I’m sure as you probably knew last Friday was International Women’s Day, a day when we remember the fact that it’s the responsibility for all of us to advocate and show equal respect to women in our personal and professional lives.  The film & TV industry is one of those places where there is still so much more work to be done on every level of the creative process.

When it comes to any of these types of awareness campaigns, it’s so easy to pass over it without too much thought because you think you’ve heard it before. And maybe you have. I’m certainly guilty of doing that for various causes.  What I love the most is when the creative community comes together to make communicating the message more fun and interesting. The Save BC Film image that you see below is one example of making use of our creative talent to provide awareness.

Save BC Film
So I point you toward the Toronto ACTRA Women’s Committee that released a video on Friday with artists whom you may recognize from TV shows and various parts of our entertainment industry.  Take 3 minutes and 47 seconds out of your day and have a look and spread the video around.

“Share it now? But International Women’s Day was on Friday!” you may be thinking.

If that thought actually went through your mind, then you’ve proven the real need for this.

I’ve talked to many actors and those in the industry who work with actors who don’t know much about what’s been happening lately. It seems to be kinda hidden, to some.  From the actors I’ve talked to, it seems as if those who are represented by a background agent, or are a UBCP member will likely know about the recent developments.  The actors who don’t know as much are those who are non-union or are represented and only doing principal acting.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here are the basic details:

  • An Invitation for a Meet & Greet was sent out to UBCP members to meet three background Casting Directors – Andrea Brown, Sandra Couldwell, and James Forsyth. The meet and greet was held on February 17 at Bridge Studios.
  • During the Meet & Greet the actors who attended were informed that the three CDs had started a new company called BCF Casting which would manage a website which they would use to cast their background performers.  The website is a means for the CDs to contact actors directly without the need for an agent.
  • After first hearing about the new platform for casting, Background Agents were concerned about what the new online database would mean for their clients and what role an agent would have (or not have) with their clients. While their own job security is a concern, the more pressing question is who will be the advocate for the actors.  Casting Directors are hired by the production. If a dispute happens between an actor and the production, then who’s side does the Casting Director take?  An agents role is explicitly to protect their business partners (actors) and to ensure that all payments come through and all contracts are being managed with care.
  • UBCP, Talent Agents and BCF Casting have had meetings to discuss their concerns.  Most recently, JR Talent and UBCP both issued updates late last week. View both emails in full below.

MESSAGE FROM BACKGROUND AGENCIES (Feb 27 2013)

Hello Everyone,

We know everyone has been awaiting our input. We, as agencies, have to be very careful what we say as there are potential legal ramifications.

While this email does not address all the questions, points and concerns that have been raised in respect to BCF Casting, it is a start to that conversation. We want to address the potential long term ramifications that a BCF Casting type of model has on union and non-union BG performers, as well as what everyone needs to determine, for themselves, in reaction to those ripple effects.

Some people have asked why we, the agencies, are concerned. We naturally can’t be in favour of something that cuts us out of the picture.  Both now and in the future. However, every performer needs to make their own choice.  We do not want to interfere with work opportunities.  We are merely reacting to what BCF Casting is currently doing with consideration to the potential effects of this for our side of the industry to Background performers, BG agencies and the other casting directors.

We ask everyone to consider:
a)      how each of these casting directors have treated you in the past (both positively and/or negatively)
b)      how they have gone about conducting their business to date
c)      do you want to potentially work in a system where you might not have any representation

Do you the performer value the work that we do for you as agents?  Is that value worth the commission you pay?  In this new model the non-union performer (and potentially eventually the union performer as well) would potentially not have the option, or the choice, to have the agent or agency of their choice.  You would have to take care of your schedule, your bookings, deal with payroll discrepancies, upgrade requests etc all directly with the casting directors (whose primary responsibility is to the production) or their assistants without the choice of representation or even who you deal with.

We continue to urge everyone to be informed about their choice and if you are indeed a Full Union, Apprentice or UBCP Extra member, let your union know (pro or con) how you feel about this.

BCF Casting has openly advertised their services with this : “BCF Casting is a service company that replaces the need to utilize agents and the excessive fees charged to productions”.

