This week’s Your Turn is a thoughtful response to last week’s piece on how actors can protect themselves against “bait and switch” type experiences.

Hey Bonnie —

Great advice on protecting oneself in the latest BonBlast. I agree with almost every bit of advice there in terms of protecting oneself as an actor, and have indeed walked off a set in Chicago when my initial contract called for internet image rights only, and then the producers on set tried to get me to sign a new contract for the SAME PRICE that allowed use of the footage and my image “in perpetuity, across all platforms,” etc., etc.). I called my agent and the casting director, and they told me to walk. So in this sense, you’re absolutely right about protecting our brand.

However —

I happen to know a couple of actors who were in Innocence of Muslims, and I’m not sure the advice applies, specifically, to them. These were actors who weren’t “not given a script” until production day, and could have demanded to see the script and make a better decision (like leaving the production). They are actors who were given one script and then that script was CHANGED in post-production to put words in their mouth that they never, ever said on set.

So how does one protect against stuff like that, essentially, without just refusing to do ANY work which isn’t union-protected? The young woman says they were treated well on set, that the script had no references to Mohammed, etc. I feel that at least a few of these actors DID perform due diligence, but were lied to, and their words were then altered in the final product.

So the article, although right on in terms of things actors SHOULD do, also feels a little bit in this case like “blaming the victim” when it is put in the context of Innocence of Muslims. Maybe there were red flag moments on this shoot, maybe there weren’t — I wasn’t there, so I don’t actually know.

But it doesn’t sound to me like this falls under the case of actors being careless with their image any more than doing ANY nonunion work would be. I did nonunion commercials, and I suppose someone could have taken my dialogue, “I hate broccoli!” and changed it to “I hate black people!” But if the production had the look and feel of the real thing, and I was handed a script that said broccoli, I find it hard to believe I could have figured out what they were going to do down the road.

Most contracts deal with daily things that concern actors — things like how long their image can be used, across what platforms, etc. I’ve signed with chagrin some contracts that allowed use in perpetuity, after thinking through the actual consequences (“well, they could only use this ad for so many years before it became passé…”), but I think I would be righteously horrified if they took my dialogue about broccoli and made it into a racist hate ad — and I’m not sure anything I’d done on set could have changed that, outside of just not ever doing ANYTHING that wasn’t nonunion, or insisting on a very unrealistic rewrite of the contract that insisted on my words in the final product being EXACTLY as they were spoken on the set.

The cases of the political ad workers, and the one that was hoodwinked into doing an ad for the other side, are interesting, and I think more fairly fall into “due diligence” on the part of the actor, although to me the area is still a little bit grey.

I guess my point is that this article, though correct in terms of what it says about precautions actors should take, also sounds a little like, “If the actors in Innocence of Muslims were a little more diligent, they might not be in this position.” And I’m not sure, in this case, that that’s fair.

There’s a tendency in this business to second-guess actors — I’m frequently frustrated at articles that wonder why actors are in a bad movie right after their Oscar-nominated one (partially because it speaks of a lack of understanding of the business — that lousy comedy was probably in the can before the actor was nominated for the Oscar in the previous movie) — but also because these articles assume it’s always easy to figure out what the quality of a film is going to be simply from assessing the director, script, budget, you name the category. All of the above can seem awesome and the end result can be a complete dud. It’s a collaborative art. There are any number of reasons a major blockbuster with all the right ingredients can fail, or a low, low budget film that the actors assume will never see the light of day can become a huge hit (I also know an actress from Paranormal Activity, and if she’d avoided certain types of films where there was a slim chance she might be taken advantage of, she never would have been in THAT game-changer for her career).

Anyway, understand I completely agree with your advice, it’s just that in the context of the Innocence of Muslim actors it sounds a bit like you’re saying “this is how they could have avoided this.” And I’m not sure that’s fair, or even true.

I might be wrong, or misreading the article, but thought I should share this thought with you. Don’t be too hard on me; I’m just thinking off the cuff, here, but expressing some things that concern me.

Hope you’re doing well.

Thanks,
Whit Spurgeon

Whit, thank you for this thoughtful response to a very complicated issue. I spent a lot of time on last week’s column and really worked hard to try and suggest some totally do-able things that actors can do before hopping on set to try and protect themselves. Of course, there are always going to be skeevy scumbags out there who will take advantage of actors’ eager and giving nature. There will always be ways that “bad guys” can dupe doe-eyed innocents. Absolutely, the only way to never get screwed over in this business is to not participate in it. Not a great option, for those who find being in this business like breathing: Not optional.

I certainly don’t want to play “blame the victim” with any member of any of the populations I covered in last week’s piece. I know you’re not accusing me of that! 🙂 Absolutely, there’s stuff that can happen even after everyone has done their due diligence. That sucks, but it’s true.

You brought up major blockbusters with all the right ingredients failing, and I just don’t think that’s a fair comparison. The producers of Innocence of Muslims trolled for actors on Craigslist, for cryin’ out loud. That’s not just a “lower tier casting site,” that’s NOT a casting site! That the producers did not hire a legitimate casting director and go through typical casting channels is a red flag. That any of the principals did not have IMDb pages or verified credits on legitimate projects is a red flag. That actors were not given complete scripts, but rather short scenes to act out (and that the characters were named “George” and “Condalisa,” which doesn’t track with the storyline) is a red flag. That actors reported fake beards as “poorly attached” is a red flag.

I am NOT saying that any one of those things is reason to not participate in a low-budget project! What I’m suggesting is that actors not lead with need, but instead focus on collaborating with others who want to tell similar stories. By saying yes to projects that feel GREAT to be a part of, an actor is less likely signing up for something in which they are going to be screwed over. When I look at alllllll of the red flags (which, of course, are blatantly obvious in the world of Monday morning quarterbacking), I say there were just way too many of them for this to have been the type of film that becomes a hell yes, even if it had remained the project it originally was described as being.

OF COURSE, no one could have anticipated that the Innocence of Muslims producer was going to completely overdub the work these trusting actors provided on set for Desert Warrior. I’m not suggesting that these actors (or the unwitting crew members, for that matter) could have sniffed THAT out, just using the red flags I’ve listed. What I’m saying, though, is that — best-case scenario — this was NEVER going to be the kind of project that would yield fantastic footage that showcased the actors doing high-quality, on-brand work that they would be proud to use as a form of risk assessment. That alone makes saying no at least a consideration, I would hope.


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001565.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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