SAG Status

This blog is a simple cry for help. I am going to keep this short and simple. Please pay your SAG dues. It seems the new way is not to pay up until you book a job. You are not allowed to work if you are not paid up. We get your social security numbers so we can make sure of your SAG status before you work. This “clearance report” must come back perfect in order for the signatory not to receive fines. It is my job to make sure of all this.

I am responsible for this and being diligent at it goes a long way. Casting directors have no union affiliation so we cannot get fined but our clients can, and if they do then it comes back to us not doing our job properly. In my office, Nikki is in charge of this. She is very diligent and understands the importance of it. She spends hours every day on this because actors are often irresponsible about paying their dues or not knowing their SAG status. How do you not know if you are a must join? If book you on a job and it turns out you have been waived on two previous jobs, that makes you a must join. You should know this. Your agent or agents should know this. Your manager should know this. Why do I need to send your information in for you to find out your own SAG status? What happens if the job you booked does not pay close to what the membership fee is? Are you going to turn around at that point and say, “I cannot afford to join so I cannot do the job?” We all know the process to get to the point of booking a job. For me to have to tell my client they can’t have you because you can’t afford to join the union is a nightmare. I know the union offers payment plans but it is still a commitment. It comes down to the same thing I always say…be responsible. Knowing this is part of your job.

The union gives you a grace period to join (only a few days) but you must make an appointment before the shoot. If you get booked over a weekend, on a holiday or same day as shoot you must call the union from the set and make an appointment. Once you make an appointment your agent calls Nikki and Nikki confirms it with the union rep. Then, she keeps record of your appointment and follows up to make sure you went. And if you don’t go then my client gets a fine, but you still make your money. I get blamed because that’s just how it works.so I hold my breath and hope you will join. Then she needs to get the clearance report updated. Once all of this falls into place, then we get a perfect clearance sheet that the agency has been asking for since the day after the shoot. We have moved onto the next job but this lingering work is not only frustrating, it is time consuming and takes away from fifty other things we should be doing. So, dealing with must-joins, actors that owe dues, and waivers we need to file for non-SAG members is a lot of work and we need you to do your part so we can move on and do the great part of our job…casting. Think about this: for every SAG job we work on, we have to do this. If we are lucky enough to have 4, 5, 6, or 7 jobs that week and some jobs that require 20 actors, this has become a full time very stressful job. I do not think actors are all aware of what we have to go through once you book a job.. Being a casting director is not just prepping and running casting sessions (wouldn’t that be nice).

And here I go again…schedules and accountability to your agent, agents, or manager. This will probably be the last thing that comes out of my mouth before I die. What is it? We still have so any actors that do not keep their agents updated. I have to be honest; there are some agents that are so unaware of their clients’ schedules and whereabouts that after a while I lose faith in their ability to help me set up quality casting sessions. There are also so many actors that I really liked and give appointments to often but that said, three strikes and you’re out.

Anything other than an emergency, it needs to be in your schedule – work, vacations, weddings, and even the birth of a baby. The reason I say that is because I had an actor confirm an appointment yesterday and then cancel because he remembered he could not leave town because it was his wife’s due date. Having a baby is an important thing for an agent to know. You should probably book out around that time. If she goes into labor and you’re on set, are you going to walk off? Enough said.

SAG Status

Actors: Life After the SAG/AFTRA Contract

I am not a political person but it has been impossible to ignore the circus of this year’s election. I am thinking about the way the process works and the amount of strategy used. I started to think about the SAG commercial contract, when it was expiring and the  renegotiation. I never thought of two smart sides using strategy to come to a fair settlement. I actually think I was very naïve in believing it was actors on one side and producers on the other. I was very sure that actors were feeling the lack of union work and were afraid if they went on strike, the union would never bounce back. I do not think for the everyday actor that they were concerned about rates, increases, or rule changes.