They have also stated two misleading comments:
“..If you choose to have an agent, BCF Casting does not replace that relationship” – even if it doesn’t replace it, they are circumventing it.

“there is nothing in BCF Casting’s business, in law or in operations, that should undermine the relationship between extras and their agents” – This is misleading.  While we can’t find anything illegal about their business, by “replac[ing] the need to utilize agents” they, in effect, are removing us from the equation and a performer that books directly through BCF does so without their representation.  Thus directly undermining that very relationship that you have chosen to have with your agent.

Another partially misleading statement is: ” you can always pay them commission if you choose.” We say ‘partially’ misleading because while this statement is true with respect to union performers, or for performers paid on permit or at a rate above minimum wage, it is misleading to non-union performers working at minimum wage.

The current non-union rate of 12.26/hr was established as a result of the Ministry of Labour’s Talent Agency Rules and Regulations which is as follow:   

From the “Policy Interpetation” of 38.1. (1) of The Employments Standards Regulation – Part 7
“The client’s gross income, after he or she pays the agency fee, must not be less than minimum wage plus vacation pay.” (The actual 38.1.(1) is wordy legal jargon )

This 12.26/hr rate allows for the non-union performer to be able to pay commission to their agent while still satisfying the Ministry’s Rule and Regulations.  We believe that as the minimum wage in BC was increased, the productions and major studios were willing to pay this above minimum wage rate because they saw the benefits of the work that we as agents do as a valuable part of the process of getting BG onto their sets.  The previous statement would be misleading due to the rate that this new model is likely going to pay the non-union performers – “minimum wage is still minimum wage” (from one of these casting director’s Facebook posts).

If a non-union performer makes 10.25 (plus 4% vacation pay) from working directly through BCF casting (or any similar model / database) they very well may want to pay commission to their agent.  However, due to these same Rules and Regulations, we as agents can NOT legally collect commission from a non-union performer (earning minimum wage) even if that performer was wanting to pay commission.

The non-union performer makes NO less money than before, yet they lose their choice in having representation.  The performer’s income is not effected, yet the productions save money on those performers and the agencies lose their ability to collect commission as per their agreements with their performers.

 We the agents are backed up against this BC Ministry of Labour rule that does NOT apply in any other province to our knowledge (we can’t change provincial laws).

The other consideration is the potential long term effect that this could have on our side of the industry. If some productions are able to provide non-union BG to the industry for a lower rate of 10.25 (minimum wage) then other productions’ studio heads, network heads will want that same rate on their productions.  This is where it will effect the other casting directors.   They will be forced to only offer 10.25.  We as agents can’t do all the work that is required to get BG on set for no fee.   Thus casting directors will have to adapt and perhaps adopt a similar model which will force all BG agencies to not represent non-union performers.   (And this could have farther reaching effects on the very existence of BG agencies – thus effecting the union performers’ choice to work through an agency.)

While this may or may not be BCF Casting’s intentions, it is a very real possible outcome that we as agents take very seriously.

(why the word “potentially” so often – we can’t say it is fact that this will happen but logic dictates these ‘potential’ outcomes.  If we wait to see how it will all play out, by that point it will already have happened.)

We know this will likely raise more questions than we’ve answered.

We reiterate:
We feel that you the performers now have the power to help shape ‘how’ Background casting is done in Vancouver.  We urge everyone to be informed about your choice and if you are indeed a UBCP Full, UBCP Apprentice or UBCP Extra member, let your union know (pro or con) how you feel about this.

Stay positive! Productions will always come to Vancouver.  Productions will always need BG to create the atmosphere of their scenes.

Pilot season is almost here!

Take care, Jen and Derek

MESSAGE FROM UBCP (Mar 1 2013)

Dear Member,
 
Some members have contacted us with concerns related to BCF casting and/or the subsequent communication from their agents.
 
Since BCF Casting’s meet and greet held on February 17, we have met with both a representative group of background agents as well as the three background casting directors of BCF casting (James Forsyth, Sandra Couldwell, and Andrea Brown). We have listened to concerns on both sides and we have spoken with members who have called and emailed.
 
