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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Negotiating Non-Union Commercials

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I received a series of great questions from Alessandra, one of our readers, and I thought I would post the dialogue here:

Dear Erin,

It is of great value reading your blog, thank you for your time!

I would like to follow up on the union/non-union issue regarding residuals; can the company that hires you put "non-union" into the contract at their free will just so that we, the voiceover artists (in my case), don't get payed residuals? Or are they adhering to a law when putting this in a contract? What decides that it is union or non-union? Do I have a right to question this and what are my rights exactly? Also, I am not part of a union by the way. Thank you, and best wishes.

Hi, Alessandra- very good question. The distinction "union" is applied when the producer employs union actors on a project, and the union provides the physical contract that is signed by the producer and actor.

When producing a project, the producer has full control over what kind of contract they want to use. A union contract provides a certain set of conditions and standards that the producer and actor must adhere to. A non-union contract also has basic provisions, but these provisions are determined by the producer and it is up to the actor to accept the terms or negotiate for better terms before beginning work on the project. Once a contract has been selected and actors have been employed, the producer cannot change the nature of the contract at their will (nor can the actor, for that matter.)

As you probably know, residuals are an important part of the working actor's livelihood, and it is one of the key benefits to being a member of the union. The union provides minimum set of standards under which their members will work (also know as scale.) If you are not a member of the union, you have no rights or claims to these union benefits and wages, and this includes residuals. So, in your case it sounds as though the producer acted within their rights to note the contract as "non-union." There are rare cases where non-union contracts provide residuals - I'd suggest reading your contract carefully to learn what, if any, benefits are due to you as a condition of your employment.

I hope this makes sense- thanks again for writing, and I appreciate your stopping by my blog!

Wow, thank you, you sure know how to formulate :o) You have helped me immensely.

One last question: Do you think I should somewhat negotiate or not? By the way, their pay is usually around $100/hr- that is not too bad is it, compared to other voice-over companies? I’ve heard people getting payed way less.

Thanks again! I will forward your blog to a big mailing list :o)

As to negotiating- it depends. Have you already accepted the contract and done the shoot? If so, it is too late to negotiate. For future jobs, the best time to negotiate is before you accept the role. But, typically, it is very difficult for actors to do their own negotiations, which is why the unions have been created to begin with. So, most non-union actors either accept the terms or turn down the job- they rarely negotiate (though the actor is well within his/her rights to do so.)

If you haven’t done the job yet, what I would do is ask them if they have any wiggle room for negotiating the session fee, since you have worked with them a couple of times before. I don't think that you would be able to get residuals, but perhaps they'd be willing to bump your base salary/session fee. It doesn't hurt to ask, as long as you feel ok with them saying no.

As far as the pay you mentioned: That sounds like a great rate for non-union work, considering that the day rate for union actors is anywhere from $600-$1000 for an 8 hour day (depending on the kind of work- commercials pay more than industrials, and national commercials pay more than regional commercials.)

Where you earn less money is the fact that you are paid per hour. Union actors are pay for a half day or a full day, depending on the stipulations of the contract. I shot an AFTRA on-camera commercial recently that had a day rate of $750, plus 10% for the agent (for total of $825.) I was only there for 2 hours, and still was paid for a full day. These are the kinds of things that are negotiated by the unions and incorporated into the standard contracts so that individual actors do not have to negotiate for these minimums.

So, congratulations on landing what sounds like a very good gig! And thanks for sending my blog on to your friends- I am so glad it has been useful, and thanks again for sending me your questions!

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

3 COMMENTS - Click to READ:

Nance L. Schick said...

This post highlights some of the issues underlying most talent contracts. Hopefully while you're reading it, you started thinking about what you look for in an acting job. Remember, it is EMPLOYMENT--just like that catering or office position you might take from time to time to pay the bills. The difference is that when you are an actor, your work is usually temporary. So, you'll have a lot of different employers (or clients, depending on how the contract terms are laid out) in the course of a year.

I like to think of all workers as sole proprietors, unless they take action to a) become someone's employee or b) incorporate a business and transform to shareholder or officer. Accordingly, you have to think like a business owner.

- Have a plan that includes a complete understanding of your financial needs and how you will fulfill them. You might even want to use a business plan template to get you thinking about all the aspects of being a business. "You are a Business. Act Like One (TM)."

- Know your price. You can still negotiate up or down, depending on the opportunity, but too many actors are so happy to just take anything that they dilute their brand.

- Know your "brand," or how you will market yourself. Be consistent, yet flexible. If you discover you are better suited or working more in roles different from those you targeted, consider it an opportunity to launch a new public relations or marketing campaign.

Even if you have an agent, a manager or both, it's best to stay involved. You are still the only officer of your sole proprietorship, and you must therefore determine the mission, vision and processes for executing your plans. Those who assist you are merely subcontractors interested in your business only to the extent that it furthers theirs. "It's not personal; it's just business." (This is why you need to understand business, and you probably already do--more than you realize--simply by existing, buying, working, etc.)

When in doubt, Erin and I are here to answer your questions and lead you as best we can. :)

Matthew William said...

Is it possible to receive a residuals check from a SAG-AFTRA gig and be a non-union actor?

Erin Cronican said...

Thanks for your question, Matthew. According to the SAG-AFTRA website:

"Q: Who is entitled to receive residuals?
A: All performers hired under or upgraded to a principal performer agreement whose performance remains in the final product. This includes performers, professional singers, stunt performers, stunt coordinators, pilots, dancers employed under Schedule J and puppeteers."

A non-union performer does not have access to all of the rights and privileges of a dues paying member. So, to be sure which benefits you can receive based on your contract, feel free to contact the SAG-AFTRA office. Here's their info:

Phone: 323-549-6505
Fax: 323-549-6550

Thanks for reading, and for posting!

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