Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Any Extras, Sir?

Please believe me when I say that I wanted today's blog to be a positive one. To be honest, I didn't actually have any intentions of blogging today but, if I had, then all my intentions were for it to be a happy, sunshiny one. I mean, of course there would've been a few clouds along the way but ultimately I wanted it to be a fun one after yesterday's maybe overly negative entry. But then something happened yesterday afternoon. Something that means I'm finding myself repeating myself yet again on this blog. Apologies in advance.

Y'see, yesterday someone* posted on Twitter about their upcoming book and the fact that they were looking for extras to be in the upcoming trailer. Excellent. A well-known performer and author creating further work for others. Now that's what I like to see. That's enough to brighten up anyone's afternoon. Or at least it was until I clicked on the link to find out more. What I was greeted with wasn't a casting call but a competition. This job wasn't open to extras or any other performers at all, it's being directed at fans of the writer instead.

And why not I hear you ask? Why not indeed. I'm sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of fans of this particular writer that would perform all kinds of ridiculous jumps to work with him for the day. For those who don't work as an extra or actor then I'm sure that this sounds like a most excellent way to spend the day. And I'm sure it would be much fun. But it worries me too. Firstly, why have they decided to cast it this way? Just as we've seen recently with other high profile companies choosing to cast extra roles by getting their friends and family to step in, this competition idea is a worrying development. Firstly it makes a mockery of the profession. What other jobs would you find being filled by way of a competition? Oh hey guys, ever fancied working in an operating theatre? Email us with 100 words on why you'd be great at performing lifesaving open heart surgery and you could win the opportunity to work as a surgeon for the day! I realise acting work is hardly live-changing stuff but it is still people's livelihoods. A mini Twitter storm happened after the message was posted and I understand that there are going to be some paid extras on the shoot too. But what's worrying is that there isn't the budget for all the extras they need so instead of working within their means, they're essentially filling other people's roles with free labour. Imagine that happening at your place of work. Bit annoying, eh? I realise that a publishing budgets are low. I know we all like to think that authors churn out books and then sit back in their ivory towers but that simply isn't the case. However, I do object to projects being made where the budget clearly doesn't match the vision.

Then there's the worry, as I've mentioned before in previous blogs, that when higher profile companies are employing these casting techniques that others will the follow suit. It's a bloody great way to get people to work for free and unfortunately gives other companies further ideas on how to spend as little money as possible on performers. Time and time again it seems that it's the performers that are the ones to be losing out. It was announced yesterday that a deal has been struck between the Writers' Guild and the BBC which means that scriptwriters will be be paid per-click when their work is watched online via BBC iPlayer. A most fantastic idea but what about performers? What happens when an actor's work is watched again online?  Absolutely nothing.

But let's ignore my negative views and just be happy for the lucky competition winners whose dreams come true as they get to work with one of their heroes for the day. I mean, I bet they'll have a ball creating their own costume and doing their own make-up. It'll be great sorting out their own transport and paying for themselves to get to the set. And then it'll be super-fun organising their own food as they watch other cast members and crew enjoy the on-set catering for 12 hours. Oh yeah. Sorry. I forgot to tell you all that, didn't I? No, and the entrants are barely told this either as most of  it is written in the teeny-tiny terms and conditions at the bottom. All suddenly sounds like less of a fun day out now, doesn't it? If nothing else though, at least the competition winners will get a taste of the true actor experience. And that really is something that money can't buy...

*I'm choosing not to name them here as I'm sure much of the decisions have been made by the publisher rather than the writer.


  1. I was part of the vigorous response to that Twitter posting yesterday and was most disappointed by the 'couldn't give a shit' attitude of the person in question.

    For someone of his success level to be so out of sync with the current debates on unpaid work is lamentable. I put the responsibility firmly at his door. He has the power to do whatever he wants in this context, heck, he could even speculate a few grand of his own money! It's a trailer to publicise his work after all.

    His counter-arguments were weak and patronising and showed a lack of professionalism. "I've employed countless people over the years" doesn't cut it. It's what you do today that counts. "Nobody's forcing you", "We don't have Hollywood budgets", yeah yeah, we've heard it all before from a million other exploiters.

    In respecting your wishes I won't name the guy, much as I'd like to, but I'd sure people on Twitter yesterday will know who he is. I've certainly re-evaluated my opinion of him, and not in a good way.

  2. And this nameless author also an actor, for goodness' sake.... I assume he's not paying his lawyer/accountant/agent/PR people either. Natch.

  3. My biggest peeve about iPlayer is that the credits don't list writers (or directors, come to that), so it's nice the BBC feels they are of some value, but the objection you raise is fair, and of course could apply across the board - what about the people who lit the actors, or the ones who recorded their voices? The line has to be drawn somewhere, but where? I'm assuming this iPlayer thing works on the same principle as songwriting royalties for radio, and in that situation I *believe* performers get a cut too, but presumably record producers and engineers don't. So precedent is on your side!

  4. Well done for bringing attention to this. With a little bit of detective work on Google I was able to find out who this was & I'm happy to say I don't have the slightest bit of interest in any of his work. However, that's beside the point. The idea of dressing this up as some sort of "prize" and making people (fans of his no less!) jump through hoops in order to provide free labour is obscene, particularly in these economic times where a lot of people could do with some extra cash. If he really couldn't afford to pay them, surely some kind of reward should have been on offer - a signed book for example, although it is still a very poor show. Until I'd read your post, I'm ashamed to say I rather think I might have fallen for something like this if it had been someone that I really admired. Of course, I hope that someone like that wouldn't decide to take advantage of loyal fans in that manner.