Since our meeting with BCF Casting we have received a letter from them explaining that: ” Our main initiative is to be more direct in our contact with performers” and that “We thought that the best way to reach out to performers was through UBCP.we wanted the opportunity to meet people, speak directly with them, and answer their questions regarding our future communication. It was not our intention for it to appear that UBCP was endorsing BCF Casting by sending our “Meet and Greet” notice to its members.”
 
After many discussions with members it became apparent that what is best for one member may not be best for another. Some choose to be contacted directly and some prefer to continue to be booked through their agency. That is an option that is up to the member.
 
Some members have expressed the concern that the database is the same as an agency.
 
From what we have been advised the database is a method of maintaining photos, contact information, and bookings. BCF casting does not collect money from performers for maintenance of this database.
 
Some members have expressed concerns that if they are contacted directly by BCF casting, their agents will drop them or if they don’t sign up with BCF casting they will not be able to be viewed or booked with those casting directors, ultimately limiting their opportunities to work.
 
BCF casting states that performers are welcome to maintain their agency relationships; however it is not clear whether an agency fee will be paid to Apprentice and Background Extra Members when working at minimum wage. If this agency fee is not paid, it essentially cuts out the agent.
 
UBCP does not govern the relationship between agent and client. BCF casting asserts that they will continue to use agencies when there is a need and the agents assure us that these casting directors can book their clients if they call (some agent’s rosters are currently not viewable to BCF casting). BCF casting wants to give call time and booking details directly to those they book. If you are using an agent you will need to discuss this direct communication with them. As always, UBCP will enforce the preference of engagement clause.
 
Some members have expressed that they prefer their agent to act as a buffer between the casting director and themselves. They like the protection of the agents with regard to upgrade requests, cancellation fees, or maintaining the ability to refuse work, etc.
 
This is a member’s choice. If you maintain your relationship with your agent they will continue to address these issues on your behalf and as always UBCP will continue to represent performers, with or without representation, on signatory productions with regard to these concerns.
 
Some members have expressed concerns that they would like to be contacted directly but communication from their agents indicate that they will be let go from the agency if they do so. “Can we do both?”
 
BCF casting asserts that they have no issue with performers maintaining their agency relationships. It is up to the performer to discuss it with their agent. As stated above in the case of minimum wage earners, the agent may be cut out of the financial equation. No one is allowed to earn less than minimum wage. Therefore each member will have to choose what is right for them and if they choose to do both (register with BCF casting and continue to work through an agency) they will have to reach that understanding with their agents.
 
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have additional concerns or questions.
 
Best wishes,
 
Sue Brouse, CHRP
Director, Member Services and Human Resources
UNION OF B.C. PERFORMERS (UBCP)
(B.C. Branch of ACTRA)
Tel: 604 689 0727 ext. 2257
Toll Free: 1-866-689-0727
www.ubcp.com

Week in Review | Feb 25 2013

by Kenji Maeda on February 25, 2013

I didn’t watch the Oscars last night. Did you? All the buzz I was getting through Twitter and friends early in the night surrounded two key topics: “Are we watching the Oscars or the Tony Awards?” and “Seth MacFarlane is sexist .” But by the time the end of the night hit, I was glad to hear that three Canadians won a coveted golden statue.

Instead of watching the Oscars, I attended Project Limelight‘s production of There’s No Place Like Oz. Project Limelight is a program that infuses the possibilities of performance and art into youth aged 8 to 15. Both their matinee and evening performances were sold out. If you have or know of any youth who would be interested in taking part in the program, you should contact them. Gig Morton (@gigmorton), one of the stars of the Mr. Young series, spoke before the performance and talked about the importance of programs like Project Limelight and says that actors should continually ask themselves if it’s something they are passionate about and actually like doing. He went on to say that Mr. Young has been and continues to be a great experience but he also simply loves acting. The takeaway from what he was talking about was simply, you gotta love what you do.

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the Crazy8s Gala Screening at The Centre. Six short films of varying styles were presented to a packed house. Sure, I may not have loved every single one of the films but the importance of Crazy8s, particularly given the circumstances within our unemployed industry, was clear.  Crazy8s Executive Director, Erik Paulsson, articulated that it’s important to continue to have the foreign industry shooting work here, but it’s also a very critical time for local productions to continue to be produced. The fact is that we have a strong creative sector with very talented people and the more we can produce and sell our own work, the better it will be for the long-term sustainability of this industry.

