Got lots of feedback about “Protect Yourself” from two weeks ago, its follow-up “Your Turn” from last week, and last week’s column on “Starting Late.” Let’s dive in, shall we?

Bonnie,

Per, “how actors in particular must be on top of disabling the use of their likeness in Facebook ads, due to commercial conflicts that can arise simply from hitting the ‘like’ button too freely,” more and more, entertainment venues of all sizes tend to have an “image release” of some sort, whether it is on the back of the admission ticket, on a large banner at the concierge desk, or on a rusted sign at the back of the rarely-used parking lot, advising all guests their image may be used for marketing purposes across all media types in perpetuity.

For the casual guest, I’m sure they don’t think twice that the company could profit based on a crowd shot that includes them. It’d be kind of “cool” to see yourself on a brochure or billboard.

But for professional talent who wants to take in a sporting event, roller coaster, or concert, how does one deal with these boilerplate licenses (“upon entering these premises, you agree to…”), especially since the terminology suggests (and modern technology allows) your mug could be the unwitting spokesperson for their brand?

You take your loved one to a concert of their favorite artist, who has partnered with one beverage company, and the next thing you know, your recognizable image is included in that drink’s advertising campaign… and you just got a callback for their competitor, whom you intentionally pursued, and who summarily dismisses you due to the conflict.

ScottJSmith.com

Great points, Scott, and my thoughts are these: It’s not gonna be something that “gets fixed” until it becomes a big enough deal. For example, way before Saved By the Bell, Mario Lopez walked through the doors of a John Robert Powers franchise. He — and his family, because he was a minor — agreed to the terms of being there, which meant his image, his likeness, his name could be used as a success story by JRP… for life.

A few years ago, in a story about modeling school scams, Mario Lopez was interviewed about his involvement with JRP, and he said he had no idea they were continuing to use his name to promote their events. (Check out this info from 2000, 2005, 2008 for context.) Interestingly enough, after his on-camera interview about how violated he felt, being used as bait for programs he never endorsed, the promotions aggressively utilizing his brand seem to have disappeared.

Now, JRP (and other similar programs) continue to list Mario Lopez, Ashton Kutcher, and Channing Tatum among their “success stories,” but it seems after the actors reach a high enough level, those blatant misrepresentations of the actors’ relationships with the programs disappear. I would imagine there’s a good amount of high-powered attorney action, at some point, and the settlement includes a gag order about the terms, and the companies’ ability to continue to use the actors’ names, only (because, well, they did attend those programs, and those companies are adjusting the deal into which they entered, the first time they did business together).

All this to say that, your ability to combat the monster that is this ubiquitous implied release seems to increase, the more famous you become. I am very interested to see the mid-level, working actor out there who must sue a company for creating a commercial conflict, when that actor is able to prove damages and get something moving in the right direction, regarding these releases.

I don’t know that the genie ever gets put back in the bottle on this, as we really are agreeing to terms of all sorts of releases, just by walking around in an on-camera world. But once actors start losing jobs due to a release they “signed” by entering the premises of a public space as private citizens (not as actors, representing the space or the products therein), I think we’re going to see this whole thing get very interesting.

Hey wonderful and thought-provoking lady!

Two thoughts on this week’s column on Starting Late: The first is an “amen” on not worrying about starting too late. I came to LA just three years ago — as a “middle-aged” woman — and am reassured every day that I could not have come to LA any earlier than I did. As a young woman, and a naïve one at that, I never would have survived in this city. I would have easily been suckered and sucked in to believing what everyone else told me I should be, probably would have been preyed upon by sexual predators in the business, and my self-esteem would have been ground down to nothing in short order.

This city is full of potential and possibility, but it can be a brutal place, if you don’t know how to protect your body and spirit. Coming here as a woman who knows her own mind and who has evolved a personal artistic mission, I know I will thrive here. That would not have been the case 20 years ago.

The second thought is about your ongoing conversation about protecting yourself as an actor on set, where we have so little say in the final shape of the project. Every time I walk on set — when I was nonunion and also now that I am union — I am handed a contract to sign that gives permission to use my image. More often than not, it has language that gives the producers permission to use my image, in any form, altered or not, in any medium, for any project or usage whatsoever, forever and ever, across this universe and any other. And they never have an extra copy of the contract for me. They want me to sign and then they keep the only signed copy, so I have no record of what I agreed to. When I ask for and am promised they will email me a copy, I never get it.

My day job for many years was in a contracts office. I worked with contract lawyers who assured me that *every* contract is up for negotiation, and that only fools sign the contracts they are given. This gave me the confidence to cross out the objectionable language, and write in language saying they can use my image only in uses related to this specific project, and any other usage shall require separate permission. I then initial by the change, and hand them the contract back, after they have managed to dig up another copy of the blank contract for me. If they can’t provide me with my own copy, I don’t sign.

It’s making the best of a bad situation, to be sure. The reason I’m saying all this not to show how smart I am, but rather to encourage other actors to do the same. Unless you are being given a standard contract that has already been negotiated by one of our unions, do not be afraid to read it and revise any language you don’t like! However, I also realize that this would not have protected me in the case of Innocence of Muslims, because it was technically the same project.

I have an idea to pitch. Do you know any contract and/or entertainment lawyers that might be able to provide pro bono a paragraph that actors could print out and bring with them to set on the first day that they can ask the producer to sign that protects them against having their image used in anything other than the project as described to them on the day they performed the work? And that any material changes to that will need to be separately negotiated?

