Background Performer update from Background Agents and UBCP

by Kenji Maeda on March 4, 2013

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

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