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Laurieby Casting Director, Laurie Records

…lack information regarding non-union commercials.

There are a lot of non-union commercials being cast and shot in Los Angeles these days.  Great jobs, terrible jobs, and everything in-between can be abundantly found and are beckoning you to join in the fun.  If you are relatively new to town, you are likely heavily immersed in the non-union commercial scene.  There are plenty of actors who have decided to go financial-core finding themselves there as well.  Because knowledge is power…here are some things to chalk up for information, hopefully curtailing frustration or disappointment when working non-union commercials.

Commercial actors should never fail to know the ins and outs of non-union work.

When given a choice in hearing the good news or the bad news, I always choose to hear the bad news first, so here it is:  Let’s address the rate/agent commission. This is the least understood aspect of non-union work I can think of: one that causes tantrums and threats, or at the very least can be disappointing if not understood from the get-go.  So let’s be clear, when a rate reads: $1000 + 20%, your agent gets the 20%.  You know this.  What doesn’t seem to be as widely known is that they will take another 10-20% out of the $1000 as well.  This is standard.  I didn’t make the rules.  I am just the messenger.  But again I will say, this is standard in Los Angeles.  If you want to know the reasoning behind this, you will have to ask an agent.  I can also tell you that if you self-submitted or have no agent, it’s highly, highly doubtful that you will get the additional 20%.  It just disappears.  I wouldn’t even ask for it, if I were you.

Here’s some good news:  Although there are no rules (no fines given to the casting director) regarding keeping an actor over an hour at a non-union commercial audition, I believe most commercial casting directors, certainly ones that cast SAG jobs as well, try to uphold the standard.  I believe your audition experience for a non-union commercial will depend much more on who is holding the audition than the fact that it is non-union vs. SAG.  You should have a professional experience.  The rigmarole should be pretty much the same.

Here’s more (pretty) good news: A non-union shoot, when being run by a known commercial production company, will likely be very SAG-like in its standards.  Big production companies/producers and big commercial directors shoot non-union commercials.  When you see them listed on the breakdown, you could bet a pocketful of cash that it will be a good, professional experience.  The key difference is that that the length of time they keep you on set could be longer.  It’s typical for the rate on a non-union job to include a 10 or 12-hour shoot day.  For the most part there is no overtime after 8 hours.  And, generally speaking, you will not be paid for your wardrobe fitting.  Sometimes even rehearsals are included in the rate.  I just snuck some bad news in there.  See how I did that?  But you can expect to have good craft services and regular breaks…a nice, professional set experience. Unless it’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants operation (and it isn’t often they use a casting director for those) the SAG standard is the standard.  On behalf of non-union actors everywhere, I say, “Thanks, SAG.”

Getting paid:  The standard for an independent contractor (and that’s exactly what you are) is the check is due 30 days after the invoice is sent.  SAG actors see a check for the session fee/wardrobe, etc. several weeks earlier for a union commercial.  Here’s something to be happy about when working a non-union commercial… it’s not unheard of to have the shoot and buyout listed as all one sum.  This means if it never airs, or if you are cut out of the spot, you will still receive the full payment.  This is a BIG difference between SAG and some non-union jobs.  (SAG jobs pay the session fee, and then the residuals, which means if you are cut out or if the commercial never airs… the session fee is possibly the only dollars you will see.)  You, of course, have to read the breakdown details carefully.  They aren’t all put out that way, but certainly some are.

I’m not promoting, or not promoting taking non-union work.  But it’s a reality that most actors have to work non-union to gain experience and exposure before being offered union jobs and joining the union.  Some actors take the financial-core option and continue to work non-union jobs after joining the union.  There are differences between union and non-union commercials and much attention is paid to the ins and outs of union jobs.  I thought I’d give a bit of practical insight to the workings of the non-union commercial.  Because it’s always good to be in the know.

Laurie Records, Casting Director