Monday, December 5, 2011

Extra Gig #6: An Enforcer NEVER Accepts Abuse. Don't Forget That.

As you've probably read, most of my extra experiences have gone fairly well. This is an exception. You'll soon learn why.

Normally, I've done my extra gigs through Central Casting. No matter what you may think of Central Casting (and I've heard actors say various things about them), they deserve credit for a few things:

1. Central Casting has NEVER lied or omitted material information about a shoot they scheduled me for or that I submitted for. When they say "it's going to be cold" or "it's an overnight shoot," that's what you get. They even tell you if food is going to be in limited supply.
2. Central Casting does PAID extra work. I'm not sure if they handle no pay extra gigs but if they do, I've never submitted for them or been asked to do one.
3. Central Casting has NEVER given me an issue on getting paid or cashing their checks. As long as you've filled out your paperwork correctly, you'll get your check and you don't have to worry about it bouncing.

Overall, Central Casting is a professional entity. I feel that I have a professional working relationship with them so I would never do what I did on Friday night on one of their sets.

The story begins with me going to a talk with casting director Amy Gossels at 36th Street Studios this past Thursday. One of my friends has given talks there and aside from some recent political rants veering a bit toward the crazy fundie cousin zone, he's generally a solid person who knows a thing or two. I expected to see that at this talk, which I did. I also ended up missing a good chunk of a City Bar event I'd signed up for ahead of time to go to this thing.

During this talk, she mentioned a non-union unpaid extra gig her office was staffing for that would be the next day. She said it was going to last until about midnight & you'd get IMDB credit. I already have IMDB credit for other things but not acting work (yet). She also mentioned it in the spirit of "going out & doing things in order to find new opportunities." Solid, sound words that I certainly don't disagree with.

Despite having a doctor's appointment earlier in the day, I had nothing to do that evening so I figured "why not?"

The next day, I get a call from her assistant about the event & got an e-mail to confirm (and by the way, I'll show you the text of the e-mail with personal details omitted if you doubt this story). Her assistant as well as this e-mail reiterates that the extras will be needed "approximately 6-7 hours" from the "5:00 sharp" call time. 5:00 pm + 7 hours = 12 am, right???

At no time was this stated any differently so I had no suspicion of what was going to happen. Plus, I'd not gotten to do extra work where I had to wear upscale club attire (I was going in as a VIP). I have so many outfits I never get to wear; extra work is one good way to get to wear that stuff if you have it.

I show up to the shoot in Long Island City, an area I'm not so familiar with & hiked to the holding area wearing my most comfortable dressier shoes (which still hurt if you walk for great distances in them). I sign a release giving consent to use my image.

After some time, we are taken to the official holding area at a nearby hotel. Those plentiful "meals/snacks & beverages" were nonexistent. I don't consider having to pay for my own food to be a benefit to me on one of these assignments; in fact, I consider it a form of servitude since if you tell me in advance about lack of food, I'll bring my own so I'm not having to waste my limited money.

The wardrobe person liked my outfit, which seems to happen often on these shoots & I had to change my shoes into my strappies (which I'd brought since they look more "clubby"). We go in and get to dance & all like we're in a real club. I had no problem with shooting & it seems I was put in areas near where the speaking actors were (as I'm a natural redhead & am usually the only one around who remotely looks like me, this tends to happen often--I see no problem with it since it just means I'm earning that non-union pay).

As is customary, there was more of the actors talking when being told to be quiet. I didn't really speak to anyone since, first off, heard the name of someone I didn't want to deal with arriving on the set. This was yet another actor from that whole TV network fiasco who I remember as annoying the hell out of us because you could explain something to him a hundred times & he'd still ask you the very same question you just answered a minute ago. I tried to make sure that guy didn't see me; he also wasn't someone I contacted personally about the whole thing or said a word to later on. Second, I would hate someone doing that on one of our film sets. I would want to kill him/her. Little thing called courtesy & respect for other people's sets.

