Film and TV actors might be contractually entitled to collect half-a-day’s pay when they audition but aren’t hired, though very few ever collect. The payments have been codified in every Screen Actors Guild and SAG-AFTRA contract since 1937, but the payments are not automatic – actors have to file a claim to receive them, and few ever do.
On Wednesday, however, after Deadline made inquiries, the union said that it now will pursue claims for audition pay under specific circumstances.
“Until further notice,” the guild said in a posting on its website, “members should expect the union to pursue audition pay claims in the following circumstances, provided that the performer is not offered employment in the picture and that the requirements of the audition pay language within the schedule applicable to the role being cast are otherwise met:
1. When the producer or casting director expressly require the performer to memorize their lines in advance.
2. When the performer participates in a network or studio ‘test’ as that term is commonly understood in the entertainment industry. For context, ‘tests’ are typically used to cast series regular or feature lead roles, typically involve multiple performers who are expected to be ‘off book,’ may involve make-up, hairdress and wardrobe, and will have network or studio executives in attendance.
3. When a performer is owed pay for waiting time in excess of one hour as provided in the applicable schedule.”
Actor Shaan Sharma, who is a member of the SAG-AFTRA Hollywood board, has been one of the leaders of the effort to get the union to pursue pay for auditions and has filed his own claims for audition pay. “This is a first step,” he told Deadline, “but does not address the work we do on auditions that don’t expressly require lines to be memorized, which includes most auditions. This is something we’ve been owed since 1937.”
In its statement, SAG-AFTRA said:
“It has come to the attention of SAG-AFTRA that there is a lack of clarity regarding the requirement of payment for auditions where the performer is not subsequently offered employment on the picture. The confusion stems, in part, from the fact that the audition provisions of the Codified Basic Agreement, which apply to the casting of film and dramatic television programs, date back to 1937 and employ vocabulary that no longer tracks common usage in the entertainment industry.
“In addition, the way that roles are cast in the entertainment industry has changed radically since that language was last negotiated, thereby creating genuine ambiguities in how the audition pay language should be applied today.
“The current Codified Basic Agreement expires on June 30, 2023, and feedback from members has made it abundantly clear that changes in how roles are cast have created a number of issues that require resolution at the bargaining table.” In the interim, the union said, it “will pursue audition pay claims” in the above-listed circumstances.
“To be clear,” the union said, “SAG-AFTRA believes that the audition pay language can be read to require payment in circumstances beyond those identified (above) and SAG-AFTRA specifically reserves the right to pursue those interpretations in the future. There is the potential, however, for such broader interpretations to have negative consequences, including a reduction of access to casting opportunities that will impact some member groups more acutely than others.”
The union says that it also will “consider any unique or compelling circumstances in determining whether to file a claim, including claims that do not meet the foregoing criteria, so members who strongly believe that they are contractually owed audition pay should call their local office to review the circumstances of their audition or interview. Active claims previously filed with SAG-AFTRA will be reviewed and processed in line with the above criteria and guidance. Members who are interested in how the Codified Basic Agreement regulates the casting process are strongly encouraged to participate in the TV/Theatrical Wages and Working Conditions process that will commence in the coming months.”
With regard to auditions and tests, the current SAG-AFTRA contract says:
“A. If the performer is given employment in the picture, he shall not be entitled to compensation for auditions or tests unless required to wait more than one (1) hour between the time of the call for such purpose and the commencement thereof; if required to wait more than one (1) hour, the performer shall receive compensation for excess waiting time, at straight time, in one-half (½) hour units.
“B. If the performer is not given employment in the picture, the performer shall receive one-half (½) day of pay.”
“C. If the performer reads or speaks lines which he has not been given to learn outside the studio, without photography or sound recording, the same shall not constitute an audition or test, but shall constitute an ‘interview,’ and the provisions of Section 14 hereof shall apply thereto.”
Similar language is contained in the Screen Actors Guild’s 1947 contract, which said:
“(a). If the player is given employment in the picture, the player shall not be entitled to compensation unless required to wait more than 1 hour between the time of call for such purpose and commencement of such audition or in which case the player shall receive compensation for excess waiting time at straight time, in one-half hour units.
“(b). If the player is not given employment in the picture, the player shall receive one-half day’s pay. If the player reads or speaks lines which he has not been given to learn outside the studio, without photography or sound recording, the same shall not constitute an audition or test but shall constitute an ‘interview,’ and the provisions of paragraph 7 above shall apply thereto.”