Monday, 17 December 2012

The Bleak Midwinter

Christmas. A time when it’s totally fine to sit around the house all day drinking port and eating your body weight in Stilton (it is fine, I promise.) Everything starts to gorgeously wind down and it suddenly becomes OK to watch A Muppets Christmas Carol, ET, Elf, Home Alone and Santa Claus The Movie all in one day. But there’s a sinister side to all this tinsel-framed jollity and that’s the terrifying lack of work that makes itself known to us actors at this time of year. 

Y’see, unless you’re blessed in the art of panto or you make a particularly good elf, December can be a tough month. Everyone else has decided to start winding down and because our lives are governed by the timetables of others, we have to wind down too. I mean, of course, we’re used to be it being quiet all the time. It’s Valentine’s Day soon or there’s a Y in the month or it’s the anniversary of Noel Coward coming up with another amusing quote. Whatever it is, you can guarantee that actors will use it as an excuse for work being a little thin on the ground. But Christmas is a whole different ball game with rules that mean however well you know them, you still won’t win.

As an actor, you’ll be used to the, “So, what acting work have you got on at the moment?” question. I’ve written about this before and it’s a painful question to be faced with if your current career prospects are looking as bright as an energy saving lightbulb. I realise that if you’re a not an actor, it’s the most natural question to put to someone who insists on showing off for a living. Of course you’re going to ask what they’re up to. What else are you doing to ask them? Whether they’ve got a holiday booked? How their stocks and shares are doing? Of course not. No, instead you ask them something that’s guaranteed to make you wish you hadn’t bothered. Because they’re either working on something and you then have to sit through half an hour of them boring the bum off you about what a wonderful, life-affirming piece they’re part of, or hey’re working on nothing and you have to deal with the awkward excuses as to why their life currently has no meaning. 

If you are the type of person that asks actors these type of questions, take a tip from me: if they tell you that they’re not working, just leave it at that. Or, if you do have to add something, just say that you understand that Christmas must be bit tough. Don’t suggest that they "just do Panto instead." I mean, feel free to offer your advice but just be aware of the repercussions and whether you mind receiving a swift clip round the ear straight after. I also suggest not being tempted to use other nuggets of advice such as ‘Oh, I suppose this is a good time to brush up on your skills.’ Yes, it is but it’s also a good time to eat Jelly Babies for breakfast and a whole box of Lebkuchen for dinner.

 I realise that if I used all my quiet time to brush up on skills that by now I’d be a multi-lingual, martial arts, one woman band extraordinaire. But I don’t. And because of that, Christmas will probably always be a time for unemployment. And y’know what? I’m secretly pleased.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Credit Where Credit's Due

We’re used to seeing apologies in castings for projects being low budget. We hear all the usual excuses due to it being made my students or the fact that everyone’s working for free and it’s a labour of love. I know I have plenty of complaints about these types of castings but at least they're being honest and we know that money can be hard to come by. However, it’s a very different situation when it’s a well-known company that rewards its chief executive bonuses that are in their millions.

Today I saw a casting for Experian, the credit check company and it was for an internal corporate film. Now, it’s no advert but still, your image is being used for a massive company. And how much do they want to pay actors to be part of this film? The measly sum of £50. Their chief executive earned £9 million last year. If we presume that he works every single second of the year then it takes him just three minutes to earn £50. Isn’t it lovely to feel valued, actors?

I realise that just because a company makes a lot of money, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can chuck thousands at the actors that they hire. I’m not that na├»ve. However, when a chief executive can give himself a £1.5 million bonus, it can be a pretty bitter pill to swallow. As actors we give up our face to help these companies out. Our image can help them sell their product and our acting skills can help them train their staff better. Ultimately our work is helping them make a profit so why the heck are we finding ourselves being shoved further and further down the food chain? And this particular job is for an internal film meaning that the only exposure you’re likely to get is to Darren in the IT department.  At best you might get a little snippet to put on your showreel but, more likely, you’ll probably just find yourself leaving with a sense that you’ve sold yourself extremely short. It’s hardly surprising that a company that provides credit checks will probably just be providing you with a credit for your CV and nothing else. 

Unfortunately, it seems that these larger companies have now cottoned on to the fact that many actors will work for nothing, or for very little, and if they put out a casting offering the minimum amount of cash possible then they can be sure to get at least enough applicants to get the job done. This does us actors no favours and the only ones to benefit are the companies themselves who get to keep their cash and ensure these eye-watering bonuses keep being given out while we’re left wondering, yet again, how we’re going to pay our rent. 

As usual, I can only keep urging actors to think very carefully when taking on unpaid work. I know we want to fill our CVs up with jobs that are less that 5 years old and I know we want to take on anything so that we can feel like we’re at least doing something. But by doing these jobs, we’re turning the world of acting from a profession into a hobby. And if that happens then that means I’ll have to update my CV. Don’t make me deal with that level of rage.