When you're just listening and no one knows who you are or just what you do (as there really wasn't time to talk & I'm selective in who I deal with anyway), you hear some interesting things. First off, a couple comes up near where I'm at and starts chatting up the guys near me. It seems the man played some non-speaking best friend role on Gossip Girl and they were inquiring about getting credit on IMDB; they went so far as to ask the 1st Assistant Director about it & learned that those who were getting it knew about it. The guy decides to leave since he's convinced he's not getting it, which I found unprofessional. I thought "I'll make sure to look this guy up & make sure we don't work with him." His girlfriend, to avoid drama with him, also decides to leave a short time later. I find leaving a set in the middle like that to be super tacky since you're gone in the middle of filming & that can be very bad for the filmmakers.

While I'm thinking this, I hear that we're going to break for lunch at midnight & there's more work to do.

When I'd arrived, we'd been told we'd be getting food after working. I thought "Okay, so you're giving us that meal & then we're leaving, huh?" Again, this is only my 6th gig & most of mine were for established TV shows where starving was rarely (if ever) an issue.

As I was waiting in the long line for lunch (consisting of sub sandwiches where I only saw mayo, not mustard), I decided to find out about this time inconsistency.

I overhear some actors say that they were told the extras were working until 3 a.m. (constituting 10 hours of UNPAID work).

Uh, hell no!!! I decided it was time for me to leave so I took my gear, changed into something warmer & got out of there.

You may think this sounds like I'm being a hypocrite or a liar to have done this but I disagree. Here's why:

1. I was lied to about a material fact. Leaving at 3 a.m. is very different from leaving at 12 a.m. Working 7 hours is different from working 10 hours.

For one thing, I'd have a very hard time trying to get home on public transit at 3 a.m. vs. 12 a.m.

Second, working until 3 a.m. is practically an overnight shoot. One needs to be apprised of & prepared for that situation. Guess what? People have LIVES. They have FAMILIES. I personally have a SPOUSE & better things to do with my time.

Third, that casting office had more than enough time to tell people about it. They could have called me or sent an e-mail telling me of such a change & ASKING me if I could do it or not. Had I been asked, I'd have said "no" and they could have found someone else.

Instead, they made themselves look bad if people walked out.

2. I'm not some little nobody actor trying to make it here. Regardless of what I say to anyone, I am STILL an entertainment attorney & still have my own damn film company. That mindset & what I see doesn't get shut off because I'm doing something else! Everyone I've encountered in this business who knows what I do is well aware of that fact; I would also think they'd know better than to piss off someone who can affect their career in some measure.

Oh, and your conduct toward me makes me question how you treat your clients. How honest are you with them? How good is your word?

3. They don't call me the enforcer because you can get away with sexually harassing me or put me into involuntary servitude. I'm called that because I don't take shit & will knock your block off for even trying it.

I felt it was not just my duty but a responsibility to that enforcer cred that dictated my getting the hell out of there. I wasn't going to cater to that BS or allow anyone to think I'd do it.

4. It's all about respect. If you aren't professional with me (that is, telling me pertinent details, proving me with notice of changes, etc.), don't expect me to be professional with you.

When you're not even PAYING someone for their time, you'd better be giving heavy respect to everyone. I say this from real life experience. If you take advantage or act entitled to something, people will abandon ship faster than you can take a good, deep breath. 10 hours of unpaid work from background actors is the height of entitlement, especially after your representative told the same people they'd be there for 7. Oh, and when you're not paying transportation costs, you're making the actors PAY to work for you.

So when I'm paying $4.50 to be on a set for 7 hours and I find you've lied to me? Shove it up your butt!

That respect rule is about triple for attorneys. I don't know who this Amy Gossels thinks she is but she'll learn fast that you don't piss off someone who's got a lot of friends in indie film & will be telling all of them not to waste their time hiring her for a project. Clearly, her office isn't professional when it comes to background actors so do you want YOUR production to be associated with furthering negative perceptions of non-union work? Believe me, I'll be looking for her name & making sure to steer clear of any project she's associated with since this experiences leads me to conclude she's shady.

Remember, in this business you're known by the company you keep. My company doesn't play that shadiness.

5. Finally, this was an unprofessional casting office. I'd never walk if it was a professional outfit like Central Casting where all material details were given to me in advance (long before I walk onto the set) & I'd been able to make an informed decision on being able to commit. Plus, I'd have been paid for it with Central Casting.

A professional employer wouldn't slap 3 extra hours on your shift without telling you ahead of time or at the very least ASKING if you could do it. Nor would you be expected to take that extra time unpaid. If I encountered that in the workplace & it had nothing to do with a time sensitive matter that I had to do ASAP (like a last minute issue in a court case or getting papers signed before the signer leaves for months), I would tell that boss where to stick it & walk off.