Actors getting involved in an increase of day rates, or first class airfare, or an 8 hour work day are not things the average voting actor was concerned with. I have found that most commercial actors do not know most of the rules in the SAG contract. Many do not ever know the rate for an 8 hour work day. They rely on agents or managers to inform and advise them. Agents and managers…that had no say in the negotiation. SAG actors were sitting back and watching while more than 60% of all auditions were non-union. Many actors did not care about the terms. They were so afraid that if they voted for a  strike that there would never be any SAG commercial work again. All they thought or heard about was the last strike and that if they went on strike again it was over for them.

I now believe that they should not have gone on strike because with the all the changes (digital, social media, etc.) that this contract was a good compromise.

We (casting directors, directors, producers and more) have all been hit hard financially while the world of advertising tries to figure itself out.

No matter what, when a client is dealing with a small budget to get their brand out there, they still can’t afford 8 hour work days, work outside the zone, P&W of 17%, etc. I have so many clients that actually investigate going union. It’s not the day rate, it’s all the other things I mentioned. I never thought that they were shooting non-union to prove a point. Maybe it was part of a negotiating strategy.  The buyouts for internet and social media are reasonable for now.  “Broadcast “ union commercials cost so much money in residuals that a lot of what I see is that they run one cycle (13 weeks) and then they move over to internet, where not only are they being viewed more, it becomes an additional buyout which is affordable under SAG.

The truth is, a lot of network commercials are being shot to air on a special events that will be watched live by millions of people. Commercials made for the super bowl are the best example. I felt that if they could have gotten rid of residuals and offer buyouts based on usage, then there would be more commercials running on broadcast TV. The union is never giving anything back. That would be like lowering an employee’s salary. I think continuing to fight for the part of the contract that will end up obsolete instead of trying to figure out the future would be more productive. Find a better balance. 

I hope network TV  will never go away. I watch a lot of it as well as the other available options. It seems to me that people need commercials more then they realize. You go shopping and know the toilet paper you want because you have seen an ad that stuck with you and you don’t even know that it is stuck in your head . If all our watching became ad-free like Netflix, then how would products advertise? It seems to me, as a person that can’t pay my rent without advertising, that it is necessary. Isn’t there a way or a compromise? Even Netflix advertises so people will know that they exist…commercial free. If there was no way for them to advertise then how would we know? How would we know about all the new original programing if they couldn’t promote these shows on Broadcast, cable, etc. Maybe I am completely wrong and uninformed, but it scares me. Social media is so fast and even less clear on how advertising works and how effective it is. Product clients can’t pay SAG rates when they have no idea if it is being watched or selling anything.  It was like going from print to TV. It feels like history is repeating itself when cable TV was added to the contract and the union decided there was no future in it. Having a reasonable union that understands all sides so they can work together seems so important. Talent agents, casting directors, and managers were never asked their opinions. We are on the ground living it everyday. I don’t think the people that were in a position to vote ever felt that everyone’s goal was the same.

I was convinced (since most of the casting I was doing leading up to the negotiation) that after it was over, there would continue be more non-union work then ever. I knew that all the big agencies and their signatories were doing more and more digital work and were stuck in how to move forward. Nobody knew what to do with Twitter, Snap Chat, etc. The actors won with broadcast and the producers/signatories won with Internet and New Media. Everyone knew that Broadcast was getting less and less and just had to hope that as low as the rates were, it would cut down on non union.

I think the point I’m trying to make (and maybe not doing a great job of ) is everyone made the best deal they could. Could they have gotten rid of first class? Yes. Would it have made a difference? Yes. Could they have come up with a tier system for P&W and would it have made a difference? Yes.

What I am understanding now and did not see was the strategy behind the negotiations. You do not flood the market with SAG network auditions before a possible strike. You sit back and let all the SAG actors see how much non-union work there is and they get scared. Great strategy. I actually believed going into the vote that there would barely be any union work again and three years from now everyone would jump ship. After the vote and the contract was passed, I had more union work than I had had in a year.

I was thrilled, but surprised. It would be nice to be able to do every job on a SAG contract while still allowing agents and casting directors to meet and employ new people without the fear of penalties. Creative changes all the time and, often times, we need to search for new types. If we are shut down then creativity will not move forward. Also, the membership amount is higher than actors can afford, since most internet or social media ads pay much less. This negotiation made actors afraid to become union members. Less auditions with more bills. The union said, for the commercial contract, that it was their highest revenue year yet. My answer to that is “celebrity endorsements.” How much of that money came from that?

