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Filmmaking / Directing : When To Say No by Sandra Weston

When To Say No

Im interested in opinions about the indie film practice of not paying actors. Production pays crew and location fees, they rent equipment as needed. I know lots of actors are willing to do this as a trade for the exposure. That's why it sort of works. I'm making acting my retirement passion and recently I was offered a nice indie role as a granny. Salary deferred, SAG ultra low budget. I was willing and actually eager, it's a great story , a great script. However I asked for $.50 a mile travel allowance and was turned down. Now in the past I've paid all my own expenses and supplied wardrobe too, but it's a big drain on my modest income from acting so I reluctantly said no thanks. I wonder how other feel about this industry practice.

Zephania Kapwani

every one should get paid for their labour

Sandra Weston

I agree, however sometimes actors gamble on the pay off coming later. What bothers me about this experience is that the producers are paying the costs for other items but not willing to cover my actual out of pocket expenses. As I said I declined the film. If we all refused to work under these and other poor conditions I think they would make it more reasonable for us.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Having helped raise the budget for, and then crewed, a low budget film, I'd say it depends. We kept our costs low by paying our principal actors the SAG ultra low budget minimum and by not paying any of the extras. We did feed them very well and the principals had a roof over their heads while we were shooting. The extras did not. The film is headed for distribution and if we make money, our total cost is low enough that we think we will, we will send the actors bonuses. I'd say ask yourself questions such as 'Do I trust the principals making the movie?' 'Will the movie help get me noticed and so lead to more work?', etc. Clearly the answers to these questions will sometimes be quite murky. In my view, sometimes you just have to jump in and hope for the best.

Doug Nelson

Sandra; I have a teeny production outfit I refer to as Seriously Low Productions and that pretty well sums what I do fairly well. I rely on free cast and crew only. I don’t need to, or even want to, make money at this endeavor – it’s my hobby and I go out of my way to encourage and promote new & wannabe talent by providing each and everyone as much training, guidance, encouragement and exposure as I can. I often run across newbie’s who want a salary and are insulted that I won’t pay ‘em or even use them in any way. I have seen some pay-to-play production operations, but I’m totally against it. If you join one of my productions – you’re not going to get paid but you’ll never have to pay anything either - you will get fed and given a copy of the finished film for use anyway you see fit. You will also get a personal reel to use for whatever purpose. We all gotta start somewhere.

Geoff Harris

I think it's outrageous to not pay actors, not even just travel and food but a fee. Even on no budget films, the director, producer always have a purpose for the film, to show it somewhere to get a name, to get future projects going etc. So actors who don't get paid, only benefit the director etc, not themselves. Is that right? Also, if you want to be a professional director. producer, start off in a professional way!

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

As someone who has worked on low budget shoots, I must disagree. Assuming that you are clear up front with those who participate, I don't see any problem with not paying people. If they don't like the offer, they can certainly refuse. It's not as if the producers are stuffing their pockets with money. Everybody struggles to get started. It's a fact of pursuing a career in the film business.

Sandra Weston

Every situation is different, that's why I asked for opinions. To me nothing is outrageous or a given. Doug Nelson as long as you know your goals and they align with the goals of your cast and crew it works for you. You don't say why you are making film? What I've found from acting in a series of no budget projects is that they miss vital pieces of what makes a film work. Each of them gave me good experience, each of them had some elements, some paid me, some not. I am now a SAG-AFTRA member with a couple of small credits and a lot of training and experience. I'll do a day or even two if travel isn't an issue to get a good clip for my demo reel. The job I decided to turn down was 50 miles from my home and they needed me for at least a week. I was willing to supply wardrobe and wigs but couldn't cover the travel expenses. I still apply to SAG ultra low budget projects and I'm negotiable on salary and points. If I read a good script and see a character I can shine with I'm very interested. I also want to know the shoot schedule and other details to make sure I feel my investment of time will lead to a great result. For me it's not about ego, it's practicality.

Doug Nelson

It’s simple really. I write and produce short films as a hobby; at my age, I don’t need to make money. Helping young people start careers is very rewarding to me and makes me feel useful and young once again. My greatest reward is seeing someone I helped launch a career – it’s rare, but it does happen.

Jerry Kokich

I've produced a couple of web series, and several small projects. I either do my best to pay everyone some small amount, or make it clear that no one gets paid. If equipment has to be rented from a professional house, that's one thing, but I won't pay someone working behind the camera and not someone in front of the camera.

Jerry Kokich

Larry, you're the kind of guy I like to work with.

Peter J. DeJesus

In my experience, I've at the least covered transportation and provided a meal and snacks or two meals on set. It really depends on who you are getting involved with. The least one can do is feed and get their actors to and from set (within reason... No limo treatment unless the budget calls for a limo... :) )

Sandra Weston

My sympathies go to the writer/directors working and striving to get their dreams into features that will bring them mainstream recognition. Because when that happens all the fame goes to the actors, or actually to the characters the actors have brought to life. There are a good handful of writers and another of directors that the public knows. But thousands of characters live in all our imaginations and the actors fortunate enough to breathe as those mythic beings will be remembered as long as there are audiences. We live past our time in our roles. My passion is to contribute. I don't see this as an argument, just a way of creating mutual respect. without the stories, the scripts the direction, the crew, the editors, I couldn't do this. What I like about acting besides the drug it is to me, is that it has to be a group effort. No one can do it alone. My hope is that from this interesting discussion we will all have better understanding. Oh, and the practical, please cover my basic expenses.

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