The last thing I’ll touch on today is something that maybe not have heard about. A couple weeks ago, a notice went out to UBCP background performers about attending a “Meet and Greet” with three Background Casting Directors: Andrea Brown, Sandra Couldwell, and James Forsyth.  It was a one-day event that was held on February 17 at Bridge Studios. Rumours started flying around the purpose of this event as Talent Agents were not notified of the event.  It turns out that the three CDs have started a new online company which catalogues Background Performers for casting. The concern is that that wasn’t communicated in the email or flyer which marketed the event.

Some local Background Talent Agents banded together to get some answers. In an email sent out on Feb 19 by the collective, they mentioned they had previously tried to contact the three casting directors with no response. Here’s an excerpt of part of that email that outlines what they heard happened during the event:

-none of us agents were invited and thus none of us attended the meeting so what transpired there is via our clients telling us their thoughts, feelings and impressions. Again we will try (it is hard to not get caught up in the emotion of this) to just be factual. 

-people arrived, photos were taken, measurements were take and people were taken aside to the casting directors.  It was only then that they were given a card with BCF Casting’s info on it and told about this new database that these 3 casting directors were running.  And that they would no longer be utilizing the services of BG Talent Agencies.

The primary concern expressed by the agents and some actors who have been in contact with me is that the Casting Directors are circumventing the Talent Agents.  Some would argue that it can save an actor some money without having to pay for the commission, but an agent’s role is not only about booking the actor.

We’ve emailed the CD’s and am waiting to hear back to see what they have to say and ask them some questions for clarity.  It’s not new to have a database of actors for background work. There have been a couple websites that have popped up for actor database management.

What makes this one different? What impact will it have for our community of actors, agents, and Casting Directors?  Who will it ultimately benefit?

We’ll keep you updated as we receive more information.

Enjoy your week! I can’t believe we’re already at the end of February.

—–
This post was originally posted in the Vancouver Actor’s Guide February 25 newsletter

Post image for PuSh Festival: Three Reasons To Attend

The 9th Annual PuSh International Performing Arts Festival kicked off on Monday, January 14, 2013 at the opening gala. The evening was hosted by Juno award-winning musician Dan Mangan and CTV News anchor Mi-Jung Lee in Club 560 on Seymour Street. The evening was attended by what seemed to be most of Vancouver’s theatre community and so many more who are fans of PuSh and the type of work that they present. It was a fun evening celebrating the start of the 20 days of diverse, creative, artistic and entertaining performances happening around the city.

Before mentioning the three reasons why you should attend the festival, I want to first touch on one major piece that was addressed by PuSh’s Executive Director, Norman Armour as part of his opening remarks. Norman is a passionate advocate and leader when talking about the critical actions that need to take place around the funding for the arts. Recently, in Vancouver, there’s been a lot of movement and discussions happening about this critical issue, with momentum building after the initial announcement of the closure of the Waldorf Hotel, a “cultural institution” as some would say. Vancouver City Council voted this week to issue a 120-day protection order for the hotel to prevent any potential demolition.

Here’s an excerpt of Norman’s speech:

In the past year…. The Vancouver Playhouse, MusicFest Vancouver, the Hollywood Cinema, The Ridge, W2, and now the Waldorf. What is going on? In each of these cases, there is a myriad of reasons, causes, events and conditions behind the challenges that have faced these organizations and institutions, which I won’t even attempt to do justice to here.
[...]

If we are not talking about the under-capitalization of our arts community, then we are not talking about the “Problem.” If we are not talking about and devising strategies to address the dearth of appropriate financial resources, then we are simply avoiding the proverbial white elephant. And whether it’s on the short-term, or the long view, everyone who has a stake in the future of this arts scene must contribute to answering this issue.

I encourage you to read the longer excerpt of his speech here.

Now back to my three reasons why you should attend PuSh:  Entertaining, Impact, Unexpected. The three reasons are not exclusive and shows very well may encompass all three elements but I wanted to break them down a bit.