This strategy (after watching the nonsense of a presidential election) became very clear to me. It was a very smart way to go and I truly think we have a chance of merging the gap even more if people involved would be honest, acknowledge the future, and consider a way for actors to work on union contracts and the advertisers can afford to offer them.

If I am lucky enough to be busy casting, I see they need to try and work together to make things better for everyone, not get political and out strategize the other side. Let’s stop the CIRCUS mentality and in 3 years, maybe ask the opinions of the people who are knee deep in it.

As my mother said, there are 3 sides to every story…yours, mine, and the correct one.

You can’t get there if you don’t ask everyone.

Actors: Life After the SAG/AFTRA Contract

Advice to Actors

Last weekend was July 4th and I felt like I could have taken my blog post from one year ago and just used it again.

We are in a business without any real schedule…no guarantees as to when it is going to be busy or slow or if it will be union or non-union work. A year ago, I begged actors to take their vacations in the winter. I never know when the phone will ring and the chances are I will be given no real lead time to do my job properly. Many times, I get a call in the morning to cast that same day.

Because it’s Thursday in the summer and you have no auditions for Friday, many of you leave for the weekend. Why don’t you be the actor that sticks around and is available for the Friday afternoon last minute auditions? Keeping yourself around and available gives you an edge. What’s the rush? Where are you going?

As usual, July 4th has become a weeklong holiday. Actors not being available can cost a casting director a job. Be the actor that sticks around and see what happens. I don’t think I have ever heard the excuse, “He has a flight” as many times as I have heard recently. Where is everyone going? Aren’t flights expensive? If there was ever a time to sit still and make the decision to be responsible, it would be now. There has been a nice amount of SAG (network) work and I cannot tell you how hard it was to get 20 actors confirmed last Friday. Be that actor that is available on a Friday in the summer and I bet your agent will push for you. We do not get to go again. We do a session with the best available. Many times we are only given one day to cast and if our first 20 choices have decided to get on a plane I have to find another 20 actors that will be great options.

Being an actor is a “hurry up and wait” profession. Casting directors, or at least those at Beth Melsky Casting, make themselves available 24/7. I never turn down anything because I am getting on a plane. I fly through the night. I am committed to my job because that is a big part in being successful.

The beginning of June was personally the worst time of my life. I did not expect my clients to understand and did not want to put them in an awkward situation so I forged ahead. June is usually a very busy month but I am spiritual and I believe karma played a big part in allowing me to do everything I needed to and then it picked up strongly so I could catch up. July is starting out strong and August (the month that all actors think they should or can take off) has been a great month for New York casting in the past.

All I am asking is to give it a try this year. Please help us casting directors do a great job and give clients a reason to think New York casting is very important. Your availability is what helps us do a great job. I am asking for a one-summer commitment. I do not always know my schedule so do not call and ask me if your actors can leave early and take long weekends. I get calls at night for the next day and honestly it is not my responsibility to give you the green light to leave. Being an agent and an actor is a job. I do not give my staff Fridays off because I am not sure what will come my way. Would you expect that if you had a full time job? What is the problem with sitting still?

The other ongoing issue, and it’s not getting any better, is actors not booking out. Why don’t you do it? You can go four weeks without an audition and then your agent submits you and I guess because you haven’t heard from them you think it doesn’t matter. The agent submits you to me; I pick you and give you an appointment. The agents check schedules before submitting as to not waste my time. If it is clear, they submit with what they think is accurate information. More than 50% of the time, it turns out they have wasted my time and they have to call me with their tail between their legs to cancel your appointment. Often times, I do not give them a replacement. That means the agent has worked a whole day without even a chance of booking the job and making any money.

One of the most disappointing occurrences, and it happens too often, is when an agent calls one of their clients with an appointment only to be told that the actor moved to LA. That is irresponsible and shows such a lack of respect for the people that are working as hard as they can to get you work. The responsible actors are the ones agents will feel comfortable submitting last minute.

