She was breathtaking. How did she get into your head and embody the character you’ve so carefully birthed in a cold read? Jesus knows, but she’s the one. And of *course* she feels the same way you do. Of course she has identified your film as her breakthrough moment. She has been thinking of nothing but your screenplay for the last four days since the callback. She’s been awake at night, staring at the ceiling, sweating with anticipation for your film. So you decide to send her the email she’s been dreaming of and you just know it will be the answer to all her fragile prayers. And so you write:
Dear Fragile Actress,
It is with great honor that I bestow upon you the answer to your prayers: I would like to cast you in the role of “Moira.” I’ve decided to give you this opportunity to grow as a performer, to spread your wings and embrace the space that I create for you. In terms of payment, you will receive a copy of your scenes, bagels on set, and because you are SAG, we have decided to apply for the SAG contract (you’re welcome). Because of this, we will also defer your payment. I would also like to work with you in a safe environment in the form of three days of rehearsals, which are also deferred, in which I will make sure you know your lines and that you say them exactly as I say them in my head, and make you do the scene a million times even though we all know that the fleeting moments that happen in front of the camera are all that really matter, but I have worked exclusively in the theater world and I’m not really familiar with the differences between film and theater, but none of this matters because I am brilliant. I am thrilled to be directing you and look forward to your acceptance of these terms.
The only one of my graduating class, no, ALL graduating classes that will make it as a big-time director, you have no other possible job prospects, so clearly you’re going to immediately respond yes to all these fantastic offers Smith
No. Do not write this to your actor. In fact, if this is even close to what you were going to write your actor STOP. Let’s take a step back, take a breath, tell our ego to STFU, and re-assess.
“But I’m the most up-and-coming, ’emerging,’ out-of-the-box 22-year-old director in the world!” you think to yourself.
You sent it. Five minutes go by. No response from your actress. A day goes by, nothing. She must be dead, right? Finally she gets back to you with this response:
Dear Phenom Director,
Thank you very much for offering me the role. I am very excited to work with you. In terms of pay rate and schedule, my agent will be reaching out to you shortly. Looking forward to making the film with you.
Hardworking, professional actor Jones
Holy. Sh*t. No f&*king way. Who does this priss think she is? She should be thankful you offered her the role, even if you’re the one who desperately wants her to be in the film, and out of all the actors you auditioned, you chose her. She should be kissing your feet.
Thirty minutes go by, and you get this email from her agent.
Dear Phenom Director,
Glad you’ve chosen Hardworking professional actor Jones for your film. We would like to clarify her day rate, which is the SAG minimum $125/day + 10%, and the day rate for rehearsals. When you have production dates set, please let me know and we’ll schedule her. Looking forward to working with you.
Totally reputable and reasonable talent agent Myers
At this point, you explode. Physically explode. Like guts and brains everywhere explode. Here you thought you were going to have an artist-to-artist mutual love for your script, that this woman would be so enamored with your masterpiece that she would give up weeks of her life for you, and she refers you to her agent!?!?!?! What a heartless bitch. What an ego maniac. Doesn’t she realize that you have the upper hand because you are doing her a favor by giving her this role, and it is not the case that negotiations are reasonable here because there was never any intention of bringing any business elements into this project, and that the clips she was going to get from this project — not to mention THE BAGELS — are worth more than fair pay standards, and that she was going to take those clips and get discovered by Hollywood and become a star, and then she would come crying back to you one day, dropping to her knees, thanking you for giving her the chance to be in your film? Did she not realize all that?!?!?!
Dear director (and if you don’t have a producer, or your producer somehow thinks the way you do, get a legitimate producer, or fire that awful producer), this actor has every right and responsibility to discuss project hiring details with her agent.
For one, if she is signed exclusively to her agent, any work that she gets — even if it is an audition she got by herself and not through her agent — she has to pay her agent commission. The agent’s responsibility to the actor is to negotiate the best possible deal for the actor. If you really want to work with this actor, then the negotiated deal will be a win-win. She will be paid fairly, and you will pay what you deem her to be worth. If you deem her to be worth bagels, then chances are your production is not mature enough to shoot. If you at all think you are doing an actor a favor, and that you are being generous in hire said actor, then you need to go back to the casting phase, and find the actor worth paying.
Secondly, understand that the further up your career goes, the more you will be talking with agents. And I’m not talking just actors here. I’m talking screenwriter agents, DP agents, composer agents… pretty much everyone. Hell, you’ll probably want an agent at some point as a director. In any case, understand that this actor has chosen this field as a career, and as such should ensure that her work is properly compensated.
Thirdly, don’t get all squirmy when it comes to negotiations. I know you got into this for the art, but there is a VERY strong business component in film, and you better get used to it now or you’ll never survive.
Finally, don’t take it personally. Don’t let your ego tell you that she’s trying to take advantage of you. Don’t ask “who does she think she is?” Remember that she, too, probably wants distance from the business aspect of this — that’s why she hired an agent. Just get the numbers locked up so you can work on the art. And rest easy that if she didn’t like the project, she just would have said no thank you.
And for crying out loud, stop putting “food” anywhere near the word “compensation.”