1. Entertaining

There’s no doubt that most people want to see a show and be entertained. I don’t really mean “jazz hands” type of entertained, although that could be what you’re looking for.  It could also mean laughing your guts out; crying until your eyes are red; being mesmerized by the visual beauty of a piece; or simply having a drink while listening to a great musician on stage (like one of my favs, Hawksley Workman). You’ll find ample opportunity to be entertained, not only PuSh’s Main Shows, but also at Club PuSh, “a dynamic space that is all about experimentation— cutting-edge performance suited for a less traditional, more informal venue.”

2. Impact

You know that feeling when someone punches you in the gut?  I don’t. But I do know when a show grabs hold of something in me that’s hard to get rid of.  There are many reasons why a piece might resonate with you. It’s different for each person.

  • Testament – “Rarely do the great questions of life present themselves on stage so spirited and full of feeling, so touching and allusive…. Absolutely remarkable – New Zurich Times
  • Photog: An Imaginary Look at the Uncompromising Life of Thomas Smith – Drawn from the real life accounts and using verbatim text from interviews with award-winning war photographers and international journalists.
  • Winners and Losers – Two Vancouver theatre artists sit at a table. As each one seeks to defeat the other, the debate becomes personal as they dissect each other’s individual, familial and class histories. And because one of these men is the product of economic privilege, and the other is not, the competition very quickly adds up.

3. Unexpected

PuSh presents shows that can be characterized as unexpected.

  • There those days when you’re sitting in the coffee shop, looking out the window as you gaze out to watch people go by. You don’t know what they’re saying so you fill in the blanks in your head. With Sometimes I Think, I Can See You, you experience a voyeuristic look of real life mixed with fictional story telling. A free event you don’t want to miss.
  • What would it feel like to be blind and exploring the streets of Vancouver? Take the 2.5 hour blind-folded journey through Vancouver with Do You See What I Mean? A rare experience, for sure.
  • Ever wanted to delve into someone’s brain and actually talk to someone about what it’s like to be a Refugee, Non-Binary Transgender, or a Cultural Pirate? Go borrow a book, in human form, at the free Human Library.

The PuSh Festival runs from January 15 to February 3, 2013. Start your year off with a selection of performances to be inspired by or entertained. Full program details are available at www.pushfestival.ca.

Crazy8s Raises the Bar for Local Filmmakers

January 9, 2013
Thumbnail image for Crazy8s Raises the Bar for Local Filmmakers

The six teams who will soon be relatively sleepless on an 8-day production schedule have been announced.  Crazy8s, now in its 14th year, has helped put the spotlight on local emerging filmmakers to advance their careers, including Zach Lipovsky, whose 2005 Crazy8s film, Crazy Late, helped him secure a spot on the Steven Spielberg TV […]

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The Government Inspector at Studio 58

November 19, 2012
Thumbnail image for The Government Inspector at Studio 58

Jordan Jenkins (Bobchinsky), Stephanie Izsak (Anna Andreyevna), and Dallas Sauer (Dobchinsky) in The Government Inspector at Studio 58, Langara College. Photo by David Cooper.   There’s a reason why Studio 58 at Langara College is touted as one of the leading institutions for training the next generation of theatre artists.  After attending the opening night […]

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Interview with Claire Danes, Emmy Rossum, January Jones, Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedgwick and Mireille Enos

September 17, 2012
Thumbnail image for Interview with Claire Danes, Emmy Rossum, January Jones, Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedgwick and Mireille Enos

A compelling interview with six established dramatic actresses: Claire Danes (Homeland, Romeo + Juliet), Emmy Rossum (Shameless, The Day After Tomorrow), January Jones (Mad Men), Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife, ER), Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), and Mireille Enos (The Killing, Big Love).

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Spotlight Interview with Casting Director, Tiffany Mak

November 23, 2011
Thumbnail image for Spotlight Interview with Casting Director, Tiffany Mak

The lovely and talented Ms. Tiffany Mak was born in “Winterpeg”, Manitoba and moved to Vancouver in 1998. She achieved a degree in Criminology from Simon Fraser University and planned to pursue a career as a lawyer. Even though Criminology doesn’t seem to have anything in common with casting, she says it’s helped her a […]

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