Also, informing your agent of bookings that might happen through a legit or theatrical agent are also important. Not only are they happy that you are working but it might not take you out. Knowledge is power.

The last thing I want to talk about is the word “booked.” That word only means one thing to me. You are on another acting job. For the amount of times I hear that word in a day, I would say the business is beyond booming. The casting sessions going on are not reflecting the amount of actors “booked.” Having a part time job or taking other work is not being booked. Honesty is what allows us to try and work out auditions. Do not use that word loosely.

 


 

And now I wanted to give Nikki, a casting assistant at my office who most of you probably know, the chance to post:

I appreciate everyone who reads Beth’s blog regularly. I love my job and I love what we do at Beth Melsky Casting; however, there are some lessons to be learned. I want to touch on the point of booking out. I wish everyone could understand what goes on in Beth’s office. Beth puts out a breakdown, agents submit, and Beth HANDPICKS whom she wants to see and who is right for the job. She preps her sessions with diligence and precision. Everyone has a specific appointment time. Often times, you are reading with another actor or two or three. When I lose someone on a session because they have not booked out, I get quite frustrated too (so does your agent, by the way…I know this because I talk to each of them). I have to tell Beth whom we lost and why and then she has to go back through the submissions and try to find someone else who is right, prolonging the process and prepping double. Doing this over and over and over again is exhausting and frustrating. Please book out with your agents. Thank you to everyone who does. We are all on the same team here, trying to get a job done. Let’s work together in this. I want you all to book jobs, too!

 


 

I am begging everyone to give a lot of thought to what I am asking and if I am wrong, I won’t ask again. Help to make this an easy summer and maybe even put a smile on my face.

Beth Melsky

Advice to Actors

Lets Move Forward

The SAG/AFTRA commercial contract was approved overwhelmingly. There is no reason to dwell. We need to move forward. As union members, it is important for you to understand the new rules.

There is a clause about NDA’S that I think everyone should understand. It seems it is automatic on every commercial job that you are under an NDA. You don’t have to sign an NDA for it to be enforced. Casting directors have been putting them out for years on jobs that are new concepts or have celebrity talent in them. We have, many times, not let actors know the name of the product, just the conflict area. Since social media has made it so easy to talk about things and publicize it, I think actors get excited to share things and clients do not want their new ideas shared in that way. They have competitors as well…remember?

I think when actors audition they need to assume every audition and the material are under that rule. Never ever take scripts with you. This has now become a SAG/AFTRA rule and it is not worth taking any chances on. It is so easy to find out where the leak came from and nobody needs trouble. Casting directors even sign them saying that we will not post scripts and, if we do, they will not have certain info on them, like product names or logos.

New York rarely posts scripts. Beth Melsky Casting rarely posts union breakdowns, unless we are looking for something very unusual. We are very old fashion and believe that verbal communication with agents helps them understand the creative and gives us the chance to talk about seasoned actors as well as new actors that they feel have great potential. The less that is posted, the less chance there is for problems. However, that is not why we choose to prep by communicating. We do it the old fashion way because, even though it might take more time, it is more effective in doing a great job.

If we are casting non-union, I think you should follow this rule as well. Our clients expect that from us and we will continue to put out NDA’S when requested on non-union jobs. Social media has changed this industry and you must be careful. If you were a stock broker, would you tell everyone what you did all day? This is a job.

Our casting process allows me to present my client with the pros, as well as working hard to add new and interesting choices. This is a very important balance. Again, Beth Melsky Casting does this across the board. We also respect and set up our casting sessions the same way. Everyone gets a time and we work hard to get actors in and out as fast as possible. For actors that are used to going to non-union auditions and thinking that “anytime works,” that is not the way we work. Please take your appointments seriously, take everything you are told seriously, and the audition process in my office will go very smoothly. Union or non-union, all sessions are important and all casting needs to be presented with quality. Actors are treated with respect and the actors need to respect the casting process. Non-union is not going away…so let’s present it the same and build a greater level of respect. I think, even with union casting, or the lack of, actors are being forced to put it lower on their list of priorities; therefore, union sessions can end up equally as hard to put together. I get both sides and I just ask that everybody (not just actors ) try harder.

