Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Persona Non Grata

Oh, hang on, make sure you click on those boxes down the side that say ‘Bafta Experience’ and ‘Hollywood Experience.’ All done? OK. Close that website, let me waffle on about it for a few paragraphs and then we’re going to try and pretend that it never happened.

I was unfortunate enough to see that website yesterday. I lazily clicked on a link that someone tweeted after they were offering people their ’15 minutes of fame’ by being put into a real show. Now, I realised that what I read probably wasn’t going to fill my heart with a pleasing glow but I certainly didn’t expect to find something that would fill me with enough rage to blast Rock Of Ages far, far away into another galaxy where it belongs. It was with shock that I first read it. Surely someone wasn’t actually offering this? This had to be a horrible joke. But no, I very quickly discovered that it’s deadly serious. 

This is a worrying development. Now, I’ve been informed that this is being aimed towards audience members rather than actors which is supposed to make me feel better about the whole thing. And even if that is the case, why have they mentioned that you can put the credit on your CV? There is no way that is being aimed at anyone apart from those with an acting CV. 

“So you’re interested in the role of Account Executive with us here at Barclays. Now, let’s just have a quick look down the ol’ CV here. You’ve held similar roles at Natwest, HSBC and, now hang on, what’s this? You also played the role of Passerby Number 2 in an app-based soap? Now that’s very interesting…”

Not going to happen, is it? No one, apart from an actor desperate for credits on their CV, would mention a part they played during an ‘experience day’ that they paid well over the odds for.
Then of course we have the problem that if they’re getting people to pay to be part of their shows, that’s taking the place of actors they could be hiring. It’s one thing missing out on a role because someone is a better actor than you or is prettier than you or happens to be sleeping with the director but being overlooked because you haven’t paid £1995 for the role? Therein lies unfairness, madness and a whole lot of angry expletives that would make a whole whorehouse blush. Even if the roles are being written especially for those that have paid for it, surely that's still very unfair to actors who should never have to pay for a part in something, whether they can afford it or not. Can the organisers of this not see how unbelievably insulting this is? Instead of hiring talented actors who could probably help further their company and give them a better reputation, they’d rather take thousands of pounds off people and put those who’ve never acted before into their shows. Not only does it demean the acting profession but surely it demeans their work too as they clearly prize money over talent. They say that they want their offer to be featured on experience ‘Red Letter Day’ type websites as if that makes things better. I’m all for these things as I’m sure that it’s much fun pretending to be a racing driver for a day. However, when you buy your Dad the chance to zip around a race track for a few hours, it doesn’t mean that Jensen Button is bumped off the Silverstone Grand Prix starting list. If that was the case then I think we’d all be in uproar. But because it’s actors and because replacing us with friends, family or anyone else that want their ’15 minutes of fame’ is becoming more fashionable than ridiculous jeans that make you look like you’ve had a terrible accident, no one seems to think it’s a problem.

And that there’s the money that’s involved in all of this. The basic package costs £295, the ‘Bafta’ (wonder if they’ve even got permission to use the BAFTA name) package is £995 and then the deluxe ‘Hollywood’ experience is wallet-withering £1995. For that money you can play the role of an extra or a featured part, spend some time filming and then get to go to the wrap party afterwards. I hate to break it to these fools who fall for this offer but there’s a way of getting the exact same experience for free. All you need to do is visit Gumtree, apply for one of their dodgy acting jobs and you can get the true acting experience for no money at all! Why spend your hard-earned cash when you can be treated like a second class citizen for absolutely nothing? But of course, I’m forgetting that the ‘Hollywood Experience’ also offers the chance to work alongside a TV celebrity. That’s right, folks. For just shy of £2000, you too can spend the day wondering what on earth has gone wrong with your life while you watch an ex-Big Brother contestant desperately struggling with their lines and prancing around a set less glamorous than my damp-ridden, worm-attracting bathroom.

And what’s even worse is that when this company do hire actors, they don’t even get paid. I should know because I’ve auditioned for them before. The whole auditioning experience was an utter shambles, the director was rude to the point of refusing to even shake my hand and while performing the script with the producer, she spent the whole time checking her emails. And all this to just be paid expenses? Maybe this is just the kind of treatment they reserve for their non-paying actors. If you’ve forked out the same sort of money that you’d reserve for a luxury holiday then I’m sure the service you receive is impeccable. But still, I suppose it’s nice to know that whether you’ve paid for the privilege of being there or not, everyone’s in the same boat and comes away equally empty pocketed. It’d be nice to think that this money they’re making from these gullible fools might possibly go towards paying their actors but I realise this is very similar to the impossible dream I genuinely once had where I was drafted in to cover for Sid James in a new Carry On film.

I wish there was more I could do about this. Aside from tweeting about it constantly and getting others to complain, I’m not sure this insulting and depressing scheme can be stopped. Equity know about it but because they’re not breaking any kind of law, little can be done to stop them. I worry that other unscrupulous companies will see this idea and start to copy and we'll be in an even worse position than we are now where not only are we not paid but we also have to pay for the privilege of doing our jobs. For now, we just have to hope that no one falls for this rather evil money-making ways and the acting industry and try and keep an anxious grip on the last scrap of dignity that we’ve been left with.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the title of this blog, it translates as 'an unwelcome person' in Latin which, I think you'll agree, is pretty bloody apt...

Since posting this blog, the company have changed the wording slightly on their site to highlight that applicants will be working alongside professional actors. Also, the name of 'Bafta Experience' has now been changed. While I still don't agree with what they're doing and would urge people to steer clear of such an experience, I thank them for listening to my concerns.


  1. Equity doesn’t protect actors. It’s a union and only protects Equity members. If an Equity member were to fall for this, they might get involved. They do occasionally issue general warnings to members not to respond to listings of this type and, if a substantial number of members have reported a particular company, they will send a specific warning. I note that they aren’t soliciting Equity members, probably for just that reason.

    The “Bafta” [sic] listing is different from the “Be a Soap Star” listing, as it arguably infringes on a service mark of an organisation. BAFTA could challenge this on the grounds that it appears that it is somehow connected with what is going on.

    The UK government and/or Crown prosecutors probably would not get involved, unless a substantial number of people were defrauded. This is probably too small to result in any action.

    The ability of individuals who feel they have been taken advantage of to seek redress in the courts is limited, as each individual would have lost too little money to interest an attorney is attempting to obtain restitution.

    People need to exercise caution. If they don’t have an agent, they should answer only listings that are in a place which vets its listings. In the U.S., Back Stage does so. I presume The Stage also does. If they’ve been given a “hot tip” on an unposted project (and it’s highly unlikely that a legitimate project would not post, as it costs nothing to do so), they need to do some research about it before replying.

  2. Interestingly, when I clicked it there was no sign of a 'Bafta experience' but there was a 'Stardom experience' coincidentally priced at £995... Apparently someone realised they could get in trouble.

    This... I feel soiled and unusual having looked at the website.

  3. I had to read it carefully, (and try not to be sick) but luckily, there is no mention anywhere of it ever being broadcast.


  4. It's a show that gets broadcast via a mobile phone app so it would be broadcast but only via the app. x