“Hey, I have my first self-tape audition of 2024, yay!” Now, my first two came right after the ratification vote, but many actors have said this since the New Year. One of the most important subjects, nationwide, in this negotiation cycle was the Self-Tape casting abuse practices that reached absurdity levels during COVID. Therefore, it was imperative for actors to achieve a framework of professional respect, for us all. Prior to my review of what we gained, do remember that the Self-Tape proposal is what I call a mechanical, versus economical. Still, the “Self-Tape” element continues to save producers a lot on of staff and venue costs.
As we review our self-tape negotiated covenants, do bear in mind that, much like A.I. and the “streaming bonus fund,” self-tape is another area in which we started with a BLANK page. Any time, in negotiations when NEW contract language is presented, it’s difficult to achieve 100% of your proposal on the first pass. This is why, in my opinion, the 2023 negotiations and strike will go down in union history as the most unique and difficult, as we had not one or two but THREE brand new codified covenants: A.I., streaming fund, and self-tape.
Know that, per casting services usage, when a producer conducts a casting call, a performer may not be charged a fee for the performer to access any casting notice, breakdown or other information relating to the casting call. Also, a performer may not be charged a fee for the performer to upload a self- tape or to otherwise submit themselves for the role being cast.
Also, know that if a performer is asked to pay a fee to access casting materials or to upload a self-tape or otherwise make a submission for the role being cast, the performer (or the Union) should contact the casting office before paying the fee to obtain information on how to access the casting materials or submit for the role free of charge. Yes, this puts onus on the performer, but that’s not uncommon in employment contracts nor in the history of our contracts.
Also, when considering candidates for a role, a producer shall not give preferential treatment to any performer on the basis of whether the performer has paid a subscription fee to a casting service to access casting materials or paid a fee to a casting service to submit for a role. Sorting submissions by alphabetical order or randomly shall satisfy the foregoing obligation to refrain from giving preferential treatment. Yay!
Then we get to Self-Tapes and Virtual Interviews & Auditions which requires the producer to make character breakdowns, sides and/or scripts available to the performer’s agent or other representative at least forty-eight (48) hours prior to the deadline for submission of the self-tape, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Yes, we TRIED to get 72 hours for adults too, but only achieved that for minors. However, do know that last minute casting deadlines related to replacements or a newly added role are exempt.
We indeed attempt to make the transparency of a role already being cast or an offer out to be included with the self-tape breakdown or required to inform a representative we only managed to get this: “The Producer shall endeavor to respond to any inquiries from a performer or inquiries from the performer’s agent or other representative as to whether the role has already been cast.” “Shall endeavor” cracks me up!
We did attempt to negotiate the initial audition page length be limited to five pages…but settled at eight industry standard pages of scripted material, and no more than twelve (12) industry standard pages of scripted material for a second or subsequent self-tape. Also, for performers with a disability the producer shall make reasonable accommodations to provide materials in an accessible format. Oh, and NO, you may not be asked, nor required, to memorize any materials nor be prohibited from holding sides and/or using a prompting device during the self-tape, but also no compensation is due to a performer for a self-tape.
The technical elements of self-taping have also been a huge issue so what we accomplished is that we will not be asked to record the self-tape at a resolution higher than 720p. Additionally, we cannot be required to use any uploading/delivery site or talent listing service that is not free to the performer to upload or deliver the self-tape, nor be asked to use any editing software.
Producers also are prohibited from asking or requiring specific equipment, including: brands or models of cameras, smartphones, tablets or webcams; types of lights/mics (LAV or shotgun), including utility, ring or LED lights, types of backgrounds-backdrops, including walls, colors, or pop-ups or seamless. A most important breakdown element to pay attention to is that a producer may only request the following in a slate for a self-tape: name, height, city of residence, current location (if not in city of residence). If you’re a minor they may ask your age/birthdate.
Information about the performer’s special skill(s) may be requested if the producer determines it’s necessary for performance of the role one’s ability per (e.g., horseback riding, swimming, accents, ability to play a musical instrument or play a sport) and a head-and-shoulders shot and/or a full body shot in portrait orientation. The producer may not request multiple camera angles or panning but may request a change position (e.g., to provide a profile shot). Also, stunts or nudity are prohibited. A producer may not request you wear attire more revealing than a public pool bathing suit.