I think actors need to assess their careers, decide their priorities, and choose what is best for them. Joining the union if you are able, staying non-union or even going financial core, none of us have a crystal ball so all you can do is decide what is the best path for you right now and how you might earn the most money in your near future. Going fi-core after you have become a union member is a big decision. Just as joining the union, if you have the opportunity, is a big decision. Going fi-core is easy but deciding to be union again is not so easy. While you are fi-core you cannot audition for union work. It’s not as if you can book something union and then pick up the phone and say, “I want to be SAG again.” It is a process that will take way longer then you would ever have in being able to do the job and will cause huge problems for the casting director and the signatory.

If you make a decision to be a member again then you must start the process before you audition for union work. You cannot do both. Actors that have worked non-stop non-union might very well see a big change in the amount of auditions you end up getting. Do your due diligence. You cannot let it figure itself out. Actors that have been union for many years decide to go financial core because being a union member is no longer helping their careers. You cannot use the option of fi-core as a way to toggle back and forth. If you make the choice to join and it does not work out for you, you can file to go fi-core. Just make sure that is what you will be happier with. Everyone’s career is different. I think there are times that actors should join and times they shouldn’t, but it is not up to me to advise you.

With the Internet and social media, advertising is a changed world. I know actors were hoping that this contract would help change the amount of non-union work, but unfortunately advertisers are not seeing enough of a return to increase budgets to cast union. This belief also greatly affects casting directors. We used to have day rates. Now we are being offered flat rates and it is hard for us as well. We work twice as hard for half the money, but I cannot let that affect my quality, staff, or services.

We all have to hope that with time and knowledge things will get better for all of us. Maybe it would have been great if the negotiations (since it seemed they were going well) were extended and took more time. That is easy for me to say. I do not know the process. I do know that things will hopefully continue along because products still have to be advertised and in three years when the commercial contract is up again, we will not only be more knowledgeable, but the future of the way things can and will work will be shown over that time.

In the meantime, everyone should do what he/she is doing. Pay attention to the flow and future of advertising and do not make rash decisions. Three years in our world is a short amount of time but a lot can been learned.

Like I have said before, knowledge is everything. We are all in the same position…and hope time helps for the next contract.

There are no easy answers. If I could turn the clock back twenty years, I would. Social media and technology are moving faster then we are and I do not see it slowing down. Maybe casting will become an app (haha). I do not think there were any clear winners here but a war is not the answer.

My personal opinion does not matter. I do not have a vote but it all affects my business. Something I very much have to keep going. Let’s work towards a future that can works best for everyone so actors can just think about acting. Beth Melsky Casting is here for everyone.

Lets Move Forward

To A Productive 2016

It is the end of the year and it has been a tiring one. Casting directors have had some very busy times and some slow times. Believe it or not, the busy times are harder than the slow periods. That brings me to my three biggest wishes for the New Year:

  1. Enough work for casting directors, talent agents, and actors. That being said, my next wish…
  2. For actors to help make the agents’ (then, in turn, the casting directors’) lives much easier by being responsible. Send in your schedules. Do not wait for an appointment to let your agent know about something by saying, “Oh, I was just about to tell you. It just happened.” This is a job and one you need to take seriously. If acting is no longer your “career,” then let your agent or agents know that. If you are responsible with your schedules, they will have the information and work with it.
  3. The commercial contract is up in April. It would be amazing if the union could wipe the slate clean and start again. Times are very different now and it would be great if all actors had the same opportunities. This is not a realistic wish. Union or non-union is tough on everyone but we need to work and union is not always affordable in this new digital age. Everyone should have a chance to work and make money at what they love doing.

I wish everyone a happy and successful New Year and I can’t wait for the newest and funniest excuses.

