Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hey! I Saw Your Commercial!

So, in the past couple of weeks, I saw two of my friends from the Portland acting community in separate TV commercials - and I immediately shot them an email and/ or Facebook message letting them know I saw the spot, and congratulating them on the gig.

Now, I did this for a couple of reasons... the first is obvious: it's always nice when you have the opportunity to pat your friends on the back and give them a hearty "way-to-go-you-got-the-gig." It's no big secret that the odds are against us in this business - there's always more actors than there are roles, and any time a friend books a role they're to be congratulated for beating those odds.

I had another reason for letting them know I saw their spots, though - one that people outside "the business" aren't often aware of. When an actor gets hired to do a commercial, he or she doesn't just get paid for the time s/he works shooting the commercial; s/he gets paid for the length of time that commercial runs. Now, this doesn't make sense to a lot of people with regular 9-5 jobs; it's not uncommon for people to say to me, "why should you get paid for more than the time it takes to do the work? I don't get paid that way."

It's an understandable question; consider, though, that we actors don't work for one boss 9-5 every day. We don't get a regular pay-check for our weekly efforts. Instead, we're independent business people selling a product: our image (well, ok, we're selling a few different flavors of the same product... we sell our voice, our actions, our "look" in a given situation... but you get the idea). We get one check every time we sell that product... and then we have to go out and sell it again. Might take a week, or a month, or a year.
When we sell our image to promote a product, we're effectively out of the market (at least for that segment of industry) while that commercial is running - Pizza Hut isn't going to hire my friend Jim Caputo (above), for instance, while he's promoting Izzy's Pizza. He's the "Izzies Guy," and is identifiable as such. An actor might be able to book a commercial for a different type of product, but even that's not guaranteed; if the actor is too identifiable with a particular product or company, companies in other sectors might still find him or her too "identifiable," and not want to go that way with the job.

So, the actor is compensated for the time that s/he is going to have a difficult time booking more work; part of his or her payment is determined by the amount of time the commercial is set to run. Which brings me back to my hearty "way-to-go-you-got-the-gig" messages to my friends...

Some times, a commercial runs outside the time period its contracted to, and the actor isn't aware of that (because s/he didn't get paid for it). I don't want to necessarily ascribe sinister motives here... some times the company or ad agency just makes an oopsy-daisy: one hand doesn't know what the other is doing, they don't realize the spot is out-of-contract, whatever. Mistakes happen. It's important for the actors in the commercial to know about this, though - if they don't happen to be watching that specific channel at that specific time, they'd have no clue that they should be getting paid for their work (and compensated for not being able to get more work). If the commercial is shot under a union contract (SAG or AFTRA), the actor can go to the union; then union would then contact the producers and/ or ad agency and/ or company (whomever is responsible), and remind them that more payment is due - or order that they stop running the spots. If it's a non-union commercial... well, then it's up to the actor him or herself to pursue it (hopefully with an agent's help). Either way, such measures can't be undertaken if the actor doesn't know the spot has run.

Trish and I have both been in this situation, and we've both been helped by friends who dropped us an email or called us to let us know they'd seen a commercial on TV we should have been getting paid for. It makes a big difference to us - not only to our bank accounts, but to the types of work we're able to pursue while that spot we thought was off the air is running.

So, I'd just like to ask all of you reading this to keep an eye out - if you see someone you know on TV, take a second to let him or her know - mention the station and time, if you can remember it. Whoever you call will be flattered that you saw the spot - and you might do that actor a favor in letting him or her know that s/he is due another payment.

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