I don't blame the film production for this since I'm sure they knew their schedule & they aren't the ones who lied to me. None of them were unprofessional to me & I didn't see any rude or nasty behavior from their folk. I felt slightly bad for leaving but the majority of me feels that if you can afford casting people, you can afford to at least cover the extras' transit costs if not pay SOMETHING. You get what you pay for & if you want 10 hours of work from people, you'd better start paying or you'll get walk outs. I believe this same production is using Craig's List to seek out extras so that tells me volumes.

At no time in our projects did we ever expect extras to work unpaid for 10 hours. We also never had a casting person so you can spare me any poverty arguments. They also got my release & I don't care if they use my image.

Besides, my gripe isn't really with them. It's with Amy Gossels Casting. So that makes me heavily rethink going to hear anyone at 36th Street Studios.

Upsides to doing this were that I shaved & removed hair, got to wear a skirt I've never really worn & learned a little more of Long Island City.

Some take home lessons, both for me & perhaps for those of you in the industry:

1. I will never, under any circumstances, do unpaid work or pay to work for anyone unless it's for a close friend or someone who is highly vouched for by my friends. This experience illustrates precisely why you should never pay to work for anyone. Self-respect & personal dignity are far more important than anything else in my opinion.

I also resent doing it when the cost is greatly outweighing the reward. Want me to be passionate about your work? Make me feel like you value me! Respect my time! Respect my expertise! Take what you can get. If it's not that person's project & you're not paying them, don't expect them to care like you do.

You want things like priority on your work or extra time? Pay up or shut up. That's what you get from people whose altruism has long been spent elsewhere. Lawyers in particular aren't that altruistic; see how many provide free legal work (especially entertainment law). Now see how many with experience will do it for free.

2. If you choose to do unpaid work for someone, you need to be strategic about it. What are you getting from it? Will you get viable networking from it? A good credit? I think extra work is a waste time for networking considering the hierarchy involved & the perception by many that background actors are lower than cockroaches. Unless these name actors are personally talking to extras or hanging out in the same holding area as background, I don't give a shit whose there.

I'm not going to interrupt someone's work & I'm not going to approach people since I have issues with rejection; I also don't want to be mistaken for some sex starved groupie. Plus, I'm not very forgiving & certainly won't forgive those who don't even apologize for rudeness toward me.

Actors are also some of the last people I need to network with. I know plenty of them & know non-actors who can make recommendations or get me some.

If you're a newbie, just register with Central Casting. At least then you'll get paid for doing extra work.

3. You do non-union work with unreliable sources at your own risk. If you work with friends or friends of friends, there's less chance of BS since the social cost of doing it is very high. Most people don't like pissing off their friends (whether it's you or the friend that recommended the project). If you work with a professional outfit, you'll get professionalism so if you don't give that back, it's your fault.

4. No one working with my company is ever going to have to put up with that type of lie or omission from me. I'm not going to stand for it & I expect managers or anyone else to tell me or one of my colleagues if there's ANY shadiness going on on set or elsewhere. It's my cred as an attorney & professional at stake if folks are breaching contracts.

I also refuse to have my company be known as that trash hole that abuses actors or cheats, lies, etc. to anybody, not just the investors or name actors. Sitting back & letting someone else do it is also unacceptable to me & while I'm around, it's not happening.

You can't be a legitimate player in this business if you do that stuff & if you are doing it, you're eventually going to be found out or run out of town.

5. You never know who's working as an extra on a project. What if you've just lied to some name actor's relative? What if you're lying to a business owner who could have given you work? What if you're lying to some potential investor or their best friend?

Everyone should be treated with basic respect & dignity. If you can't do that, then you don't need to be in the entertainment industry. You should probably be a bill collector instead. Maybe even some lackey to a financial CEO on Wall Street. Then, you can be a jerk to the general populace & not get fired for it. If I'm wrong, let me know but that how those jobs look to me.

This is probably my last extra gig since I feel I've already learned all I need to from doing it. I can't see any new experience compelling me to do it again & I stand by what I did. I'd rather keep my self-respect & dignity than allow anyone to treat me like a chump. I have to face myself in the mirror, you know.

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