Advice and How-To's Especially for ACTORS!

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

How to address problems with an agent

This question was posted on a popular actors forum, and I posted an answer there that I wanted to repost here:

“I like my agent- he is my first and has a good reputation. However I have had zero auditions through them. I do keep busy, but all on my own. I have been with them for over 4 months. I did send a decent letter and updated him to my activities. I do this often. I made the point that I was a senior actor and cannot wait 10 years to get established. No response as yet. Is it time for a change?”

TAE Responds:

This might go without saying, but have you tried talking with your agent and discussing your concerns? There may be a lot going on behind the scenes that you are not aware of, or you may be right- your agent may not be the right fit for your needs right now. Either way, I think you'll get a better picture of what is going on once you talk to him.

When you talk, it would be a good idea to discuss what your expectations have been over the past few months and what you would like to see happen in the future, and see what he says. Most likely you'll find a divide between your two perspectives and you can iron things out from there. If he agrees that you'd be better served by another agent, perhaps he will have a referral of who to try next? That may be a Utopian view on my part, but this agent saw something in you when he signed you, so asking him for supporting in finding a better fit is a great way to make sure no bridges are burned.

Again, you may have already done this but I wanted to be sure to mention it just in case. Whatever happens, I wanted to applaud you for getting signed, and being so successful in getting yourself out there!

Friday, January 16, 2009

When do I get residuals on commercials

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Cassandra writes:
Hello. I was in a hidden camera pizza hut commercial. it was aired nationwide and played about 10 times a day. I filled out tax paper work, but I want to know if I'm going to be paid residuals for this commercial? Thanks for your help.

Hi, Cassandra. It all depends on what kind of contract you were on. First, was it a union commercial (SAG or AFTRA?) Second, were you a principal actor or background?

Non union commercials very rarely offer residuals- most of the time, your initial payment (or "session" fee) serves as a "buyout" meaning that the fee paid covers all future airings in any market, as many times as they wish to air it. The union contracts provide protections in this area, and stipulate that the producer must renew the commercial after the initial time period is up, which includes paying actors a residual fee. Usually, union commercials are renewed on 13 week basis and have a residual structure for both regional and national packages.

As far as I understand it, only principal actors receive residuals on commercials. Background actors are paid a one time session fee for the shoot, which constitutes a buyout. In the SAG Commercial Contract Digest, a principal performer is defined as, "Anyone whose face appears silent and is identifiable and whose foreground performance demonstrates or illustrates a product or service or illustrates or reacts to the on or off-camera narration or commercial message. Persons appearing in the foreground solely as atmosphere and not otherwise covered by the foregoing shall be deemed extra performers."

To find out if you are due residuals, the first thing you should do is look at the written contract you signed and see if it is union or non union, and principal or extra/background. If it is a union project, you can call the union and ask to speak to the business representative who handles commercials in your area. They will be able to tell you what the contract stipulates.

For more information about union television commercials, you can go to the union websites:

SAG Commercial Contracts
AFTRA Commercial Contracts

I hope this is helpful for you! Please feel free to let me know if you have any other questions.

UPDATE: Read this article on non-union actors and residuals.

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

We've Been Chosen as one of the Top 100 Blogs!

Great news! This blog has been rated as #44 on the list of best 100 blogs for Film/Theater Students by!

It is worth noting that the overall list is divided into categories, like: Indie Films, Production/Video, Animation, etc; and there are only 12 blogs listed in the "Acting/Audition" section. This means that we are actually in the Top 12 blogs for acting students!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

AFTRA / SAG and Getting Upgraded

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There were a couple of questions recently posted to the actor’s forums, and I posted some answers that I wanted to repost here. They both are in regard to what constitutes an upgrade from background to principal on a TV show.

