Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Indignity of It All

This weekend I had a rather infuriating exchange with a student filmmaker. I had applied for a principal role in a student film, and received this message:
Hi Maya!

Unfortunately, the principle roles have already been casted but the director would absolutely love if you'd be able to act as one of a few background actors in perhaps the film's pivotal scene: a surreal and very darkly comedic orgy framing the moral decadence and apathy of Brittany. 

The scene would involve very basic coverage but, as for nudity, it's quite literally however much you would feel comfortable with (do let us know, however, so we'll know how to cheat it out). Wardrobe would be black grungy clothing. 

Let us know if you would be interested in the role, it will be shooting tomorrow in Brooklyn as an overnight -- from 1am to 6am. If you are interested and available, I can send you the address of the shoot (and please feel free to ask any further questions). 

This message has a few problems. We'll talk about how the past tense of 'to cast' is 'cast', and how the word is principAL not princiPLE at some later date.
I wrote the student back that I was looking for reel material, and an unpaid scene orgy scene (shooting overnight, no less) didn't suit my needs. I also called him out on the faux flattery, and the bait and switch of sending me this message when it in no way reflects what I submitted for.
His response was lengthy, and full of misinformation; I'm not sure if he was poorly informed or just lying. Here are the highlights:
1) This has been difficult for him
2)Posting asking for nudity would be both "rude" and intrusive"
3)Not disclosing nudity and then asking for it on set would open him up to a potential lawsuit. (But seriously, he was considering that as an option)
4)Offering to pay extras for a nude scene would be tantamount to hiring sex workers. (He said cash would make is transactional.)
5) He's sure he'll have to hire more nude actors in the future, and he doesn't want to drive them away going forward. "Imagine if I got to work with Foreign Director? What a great opportunity and subsequent folly that would be!"

Here's the deal, bucko: telling me the director would simply love for me to be in this "pivotal" and "darkly comedic orgy" scene does not stroke my ego. I did not submit to be in your orgy.
SAG pays extra for being scantily clad; they pay more for nudity. I've seen posts for non-speaking nude roles that pay the principal rate. Sure, I'm non-union, but looking at the union rules will tell you there is value in what you are asking for.
By not offering compensation, you are not sparing me the indignity of being labeled a sex worker. You are failing to compensate me for something that has an established value. 
Be up-front. Post for what you are looking for. Do not bait-and-switch. Do not paint an unpaid BG role in a student film an opportunity.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fleshed-Out Characters

It's student film season. Backstage and Casting Networks are brimming with roles in films for NYFA, SVA, and NYU students.

I have my usual gripes. Broken single mothers, girlfriend to protagonist. Women are so frequently lead-adjacent. Women can be people and have characteristics of their own! However many first projects are just loving imitations of existing culture, and female characters are still having a difficult time at the box-office (action figures of Rey, anyone?). Students have yet to hear of the Bechdel test. Fine.

Ah yes, here we are. Stripper.  I would like to sit down each of these students and ask them how many strippers they know, and what they based the characters on. Are all of them really parroting what they learned from watching The Wire, and Law and Order: SVU?

I am not a sex worker. I have had friends who are. I do not think I can speak authentically to their varied experiences. Am I supposed to believe that every 19-year-old student can?

Devil's advocate: maybe the student has never run a company, organized a heist, or had a serious relationship, and we make movies about those things all the time. I say to you this may not be entirely different, but it is the least grounded, the least three-dimensional, the most repetitive trope.

I, as an adult female actor, have so few roles available to me. An alarming number of the roles in my inbox  sadly read Broken Sex Object. A stripper with a heart of gold who is conflicted about leaving her lifestyle for the One Man who can take her away from All Of This.

Dear students: please write something else. Maybe you haven't had your heart properly broken yet, you are afraid to write romance. Maybe you don't have the budget for car chases and explosions.

You are capable of so much more. Write me a role that's not a stripper. Try.