We don’t want to handicap the producers and other creatives on the project, of course, and we still acknowledge that our scene might have to be cut completely, or maybe, I don’t know, changed to sepia-tone in post. But it doesn’t seem unreasonable to have some standard language that protects actors against having their dialogue completely changed to something that constitutes a hate crime.

Do you think there would be a lawyer or lawyers who would be willing to put something like that together pro bono and allow it to be distributed for actor use?

Thanks again for all you do,
Dawn “Sam” Alden

Fabulous email, Dawn/”Sam”! 😉 You rock! I agree on the first bit, for sure. Had I had *any* sort of success come upon me when I was here as an actor at age 23, I would have completely spun off the rails!

I’m with you on “every contract is negotiable.” And true professionals don’t feel threatened by negotiation. I’m not talking about actors agreeing to one thing and then getting on the set and playing hardball, while you have the producers in a bind for their shoot day! That’s not gonna help anyone, and that’s not what you’re talking about either, of course. But while the negotiating is going on, getting the right terms locked down is very important. Why don’t actors mention, “Hey, this clause seems a little broad. Can we narrow the scope a bit?” more often? I think it’s because actors *so* feel that they HAVE TO say yes to everything that these things happen. Let’s all stay empowered!

I agree with you that it would be fantastic for actors to have a boilerplate bit of language that helps protect them. I don’t know whether asking someone who gets paid to be an expert on these things to work for free is going to work out, but I would recommend that starting with the fantastic language that is already in our unions’ contracts is a great first step. And, hey, if any attorney out there reading these words would like to contribute a paragraph, I’m happy to share it here for everyone’s benefit! Great suggestion! Thank you.

Bonnie,

Hi! Thank you so much for your columns — and the one today really resonated with me. I moved to LA 16 years ago and was in Theatre Geo with Kathy Joosten. We did many of the CD workshops the theatre company produced. I was in my late 20s, and I thought she was really brave for getting out there and pursuing her dream in her 50s. She was so close to breaking out at that time, but when we were backstage prepping for these monologue workshops, who knew that?

After some commercial success and doing lots of LA theatre, I became a personal assistant and then got into production. Last year, I got what I thought was my dream job, as the post coordinator on Game of Thrones. I love the show, but was miserable during the job, and began having recurring theatre and acting dreams. The show went on hiatus in June in LA and I’ve since got new headshots, signed with a great commercial agent, finished my first class at UCB, and am writing a one-woman show that has been in my brain for 20 years — it’s about the year I lived in China and worked for CNN as a translator during the Tiananmen Square Uprising.

The first person I thought of when I decided to jump back in was Kathy. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the run-down makeup/green room at Theatre Geo. While I was putting on lipstick, I caught a glimpse of her in the mirror. She was sitting next to me, going over her monologue, focused, with eyes on the prize. I never saw Kathy in person once Theatre Geo disbanded a few months later. But I was thrilled to see her on TV.

So now I’m in my mid-40s, a mother, a mortgage, and starting again. I’m in that place in LA where I know people in “the biz.” When they ask me what I’m doing now, instead of people being excited for the reboot of my career, I typically get a soft, “that’s nice,” veiled in looks of confusion and pity. And these are people in the entertainment industry!

I feel like some think I’ve actually lost my mind. It seems that Hollywood isn’t too keen on you stepping outside of your box — which is so ironic since everyone comes to Hollywood with a dream, and pursuing your dreams ALWAYS means stepping outside of the box. At one time or another, everyone in this town has done the exact same thing!

Anyway, the good news with being an actor now is the free-flow of information I didn’t have a decade ago, especially your website, and the weekly BonBlasts. I so appreciated what you wrote about today. I think Kathy was 59 when she got her big break on The West Wing… so let’s hope in 14 years I’ll play the secretary on whatever new show Sorkin will have at that time… The United Nations? 🙂

Thanks,
Ann Starbuck

Ann, I love this email SO MUCH! Thank you for sharing this story with me! I agree that it’s strange when people seem less-than-enthused at bearing witness to someone else living their dreams, but when I do a little more digging on the subject, I’ve seen that those who are most successful at living their dreams tend to be the ones most supportive of others living theirs. It’s those who feel they’ve failed, under-performed, been blocked (for whatever reason) from their fullest selves who sometimes raise an eyebrow or say those totally unsupportive things about those of us who get out there and make our dreams a reality.

My suggestion is that you share your goals, dreams, and excited plans for making them a reality with those who are best equipped to be co-conspirators for your success. Your ability to sniff out (and avoid) those who are not going to be okay with your bold, out-of-the-box choices to make changes in your life’s path (at any age) will get keener, the more of the “right people” you have in your inner circle.

So, yessssssss! Live your dreams! I’ll be cheering you on. 🙂

re: new column.

I am close to 84, started five years ago. A few mistakes for sure, but my experience in life helped.

As did Bonnie’s writing.

Had some back surgery so I have missed six weeks! Stardom will have to wait! 😀

I will let my agent know that I am ready!

Cheers,
Jerry Esten

Jerry, you’re awesome! Thank you for continuing to inspire! 🙂 Heal well. And enjoy all the good fishing this life offers us all.


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/001568.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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