Self-tapes for dancers require the producer to supply any music or sound required for the self-tape. The producer shall supply specific choreography and may not ask the dancer to choreograph or improvise a dance. The specific choreography may not exceed four eight-beat counts and must be capable of being performed in an indoor space no larger than 8 feet x 8 feet x 8 feet and must be for a solo performance (i.e., no two-person or multi-person.)
In terms, of privacy, it’s good to know that self-tapes shall be stored in a secure facility or on a secure system which can only be accessed by individuals with a legitimate business purpose. Also, a producer may NOT make a self-tape available publicly without the prior written consent of the performer, which must be obtained at the time of use.
For options a producer shall also provide an opportunity to interview for the role virtually (e.g., over Zoom) (or in person, at the producer’s election) in lieu of a self-tape by making available a window of time (scheduled at the producer’s discretion) for performers to interview on a first-come, first-serve basis. In scheduling interviews during the window, the Producer shall make reasonable accommodations for performers with disabilities and senior performers, and shall consider sleep schedules for minors.
Virtual interviews conducted are subject to the extent the Union has reason to believe a producer is not making good faith efforts to schedule a sufficient window of time for interviews as described in the previous paragraph, and it may contact the producer to discuss its concerns on a case-by- case basis. However, this option expires on June 30, 2026 and shall be of no further force. That means we have to negotiate or it AGAIN. Also, our “sign-in sheet” provisions do not apply to self-tapes.
Virtual interviews and audition exceptions are as follows: (a) Any requirement in the Schedules to compensate a performer for waiting time associated with an interview shall be calculated based on the day performer minimum. (b) Any requirement in the Schedules to compensate a performer for waiting time associated with an audition or if the performer is not given employment in the picture shall be calculated based on the day performer minimum. (c) Any sign-in sheet requirements in the Schedules are replaced with the following: The producer must maintain a record of performers who attend a virtual interview or virtual audition, including the performer’s name, performer’s agent (if any), whether the virtual interview or virtual audition was recorded, the actual call and waiting time.
Now, yes, the Union has agreed to a six (6) month moratorium on claims arising out of all of the self-tape and virtual interview / audition covenants which commenced on Sunday, December 10th, 2023. Nevertheless, the Union will absolutely notify a producer of any instances of non-compliance during this period so that the producer can make any necessary corrections. All disputes arising out Self-Tapes shall first be submitted to a Conciliation Committee, consisting of the SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director (or the National Executive Director’s designee) and the President of the AMPTP (or the President’s designee). In the event the Conciliation Committee is unable to reach a resolution, the dispute shall be subject to grievance and arbitration.
Also, it is imperative to realize that during the term of the Agreements, the Producers and SAG-AFTRA shall meet regarding casting practices as well as to discuss differences in rates offered to performers for roles in various geographic markets.
In conclusion, one of the MOST important elements for us, the acting community coming out of this negotiation, is that we MUST “file more claims.” We CANNOT forget that when you CHOOSE to put yourself into the pool of professionals to make money a performer you do have business responsibilities. Two of those are knowing your contract and filing claims if/when our employers BREACH those contract covenants.
Never forget that I want you to win, and I’m always on your side.
Kevin E. West is a veteran television actor with nearly 70 credits including guest starring on The Righteous Gemstones, Hawaii 5-0, Criminal Minds, Bones, Castle, CSI: Miami, Justified, Leverage, Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives, NCIS, Alias, CSI, and dozens more, as well as a former stand-up comic.
Kevin has been a national speaker since 1991 including: the WGA, SAG-AFTRA, UCLA, and A Date with Hollywood panel (Swedish Film Institute-Stockholm). As the Founder of The Actors’ Network, Kevin is an expert on the ‘business of show business.’ The Actors’ Network is the most endorsed actor’s business organization in the U.S., with consecutive BackStage West “Reader’s Choice” awards (06/07). Alums include Emmy Nominee Masi Oka (Heroes), Chelsey Crisp (Off The Boat), Chris Gorham (Ugly Betty), and Maggie Grace (Taken).
Kevin is considered by many to be the top educator for the Business of Acting. He created, the interview series ActorBizGuru, voted the #1 online educational resource by BackStage West and co-Authored the audio CD, The Actor’s Guide to GETTING THE JOB. You can read more of Kevin’s “The Acting Biz” columns here.