 

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To A Productive 2016

Casting: Experience Goes a Long Way

This is my fourth try at writing a post about what a casting director’s job is. The biggest problem is getting to the point. It should be simple to explain. Many actors, especially those who are new to the business, and even clients (directors, producers, or anyone that hires a casting director) are not always sure what it is we do. The casting director title has become so watered down, especially in the commercial business. I think that with so much non-union work, where there are no set rules that have to be followed and so many low budget jobs, people can call themselves casting directors, offer very low rates to cast, throw a breakdown out on too many services, and then basically throw the casting against the wall and see what sticks. They have huge cattle calls, put out sloppy casting tapes, do their best to follow rates that have been used before, and make their way through it. Does it take them longer? Yes. Do they have the experience behind them? No, but it is easy to say, “It’s non-union so there is nothing I can do.” That is where the experienced and seasoned casting directors can help.

Beth Melsky Casting works as hard on non-union as union. We help set the rules and rates and very rarely have problems with follow through on bookings and contracts. Having an experienced casting director with a strong reputation gives us an edge in getting the job done faster and not struggling and fighting with agents/managers. We all want to keep great relationships.

I have a very hard time dealing with some of these issues as a seasoned casting director. I pride myself on knowing union rules and using that knowledge to help my clients. I also feel in non-union, we can produce the most professional casting possible, as well as being fair in recommending talent fees. We also work hard to make sure contracts are written correctly. Actors or clients can pick up the phone from the set where there might be a problem and get things straightened out very quickly.

We document everything and expect everyone to follow the rules that were well documented. A deal is a deal and I know how to settle it quickly. This is something that comes with time and respect that has been earned over many years. It is like insurance. Being a casting director is something you need to learn and train for. There are so many pop-up casting directors taking on jobs that they are really not trained for.

It has taken me years to gain the respect of top directors, ad agencies, and producers. They understand that the main purpose of our job is to find what they are looking for. We try our best to hand over incredible casting tapes without a lot of fluff. These actors were hand picked to audition. I am not wasting their time. There are no surprises here. I use great session casting directors that are well trained in how to direct the actors.

Some very low budget projects feel that they cannot afford an established casting director or casting company. We have all had to change with the times and are willing to work with these situations. Producers should not be afraid to call. It is a changing business and we are better equipped to change with it and make everyone look good.

Not only does Beth Melsky Casting and casting companies like us know how to do both union and non-union, we are always looking to build new relationships in the hope that one day it will pay off for everyone. We take so much pride in our work and always want to do a quality job. Not every job can be done the same but we know how to cut to the chase, get the best talent for the job, and help directors with the casting process.

We are clear about the actors that we can get for the budget and bring in the cream of the crop instead of stumbling on it by seeing quantity. My frustration is that I have been doing this for thirty years. I have gone through so many changes and can still do any job with quality. Reputation goes a long way and Beth Melsky Casting has not been around for so long for no reason.

When I started, I had to train for years with the best casting directors. The job of a casting director has not changed. We get the actors through the door. As an actor, you want to be recommended by us and have a chance to form a relationship.

On the production side, do not assume that a low budget means sloppy casting. Union or non-union, we have trained eyes for great actors, good actors, or actors that are right for the job.

Union casting or casting for top directors and clients require a respect for what casting is. Anyone can put a breakdown out on one of these many free services offered, rent a studio, and just tape hundreds of faces. That is not being a casting director. Just like a director, or a stylist, or an art director, we actually practice our craft. If we did not, film directors would not trust their casting directors so much.

Yes, now people can become casting directors but they should train with someone established and learn the craft properly. It is not as easy as it looks, even with tiny budgets. I just wish some productions at any budget, would take the value of experience into consideration. Just like in any business, experience goes a long way.

Casting: Experience Goes a Long Way

An Actor’s Success

Natalie Knepp is an amazing example of an actor who is devoted to her career choice – responsible not only to her agent, but to casting directors, as well. She is very focused and driven.

She has stayed diligent and patient at the same time. That has all paid off and we could not be happier. Having talent is obviously very important, but doing everything else right in this environment is also very important. For every booking we do, it feels like the first one and is always just as rewarding.

Good luck, Natalie!

From,

Beth Melsky Casting


Dear Beth,

There are no words, no gesture large enough to express how grateful I am to you and your team that worked on the Verizon account.

More than that, you are a standout to me among those whose belief in me over the years has truly inspired me to work hard and to always reach beyond my grasp. Thank you for always being my champion.

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Always,

Natalie Knepp

An Actor’s Success