The Business of Show Biz: Getting Paid
Friday, July 8, 2016
By Velina Brown
Our fabulous career columnist Velina Brown is busy opening a show this week, so enjoy the following previously published column—the wisdom it contains is evergreen.
Q: I am a non-union actor. I recently worked with a producer who hasn’t paid me for my final performances. Every time I call, they give me a different reason why the payment is delayed. Now the payment is two months late. How do I get this producer to pay me?
|Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.
A: Oh, dear. I think every actor has to deal with this at some point. You didn’t mention if you signed a contract. If there is a contract, you can take them to small claims court. If there is no official contract, is there anything in writing (such as an email) that says what you were to be paid for the project? And are you the only one who hasn’t been paid? If there are others in the same boat, perhaps you can organize and approach the producer as a group.
How hard are you willing to fight for the money? If it is a small amount, you may end up feeling like it’s not worth it to put a huge amount of time and energy into collecting it.
On the other hand, you may feel it’s not really about the amount of money; it’s the principle of the thing. You agreed to do the work. They agreed to pay you a certain amount for that work. Therefore, you may decide that you will not stop contacting them until they pay you.
If you have nothing in writing, I’m not sure how you can make them pay you via the legal system if they really don’t intend to pay you. You’ll have to be willing to keep after them until they cough up the bucks to make you go away. You’ll have to define for yourself what “keeping after them” means: regularly writing them, calling them, making it public that they haven’t paid you.
Actors often have a hard time being assertive on their own behalf because they are worried about being labeled “difficult.” In my opinion, this is the crux of a lot of our challenges as actors. It’s something that must be vigorously worked on if you intend to make a living as an actor. Would a plumber be embarrassed to insist on being paid for his or her work? But it’s pretty common for actors to say something like, “I don’t mean to bother you, but if it’s not too much trouble I’d like to be paid.” Take a taxi and not pay the driver and see what happens. It’s not going to be pretty. They won’t care if you think they are a bother.
I don’t have an “Abracadabra! Do this and—poof!—your money appears!” answer, beyond you insisting that the producer pay you, taking them to court if necessary, and not giving up.
In the future, you may want to do some research on the companies you are interested in working with. Is there a history of problems getting paid? Always work under a contract. You can create your own contract to work with if the company doesn’t have one. And get very clear with yourself about your boundaries and how you want to do business. There’s no need to enter new situations with a negative or unpleasant attitude. You are an artist. Be excited about each new opportunity to do your art, but not so excited that you forget to take care of business. When you take care of business you are taking care of yourself.
Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.