Hi Bonnie,

I was working background on a show when the scene required four guys to remove two bodies from the crime scene on gurneys (no wheels). I stepped in after watching a couple of them struggle with the task during first rehearsal. Finally another guy jumped in with me to complete the scene.

He was nonunion and so am I. We carried the “union” body for eight takes including resetting with no mistakes. The PAs helped with one of the re-settings and that was enough for them. Out of the ten extras booked on the job, only the two of us were capable of handling the task of carrying him up six stairs, out of the room, and down the hallway.

The second body was axed from the scene entirely. I considered it a workout and it was better than standing or sitting around in holding having rigor mortis set in.

Now comes the compensation part.

For my hard work, I was pretty certain a SAG voucher would be awarded. I have worked in background for three months. This would surely be a second voucher for me.

I was awarded with a, “thank you,” “nice job,” and “are you all right?” along with an explanation of how production just can’t afford it right now.

I have no intention of getting myself stuck or branded as a background lifer but I continue to work hard and strive for union eligibility. I have many other special talents and abilities and people can read about it on the resume all day long, but when it’s performed, it had better be rewarded.

What is your opinion on this?

R. Schimmelpfenneg

Hi R.

My opinion is exactly as I stated in last week’s Your Turn.

People who do background work in Los Angeles are valued differently than people who do principal acting work in Los Angeles. It’s just “the way it is.” I get the frustration. I understand that you feel you should’ve been rewarded for your special efforts on set. But unless you were HIRED to perform those special efforts and promised a voucher in exchange for those special efforts prior to arriving on set, you can’t really be upset that you didn’t get a voucher for having volunteered to go over and above the requirements of your job as an extra that day.

Hey, I’m like you: I’d rather stay busy and active than watch someone else struggle attempting to do something I’m good at. It passes the time and it keeps me busy and it’s nice to be helpful and all that cool stuff. But no one on that set ever said, “Oh, and if you do this very helpful thing that no one asked you to do, you will be rewarded with a voucher.” So, to assume that you would be is to forget the very nature of extra work and the core truth about how background artists are valued by others.

To go into a situation expecting that you will score a voucher is a set-up for disappointment, generally. Sure, do good work. Sure, be open to receiving a voucher for being consistently professional. Sure, make folks aware that you’re looking to score a voucher. But again, I’ll offer the same advice I gave to Paul last week, after reviewing your resume on your Actors Access profile.

You’re probably not ready to be a member of SAG yet.

You’re still at the beginning of your journey.

You have a lot to learn and experience on sets and in acting classes before you should try to compete for principal roles with the union members already out there.

And since you have said that you have no intention of being a career extra, I’m going to assume that you want to be a member of SAG so that you can compete with SAG actors in principal roles and, R., you are nowhere near ready for that.

Get in classes. Do student films. Audition for plays. Get out there and work on your craft and build your resume. You’re a good two years away from being even close to ready to consider pursuing SAG membership, in my opinion. That’s a good thing. If you joined SAG today, you’d likely spend a decade struggling to even get a shot at auditioning for the roles to which you’re craving access. Don’t waste time and energy like that.

Work at your current level. Meet people. Build your credits. Earn up some footage for your reel. Train! Invest in relationships with people who are also building up their credits.

In fact, it’s likely that someone on that set noticed your willingness to step up and go above and beyond the call of duty. Someone who will be on some other set with you again in the future. Someone who may have the ability to toss a SAG voucher your way on that next set (or the next one, or the next). Someone who will remember how you kicked ass and didn’t complain and just rocked without even being asked to do the additional work you did all day long. Count on it. You probably did create a little career advancement that day. You just didn’t get rewarded for it with a SAG voucher at that moment.

Trust that when it’s time for you to be rewarded with SAG vouchers, you will be. To expect ’em to come just because you volunteered to do something you were never hired to do is, well, silly. You basically proved what everyone on a major set knows already: People will do lots of things they’re not being paid to do in order to POSSIBLY score a SAG voucher. (Yes, I know, you did it also because you didn’t want to sit around being bored, but ultimately, you DID expect that you would be rewarded for your decision.)

There will be people ready to abuse that willingness and desperation (perceived or real) almost every time.

That doesn’t make them bad people. It’s no different than dipping into the “leave a penny, take a penny” bin at the convenience store. Some people dip in. Some people give back. You gave back. They dipped in. Your giving back in hopes that they would give back too just means you misunderstand the very nature of the “penny bin” in the first place.


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/000902.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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