PAY ACTORS 4 AUDITIONS
My name is Kalungi Ssebandeke, formerly Isaac Ssebandeke. I am a 30-year-old Actor/Writer/Musician, sometimes Agent, and aspiring Director. Briefly, my acting journey started when I was 17 and was cast by David Farr in his production of Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at The Lyric Hammersmith in 2008 opposite Lucian Msamati, Jude Akuwudike, Susan Salmon, Nyasha Hatendi, Ariyon Bakare(who helped me get my agent) Emmanuel Ighodaro and Chris Obi. Thanks has to be given to David Baker an actor and youth practitioner who got me in the room. Right before going to uni, I was signed by a top Acting Agent who continued to represent me throughout my 4 years at Uni until 2015. Happy to be auditioning and eventually being cast in shows like Skins, Casualty(2009 and 2012), Holby City, Doctors, Dubplate Drama, Cucumber, Dr Who and even plays like Roy Williams’ There’s only one Wayne Matthews directed by Dawn Walton and One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show by Don Evans, I never stopped to question why actors don’t get paid for auditions. Is it because production companies or channels or theatres can’t afford it? Would it stop Casting Directors from widening the net? No to both questions. Before I answer that let me talk you through the process of getting an actor on your screen or the stage. A writer is either commissioned to write a script or gets their script bought by a Producer who is in charge of the overall budget. This same producer or his colleagues then approaches a Director who is, in turn, teamed up with a Casting Director who starts to compile a list of actors they feel would be suitable for parts in the script. This Casting Director is also then tasked with divvying up a portion of the budget to ensure that actors get a fair fee depending on their experience, size of the role, and acting profile. In other words, Eddie Murphy would get more money than say…Kalungi Ssebandeke due to his star profile, experience, and the fact that he’s the lead. Once the Casting Director has nailed down the financials they with the help of their Casting Assistants and the writer put together a breakdown of each role that they send out to Agents either via Spotlight and other casting advertising sites. Agents who represent actors see these breakdowns and submit their clients. So Kalungi’s Agent submits him for a role in Untitled Project, Casting Director sees said submission and agrees that Kalungi along with other accepted submissions would be great in this. They then send their agents an email saying they would like their clients to self-tape(as is this case now due to Covid) or come in as it was back in the days. Kalungi’s Agent sends him an email with all the details of his Audition. Now Kalungi in his excitement opens the email, reads the details, and replies to the Agent with a yes I can self-tape. What Kalungi doesn’t do is think of how long it will take him to self-tape; the fact that the script sent is 120 pages long, there are 3, 4-page scenes in a different accent to his own, set in a period many years ago directed by a very well known director with a specific style who requires their actors to be familiar not only with the script and lines but with their work. Kalungi doesn’t think about the 2 hour film he will have to watch in preparation for this audition. He’s just happy to finally get an audition after 2 months without anything. So he agrees without asking how much he will be paid for this self-tape. Now the common practice is for the actor to be paid once they get the role and film or start working on it. But what if I told you that the hours spent preparing for this audition warrant payment? The actor has accrued many hours working on this audition, from reading the script, learning the lines, watching the director’s previous work, setting up, taping the audition, watching through the scenes and finally sending it off. Not only has time been expended but so has money. The actor may need to pay for a dialect coach or an acting coach or pay for a self-taping service or pay for a reader or take time off work. But yet they are expected to forget all that and only wait for payment once they get the role. This is unfair. It’s unfair because everyone else in this process has been paid or is being paid. From the writer who wrote the script, the Producer who may have bought this script, the Director who was brought in to create the visual world of the script, the Casting Director who not only compiles the list of actors to audition but also negotiates their fees with the agent who is either on commission or on salary. All are being paid except the actor who spends days stressing, prepping and eventually taping for a role that they may never get or even hear back from. This has to stop. It’s exploitation and creates a world where we only value the actor once they’ve proved their value. Until then they’re not even worth £50. I urge Equity, SAG AFTRA and all other acting unions to carefully consider a reform of the current process where an actor is expected to spend time and money auditioning for a role without ever being compensated whilst others behind the scenes get paid.
SAG AFTRA already negotiated fees for audition overtime which I imagine is less applicable now due to the covid social distancing rules that have reduced in-person auditions. https://www.sagaftra.org/do-performers-get-paid-auditions And their British counterparts Equity also ask that actors in commercial auditions are paid for recalls. This finally answers the question; is it too expensive to pay actors for auditions? I would argue that this proves that production companies and casting directors have the money to pay actors to audition but choose not to in order to save money.
And to the second question: Would it stop Casting Directors from widening the net? I understand not paying actors for auditions enables more actors to be seen and considered for a role but the net needn’t be withdrawn simply because actors need to be paid to audition. I would also argue that now is the time to stand up for the people who bring life to words written in isolation, those who have created classic moments like Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Yet like Mr Brando’s Don Coleone, Producers and Casting Directors continue to give actors offers they can’t refuse. But not anymore. Because like Academy Award Nominated British-Ugandan Actor Daniel Kaluuya once said, sometimes you’re power is in your ability to say no. So Actors join me in saying no to auditioning for free and sign this petition to get ACTORSPAID4AUDITONS
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