Question 1)
I was talking to a friend yesterday who said he did work on one of the NYC soaps, so I told him about on of my background scenes on the show. We did a meeting room scene, and we had to say "Hi, Ted," when the character introduced himself to the group. When I told this story to my friend, he said that this means I'm not an extra, I was U5. I told him I was hired as an extra, it just so happened we had to speak due to the scene. He said, “If you speak on camera, you're U5 no matter what the scene.”

Is this true? I think he's wrong, but I kind of hope he's right.

TAE Responds:

Hi, there. Your best bet would be to call AFTRA on this one, but I think you are correct- you were background. In my experience, background talent can speak on camera and still be considered background, as long as the dialogue being used is what would be considered "crowd" noise. For example, if you were in a scene where you are in the background playing a protester, the producer can ask you to shout and you would still be considered a background. My guess is that, since yours is a group scene and everyone said the same thing at the same time, this role would still be considered background.

But, call AFTRA and explain the scene to them and see what they say. And, congrats on your role!

Question 2)
I'm beginning to think that some featured background work that my son did on an episode of a television show should have been bumped and paid as principal. He ended up with more screen time than any of the actual paid principals got, though the only sound they used was laughter. He had special effects makeup and was highly recognizable as a specific character. I know that's probably considered part of the job but I was actually surprised they didn't offer even a little more for the wearing of the SFX makeup.

I'm probably dead wrong on this - advice? (Also too when is it too late to question this with SAG? It's been almost a year now...)

TAE Responds:

As far as I know, there is no rule in SAG for film/TV background work that states that if the actor is recognizable or has a lot of screen time, they get bumped up to principal. I think there is something like this in commercial contracts, where if a background actor gets a certain amount of screen time they would be upgraded to a principal contract. But in films and on TV, an actor can have an individual role (for example, a teacher in a classroom,) have multiple closeup shots, and it would still be covered under the regular background actors contract (as long as no lines were added.) As you mentioned, background casting directors call these types of roles "featured background" and they do not necessitate an upgrade, even if the role requires advanced makeup or hair styling.

I always think it is worth calling SAG when you have a question like this, if only to let them know that a) their rules may be unclear, and b) that you think actors who do this type of work should be considered for an upgrade. Prior to calling, you may want to check his pay stub and see if he was given any kind of bump in pay for the makeup (similar to getting a pay increase if you wear multiple changes of clothes.) Off the top of my head, I can't think of a rule that allows for that, but be sure to check before calling SAG anyway.

I hope this is useful- best of luck to you!

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Visit our Facebook Page

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I just wanted to do a little plug for our Facebook Fan Page for The Actors' Enterprise. Many, many actors (and not to mention other industry folks) are taking advantage of this social platform to help with networking and marketing. So, I’d love to invite you to be a fan!

Even if you are already on our newsletter and read this blog, there are still good reasons for joining the page. We are having tons of fun with the discussion board, which allows us to post questions or topics about anything in the business, and reply to other people’s topics. I also use the group to share photos from our events, and you get to see the RSVP list for the monthly Bite-Size Business Soiree.

Again, to visit the Facebook Page for TAE, click here.

I sure hope to see you over there. Enjoy!

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out

Monday, January 5, 2009

Non-Union Commercial Contracts

I have had a bunch of students recently ask about non-union contracts. Sometimes, these non-standard contracts can be confusing, and sometimes it is hard to get a written agreement at all! Here is a recent question about commercial work, sent by one of my students:

I'd like your opinion.  A guy called me last week from upstate NY about a commercial he was doing there (he saw my profile on  He asked me what my rate was, and of course, who has a rate if you're not SAG? He offered to pay transportation, food and lodging for 3 days, but he wants to pay $50/day for a 3 day shoot over a weekend.  He made the offer, and accepted, asking him for a formal agreement.  Aside from going out of town, I wanted to make sure it won't do me more harm than good-  for example, it's a buyout (i'm guessing) with no residuals, so how long do they want to use this commercial?  I tried to explain to him that this was my concern.  If it's a year or two, and it's just up in that area, I'm thinking it's acceptable, but not in perpetuity, right?  I would love your opinion.  Thanks, as always. 

