Thursday, February 28, 2013

Non-disclosure agreements

More and more often, I'm required to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before auditioning for or working on a project.  Basically, an NDA says actors aren't allowed to tell anyone (even family, friends or their agents, depending on the restrictions in the document signed) or post anywhere anything about the project. The language can be very broad, giving many rights to the issuer and few to the signer.  And some NDAs threaten legal action and may claim irreparable damage should it be discovered that any information was revealed.

The underlying principle makes sense in today's tell-all/TMI world where you never know what may go viral.  Advertisers and casting agencies don't want actors posting on social media things like, "I just had a great audition for X, and here's the concept and copy word for word!"  Nor do they want an actor's FB friend posting, "My friend (insert name) just got a national commercial for (insert product) and here's exactly what she'll be doing." Competitors could see the posts, and might alter their strategies....perhaps even try to beat their competitor to the punch.  All the time, effort and money that went into coming up with the concept for and writing that commercial or entire campaign could be undermined.

On the other hand:
1) If you don't get the copy until you arrive at the audition, preparing can be a challenge. 
2) I had a VO audition and callback. I surmised the product class, but I never knew any specifics.  Tone and approach should vary depending on the product.  If, for example, I knew it was high-end diamonds, I'd probably want to sound different than if the product was costume jewelry geared toward young adults. 
3) It's definitely less fun.  When people ask what I've been working on, I'd like to say more than, "I had a great time shooting an on-camera project Monday," or "I had an interesting audition."
4) You can't put the credit on your resume or get the footage/audio files for your demo reels.  You can ask for permission and a copy of the project at a later date, perhaps after it's been released, but may not get it. Some agreements are boilerplate; you can ask, but may not be able, to have some of the verbiage changed. 

On a related note, some boilerplate documents say things such as, this project can be used in all media in perpetuity.  I have gotten that changed to fit what I was told about certain projects.  

And sometimes, colleagues, friends and family members request an NDA....can you/do you want to keep their secret(s)? 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Low-balling and not telling the whole truth

Lately I’ve come across several instances of what could be called desperate or just sleazy behavior.  Such as budding actors grasping at what they think will be a good credit  for their resume and/or lead to additional work will do a job, say, a radio commercial, for free or very low rates.  Or clients needing to save more and more money to enhance their bottom lines, so jobs that perhaps should’ve been union go non-union, and those that should’ve been non-union via talent agents or respected production companies trickle down to anyone the client can find online who's willing to low-ball already low rates.

I'm not the only one who thinks low-balling hurts everyone involved:
Actors, other feelancers or businesspeople willing to work for well below what should be market rates may get the job in the moment, but they’ve set a low bar for their talents and could drag rates down for their entire industry.  Clients may save dollars in the short term, but may end up with less experienced or less talented talent, which could make completion more difficult and time consuming and cost in terms of quality of the final product and perhaps less additional work from their client. 

I’ve also come across a more subtle form: clients who must get their project completed, perhaps to meet a short deadline, so they withhold information to get you to agree to do something.  After you’ve committed, you learn that the actual assignment is a bit different or more unpleasant and/or for more time but the same amount of money.  Or the working conditions are more egregious than expected (you were told the shoot was inside, but it's outside in 30 degree weather and you can’t wear a coat; they promise food but what you get is subpar or there isn’t enough for everyone, they promise a copy to justify their low rate but never send it, even after  you follow up).  You could try to negotiate for more money, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get it.  You could drop out, but then you won’t get paid or get the credit (or perhaps that copy of the project) at all, and you’d leave everyone else involved in the lurch.  The needs of the many...? 
Of course things can and do change very rapidly in production and many industries.  But I think the client should inform the talent as soon as possible, so we have the opportunity to choose whether to continue or not instead of being put on the spot.  Or get sucked in by something like, “Just a few more minutes, ok?” that turns into a few more hours.    

Other types of desperation include outright lying, stalling and/or placating, perhaps by those seeking to cover their bases or even take advantage of those who blithely trust them...until they realize what’s been going on behind their backs.  Even public figures do this; Jesse Jackson Jr. and the comptroller who stole millions from her small town are two Illinois come to mind. 

Unfortunately, assorted events in the past few years have made me less trusting.  As they say, actions speak louder than words.  But it may take some time to find out what the actions are actually saying.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Technology: friend and foe

From time to time, VO and on-camera talents have to update their marketing materials, such as headshots, resumes, demo reels, and VO demos.  Our look might have changed, we hope to have more credits, and always want to put our best foot forward.  These days, printed pictures and resumes are requested less and less.  So everything needs to be uploaded online.

I miss the “old days,” only a few years ago, when auditioners would glance at your headshot, flip it over, and comment about something they saw on your resume stapled to the back.  Maybe you worked with some of the same people.  Maybe a special skill would catch their eye, and they’d ask you to do that in addition to your audition.  To me, this personalized the experience.  And you knew that the auditioners knew a little something about you.  Sometimes they'll ask a question or two, or perhaps ask you to share a fact about yourself not related to acting.  But other times, there's no chance or time to make even a small connection.

These days, more decisions are made via online profiles at major casting sites such as Casting Networks and actors access.  There’s no way to know if the casting director or your agent saw more than the thumbnail of your headshot and your stats, or if they viewed your reel or any video samples.  But processing auditions is greatly simplified, and talent buyers can search many different ways to find the talent they want to see for their current project.

Last year, I got new headshots and redid my business cards.  This year, I’m updating both my VO demo and my on-camera reel.  The VO required new content, music and effects, which I’m working on with the help of a couple of demo professionals.  For on-camera, I just wanted to remove a couple of clips, add a couple of new ones and perhaps change the order.  I’m a PC, so I don’t have iMovie.  I didn’t want to pay for expensive software, so I tried Windows Live Movie Maker.  Computer-y stuff isn’t my strong suit.  I forged ahead and felt a sense of achievement when I eventually figured out how to cut, add and tighten clips and rearrange them.  Even after several hours, I couldn’t figure out how to get the right quality or file size, despite searching help forums and trying every option I could think of.  Still working on that.... 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Mixing business with pleasure

The more I get involved in some of Chicago’s many creative communities, the more business might mix with pleasure and networking with colleagues merges into socializing with friends.

On any given night, several friends and colleagues are performing in shows or appearing in movies, at storytelling events or book readings.   There are too many to support them all. 
Last weekend, I got to buy a successful artist friend’s new book at a fun signing (and am honored to be a picture of the event roaming the Internet).

I had brunch with a VO friend/colleague who’s been helping write and record my new commercial demo (a mutual colleague will do some of the production), then we worked for several hours.  I wanted to support another friend’s performance, but a 10:30 pm start is a little late for me.  Sunday I attended a storytelling event at which I’ve told a couple of stories, know the organizers and three of the participants.  I’ll be telling at another event later this year; the organizer of that recently helped me get a great audition. 

This week, another mutual VO colleague/friend joined the mix for more demo work.  And after the final session of an acting class, the teacher (also a casting director and director) went out for a drink with us and shared additional advice. 
Tuesday I went to an author networking event where I knew the organizer and some of the attending authors, instead of another event much farther away where three author friends were reading.  I'll get to emcee yet another author event this weekend; I know six of the seven authors presenting and am in a networking group with four of them.

Also this week, I had auditions at two major casting agencies, and saw people I knew at both. 
It took some time to establish connections.  Now it’s great to run into people I've worked with and/or have become Facebook or in person friends with.  You never know who you'll work with next, or who you'll help or will help you get an audition, booking, or other opportunity.