we ceased this photo fee because we certainly want to maintain harmony with our legal officials and avoid any unnecessary concern among our partners

(from Los Angeles Times). Seems Central Casting "feels" it was not wrong to take about $50,000.00 in registration fees every month from actors, which is illegal according to California state labor commissioner and the Los Angeles city attorney. More information about the crackdown and the law Central was violating in my earlier post.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

YouTube Trying to Finance Celebrity Content

It seems there are a lot more details being share behind the scenes on how this "professional content" system is intended to work. Specifically, here's what All Things Digital found out about the proposal YouTube is making to celebrities: The author is careful to point out that these are the details being offered by YouTube only to this one maker of "professional content," and can't necessarily be extrapolated to the rest of the people YouTube is pitching.
I'm sure most actors and actresses in Hollywood have ideas or scripts they'd love to make on their own, if only they could get a studio to bankroll it. And now here's YouTube, offering a pretty darn big bankroll, with no restrictions on content variety or length.
...a lot of this could change before anything becomes official.
Content can come from anywhere. In this age of rapidly expanding video technology and increasing video production, we're seeing quality online entertainment content from amateurs and brands alikeā€¦ why can't it also come from companies that used to be primarily about distribution? It can, and it will

(from More Details On YouTube's Pursuit Of Celebrity Channels & Professional Content).

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Work and Vacations

Auditions are the job, the gigs you book are vacations. - David August

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