I’ve been seeing the topic of actors getting paid circulating the net for years and it’s popping back up again, and sadly, there are also sites made to help actors get work being attacked.
My opinion is most likely going to make me unpopular, especially to certain actors, but this is what I’ve learned over the years.
Should actors get paid?
Of course it would be ideal for actors to get paid because just like everyone else, we have bills to pay and we need essentials such as food, clothes, etc. This is also where the water gets a bit murky. Even though we should all get paid, because after all we are offering our services and like any other job, we should be paid as such, however, there are those who can’t afford the actors services. But (and that’s a big but), if a director(s) can’t afford to pay in currency, there should always be some kind of payment.
What’s the payment alternatives?
Director’s should always offer something. If they can’t pay with money, offer to pay expenses, and if they can’t offer that, then at the very least, supply refreshments - just a few drinks and snacks/sandwiches, the usual, nothing fancy, nothing too expensive. Whether or not the director(s) for whatever reason can’t offer any of the above, they should always offer the actors clips from their scene(s) as a form of payment, especially if they are not getting paid. Send them via email, CD, file exchange sites, or a link to it so they can download it themselves. Even if the project went bust and is no longer in production and cancels before completion, still send clips to actors, we need them. We give them our time and spend our money on travel and possibly food to help directors, the least they can do is send us some examples for our CV’s.
To get work, particularly for those who don’t have agents so apply on behalf of themselves, actors need four crucial keys just to be seen by a casting director, and a showreel is one of them. We need to sell ourselves to the directors just like how we do for “normal” jobs. If we can get ourselves a good CV and "look the part,” then that already helps in our favour, that’s why clips are crucial to us and some of us will work for just those clips.
Is it fair to not get paid in the form of money?
Again, that would be ideal but looking at it this way, is it far to demand money from everyone? I’ve seen people “shout” “ACTORS, STOP WORKING FOR FREE!” “WE SHOULD NEVER HAVE TO WORK JUST FOR THE “LOVE OF ACTING,” “We should always get paid…” etc, etc. In some cases, that’s very true. If an actor is being hired by an established company or someone who you know can definitely afford your services, then yes, that’s when actors should be paid fully on the amount agreed upon. There are also companies out there who are able to pay a small wage and are happy to do it, good on them, but if a company can afford to pay a higher wage yet decides to be stingy or try to not pay at all, that’s when it becomes morally wrong and unfair, and these are the companies that need to be looked at. On the other end, what about all the students? Most of the time, film students for example aren’t given funds to pay for actor’s services. They are lent or have to rent out film equipment, places needed for sets, props, etc. Unless they pay out of their own pockets, they can’t afford to pay for actors. What should they do if they are not allowed to hire actors unless they pay? There are also inspiring film makers out there who are not studying but are good at what they do. What if these people go far one day or at least make some kind of name for themselves? We never know who’s going to do what in future and what others are capable of, so dismissing unpaid jobs or even looking down on them could be a mistake, and as I mentioned before, whatever the circumstances, we need those clips for showreels.
Believe it or not, there are some benefits. I mentioned about having clips for showreels but it’s also good learning curves for those starting off. Unless a person is lucky or has connections so gets paying jobs from the start, most of us can't be picky so any role we land can be beneficial to us. It also helps beginner actors to grab any role they can, paid or unpaid so they can see what it’s like to be on set, how things work, etc, so they can learn. The other plus is adding that experience to the CV. Even a student’s project is beneficial. I know there are people who turn their nose up at students’ projects but those clips in a showreel could make an actor look great. I’ve used clips from students and aspiring directors and they can look very professional making a showreel look even better. Personally, I’m not given over 90% of clips that I work for and when I politely ask for them, most of the time, I’m ignored, they just slink off quietly which is unfair to me as I spent money getting to their venues and took my time out for them. I don’t mind working voluntary but at least give me a clip I can use.
So that's my experience and opinions. I have gone through all this personally, I'm still happy doing all kinds of work. I've also experienced being lied to by directors about payment which should never happen. Director's should always be open and honest about payment with their employees.