How to improve your actor contracts for television performances

This post is by Clive Duncan a Senior Consultant at TrinityP3. As a Director and DOP he has an appreciation for the value of great creative and outstanding production values, while also recognising the importance of delivering value for money solutions to the advertiser.

Listen to many in the industry and they will tell you that in Australia the MEAA (Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance) contract is the mandatory contract and set in stone when engaging actors for a television commercial production.

This is not entirely true.

MEAA actor contracts

Yes the MEAA contract is to be used when engaging actors who are members of the MEAA (which is most professional actors).

But is not mandatory when engaging non-professional actors, non-union members, street cast actors and the like.

But the main assumption regarding the MEAA contract is that it is set in stone.

In fact in most instances the MEAA contract can be modified to meet most advertisers needs. It just requires some forethought, planning and consideration. Attributes often lacking in the mad scramble to get the production on-air, on time.

The MEAA actor’s contract sets the minimum

The MEAA actor’s contract is set in stone if the talent is to be paid minimum union rates. For a lead actor this is currently $AUD 275 per day.

Most union actors used in television commercials are paid well in excess of the union’s minimum rate and thus (as the contract states itself) the contract is open to negotiation.

Opportunities to negotiate variances

In fact there is a special section of the contract set aside for these special conditions. This special conditions section of the contract is on page 2 of the contract and often not sighted by anyone but the actor’s agent and the casting agent as quite often the agency never bother using it and therefore it can become largely irrelevant.

In two recent cases TrinityP3 has seen instances where the inclusion of a simple clause in the special conditions section of the MEAA contract could have saved the advertiser a considerable amount of money.

Example One – Talent roll over

The advertiser was not ready to go to air with their new television commercial, and due to their media commitments were forced to use the previous year’s campaign for an additional 2 weeks.

In it’s basic form the MEAA contract states that if a TVC is to be rolled over for any length of time beyond the original contract period, then the original actors fee is to be paid again. In this case the fee was for one-year national exposure and was quite a considerable amount, much to the advertiser’s chagrin.

If a simple clause had been inserted in the special conditions section of the MEAA contract the actor could have been paid a roll over fee equal in value to the actors extra exposure instead of the full years fee.

Example Two – Re-edit

The advertiser needed to re-edit the TVCs produced for a campaign (during the campaign) to replace the original television commercials. Thus new key numbers were created and in some instances 2 x 15 second executions were rolled into 1 x 30 second execution. The old key numbers were withdrawn from the campaign and replaced by the new key numbers and the media buy remained the same.

The actor’s on-air exposure was effectively not increased at all, and yet the actor claimed almost their entire original fee because the advertiser had reworked the existing TVCs. The whole campaign was on-air for 6 weeks and the actor walked away with almost double their original fee due to the wording within the MEAA contract.

Once again TrinityP3 contend that a simple clause inserted in the special conditions section could have avoided this.

Today’s media requires flexibility

These instances are becoming more commonplace particularly the need to re-use, re-work and re-configure existing television commercials due to the ability to ad-track and optimize TVCs during an on air campaign.

It should be remembered that a large percentage of an actor’s fee is for usage rights (i.e. on air duration by geographical region typically, 3 x months one state or 1 year x Australia wide).

Actors claim, and rightly so, that on air exposure curtails their opportunity of getting other TVC gigs during the campaign they are in, thus they need to be compensated accordingly and TrinityP3 agrees.

But both the above cases are examples of being over compensated, much to the advertiser’s annoyance.

What is the solution?

Short of the potentially long and protracted process or negotiating a new industry actor’s agreement, TrinityP3 contend that the application of some simple clauses are inserted into the existing MEAA contract and brought to all party’s attention at the casting stage so these contentious payments to actors can be avoided.

We believe that (in this crowded market) actors vying for a (well paid) role would happily accept a fair and reasonable clause included up front, rather than being excluded from the casting process due to their (or their agent’s) negative attitude to negotiating a fair and reasonable clause.

Many agency producers have been involved in cases as outlined above and yet still avoid taking any proactive steps to stop these instances happening again. Therefore their clients are destined to continue paying for this lack of forethought, planning and consideration.

Of course advertisers themselves can start the ball rolling by formulating their own special clauses and instructing their agencies to include them in the MEAA contract that they use, learning from other’s mistakes and avoiding them in your own.

This only applies of course, to the use of the MEAA actor’s contract when casting MEAA members. If the actor is not a financial union member, then any contract or arrangement can be negotiated.

It is worth considering. What circumstances do your productions face that this approach could solve for you? Let us know.

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About Clive Duncan

Clive has spent all his working life in the film and television industry and was invited to join the TrinityP3 team as their TV production senior consultant. Clive has the unique advantage of having hands on experience at almost every level of TVC production and understands the complex relationships required to produce creative and cost effective TVCs. View Clive's full bio here
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