TAE Responds:

As far as the commercial- you are right to get all of that hammered out in advance. Even though it is only $50 per day, I think it is a good that you accepted. It sounds like it might be fun, considering you are getting all of your expenses paid, and it doesn’t sound like it will be interfering with your work too much.

When I started out, I did a ton of non-union commercial work, and usually the initial payment is considered the buyout, and they can use the spot for any reason, at any time, for as many times as they'd like (I have a commercial that is STILL running during the holidays in San Diego.) My suggestion would be to have them put together a contract for you which explains everything so that you both understand what will happen. Most importantly, you need to have a provision for getting a copy of your work. If they don't have something like that in contract form, you can print out a standard "Copy Provided" contract (courtesy of Holdon Log) and ask the producer to fill it out with you. I would ask them what date they plan to air the commercial, and then ask if you can arrange to pick up a copy of it around that time.

Obviously, this isn't a union gig, but sometimes looking at a union contract can help you understand what provisions should be considered when asking for a written agreement. Here are some documents regarding SAG commercial work that you can use to do some research: (For blog readers: if you are not a SAG member, you will not be able to access the full contract from this page. Email me, and I will send you a PDF version.)

Hope this was helpful- let me know how it goes!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Resume: Playing Characters of a Different Age

This question was posted on a popular actors forum, and I posted an answer that I wanted to repost here:

“I re-entered the industry as an adult, but I have professional training and experience from when I was a teenager. I want to include it because it shows that I have stage experience, but I don't want it to look like I just got out of school. The issue is that I look (and have been cast) as a bit younger than I am, and the teen credits are from quite a while ago. Is it advisable to ever include the year of the job? Do I separate my teen and adult experience/training?

The other issue is that I recently have been cast as both a "college student" and a "teacher" in the past month (two different jobs). Would this confuse you if you saw a resume that had both these credits listed, one on top of the other? For the record, my look allows me to play a young 20-something up to my late 20s.”

TAE Responds:

Hi, there- this is a great question. The good news is that you are not alone: everyone in their 20s who acted in their teens has had to deal with this, so there are options for you!

Most importantly, I think that the credits on your resume should reflect roles that you can realistically play NOW. Your resume is your marketing tool - it allows industry folks to understand your body of work and how it relates to the work you can do NOW. So, you should look at the credits from your teen years and remove anything that you could not currently be cast as. For example, if you can no longer play a high school student, remove any evidence of those roles from your resume. This also applies to roles that you are currently too YOUNG to play. I had a huge & meaty role as a grandmother in a college production- unfortunately, it does not belong on my resume because I won't play that role for 30+ years.

If you choose to keep teen credits on your resume...

As mentioned by a previous post-er, stage credits should be listed by character name, which will help you avoid the "teacher" vs. "student" issue. Also, you do not need to put dates on your resume- dates would be irrelevant if your resume reflects what you can play today.

Now, there are always exceptions: If you were a child star, it would probably be valuable to have some of those credits on your resume. In this case I would create a separate section for your professional work as a child/teen.

As for training, you can keep everything under one heading- there is no need to separate by age in this section.

I hope this has answered your questions- if you have any others I'll be very happy to help where I can!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The "Yes" Pile

Those of you who have coached with me have heard me talk about the "Yes" Pile during our sessions. As I have said time and time again, you cannot control whether or not you are cast in an individual production (as hard as we try, there are too many uncontrollable factors!) But I do believe you can control being in what I call "The Yes Pile," which is the pile your headshot goes into when the casting director thinks, "I really like this actor, and would love to work with them sometime."

I found this article last week by a casting director who talks about her filing system, and whose headshots she hangs onto, so I wanted to be sure to pass it along! It is chock full of other good advice, so I highly recommend a read. 

The Great Headshot Purge: by Bonnie Gillespie

Enjoy... and Happy New Year!

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