If you're an
actor like me, you've probably noticed a new trend that's been
going on with the online casting sites--the proliferation of non-union
commercials. Some of these commercials are actually for some pretty
big companies. Some of these spots are for some pretty hefty and
tempting buyouts, most are for a paltry session fee only, and
some even have the audacity to offer only copy, credit, meals!
Whether you're a SAG actor or nonunion,
you need to seriously take a look at this trend and be very, very
afraid. If you've been in this business since the 20th Century,
then you understand completely what I'm talking about. But some
of you newer performers need to really take a hard look at the
First, let me give you a little history.
Back in the great commercial heyday of the 1970s, 80s, and even
the 90s, it was possible for you to book a Class A National commercial
which played in the three major markets of the U.S.: New York,
Chicago, and L.A. Most likely it played all over the country as
well, but to qualify for Class A, you had to hit those 3 main
markets. The money that you could make off of one spot (thanks
to Residuals) would buy you a brand new car and still have money
left over to put in the bank. Book a few nationals, and you could
buy a house!
Now I'm not saying that Class A commercials
don't exist any more; there are definitely national commercials.
But the money has greatly eroded. It doesn't take a CPA to notice
this downward trend. I know of several actors who've booked quite
a few nationals over recent years, and they're still having trouble
making their rent!
Now these are SAG commercials I'm talking
about, not nonunion spots. Why has the money disappeared? Well,
for one thing, companies are offering lower and lower buyouts
for the SAG spots that they actually do produce. The commercials
strike of 2000 taught advertisers that you could produce spots
cheaper if you went non union and cast "real people",
ie. their employees instead of actors. Add the proliferation of
reality TV, and all of a sudden, clients want "real people,
Also, we have TiVo and other DVR machines
to thank for the disappearing money. This technology which allows
people to skip over commercials completely has de-motivated advertisers
from spending lots of money on their TV budgets.
So, for the spots that actually go SAG,
they either offer a few thousand dollars for a buyout, or go "wild",
meaning they only are used in a few markets, enough to get the
advertising message out there to a wide audience, but still small
enough to keep from classifying as Class A. Suddenly, the non-union
buyouts look a lot more attractive.
There's also a growing movement in the producing
and advertising community that thinks paying residuals is like
paying someone multiple times for one job. Why should actors keep
getting money, if they only worked 1 or 2 days?
Well, there's this thing called "A
Person's Likeness and Image" that differentiates actors from
all other types of employees. When you punch in at your day job,
you're not having your face and voice broadcast all over the country
(or even the world) round the clock, in places that you physically
can't be present. An actor's image and likeness is not only what
makes them unique, it is their main selling point (and why some
actors command millions of dollars over others).
You know how you get burned out with a song?
How sometimes you've seen a movie so many times that you get sick
of it? And I'm sure by now everyone is sick of seeing the "Jersey
Shore" cast. Well, the same goes with actors (and not just
in commercials). It's called "overexposure". An actors
image and likeness can only go so far before an advertiser needs
to do a new spot. In the world of commercials, an actor who does
a commercial for Toyota cannot do a competing commercial for Ford
not only while the Toyota spot is running, but often times they
have to wait several months to years until advertisers are willing
to hire them for other auto spots.
There's this thing called "exclusivity",
and actors are paid residuals in order to fairly compensate them.
Every time an actor's image and likeness is used to sell a product,
the company is profiting. Thus, residuals become the only means
by which an actor can be equitably paid. Now in the case of very
generous buyouts (ie. $10,000), the advertiser is pre-paying for
the exclusivity. But for the most part, when the actor films the
spot, they're paid a small session fee, usually commercial scale
plus 10% for the agent. The rest of their payment is in the form
If we didn't have residuals, and even if
the "exclusivity" clause was lifted off of commercial
contracts, an actor wouldn't be able to make enough money in commercials
to justify all of the money spent pursuing them. Even if an actor
was free to act in competing commercials running at the same time,
there's no rule that says competing advertisers have to hire the
same actor. And trust me, they won't. Without residuals, the actor
is reduced to working only once or twice a year for a three-figure
Most actors who work in commercials rely
on the income they earn to help them afford things that invest
in their careers. Classes, photos, reels, workshops, along with
all of the mileage they put on their cars having to drive all
over town several times a week to audition--the only way this
madness makes economic sense is if the financial rewards are worth
it. Considering that an actor's agent will only get 10%, the agent
wouldn't even be able to afford to stay in business if their commission
only amounted to drinks and hors d'oeuvres at happy hour!
If residuals disappear, then professional
actors will cease to pursue commercials, which will make the overall
quality of advertising suck. If you don't believe me, just check
out any local TV spot advertising a small business. We all make
fun of those cheesy "Crazy Eddie's TV Emporium" spots.
Now, there's this thing called Web advertising
that completely illustrates my point. For the most part, web-only
commercials that use "actors" are horribly performed,
and royally suck. That's just my opinion, but most people I know
agree with me. (Don't believe me? Then check out any of those
stupid "dancing idiot ads promoting "Get your degree!"
in the right hand margin of your Hotmail.) The only successful
web ads are the ones that take a TV spot and re-cut it for the
So in essence, Residuals are good
for everyone. They give actors an incentive to spend countless
hours of time and energy pursuing this specific career. They give
agents an incentive to hustle and bust their butts getting their
clients out to the many commercial auditions that happen on a
daily basis in the major markets. And they give advertisers a
quality message, knowing that the performers they are using in
their spots are highly motivated, and professional. For advertisers,
that could mean the difference between a Clio or a "Golden