People choose to do Background work for many reasons; it’s a way to gain experience on a film set or to earn additional money or an opportunity to meet friends and other members of the community. Regardless of your reasons, you should take your participation in the production seriously and you should always conduct yourself in a professional manner. Please read the following section carefully if you are interested in doing Background work.
How Can I Do Background Work?
It’s quite simple. Just contact each of the Casting Directors on our list and inquire about getting into their roster. Chances are, they will require a photo and resume (with physical details) from you and some may charge a small registration IF YOU ARE NOT A MEMBER OF ACTRA. Remember, not all Casting Agents are the same and they may not all be looking for new people.
Members interested in doing work may take advantage of ACTRA’s Background Database background.ACTRAonline.ca. Just log in and update your profile page.
Truth #1: The Pay
It is important to understand that this is an industry that is always fluctuating and that the work is never guaranteed. In addition, there are uncontrollable factors such as the concepts and storylines that require specifics that you may not have. For example, if you’re a thin woman, you simply will not be called when they are looking for big, tall muscular men.
Background earnings can be quite nice –but it may be best as a supplement to your already stable income, as trying to live on background wages, which are always inconsistent and never guaranteed, is a high financial risk.
Truth #2: The Working Conditions
Sometimes background work can be extremely challenging due to certain conditions, such as –but not limited to: early call times, very long days, not more than the minimum required breaks, unpleasant weather conditions or physical activities required to be repeated. This is sometimes the nature of background work. Having said that, please refer to the minimum working conditions under the ACTRA agreements and report any violation to the union.
Truth #3: Where is the Dignity and Respect?
There have been some reported cases of lack of dignity and respect towards Background Performers.
It has been said that Background performers are often treated poorly.
This is unfortunate and has been raised by your union in negotiations and at pre-production meetings.
If you feel that there has been an incident whereby there is a lack of dignity and respect towards the background performers, please report it to your union.
Truth #4: ACTRA Represents Members at Large and Not an Individual Member
ACTRA is your union and we fight for:
- Increased funding for ACTRA productions (lobby the government for public funding and tax incentives) to attract productions to Montreal and create more work opportunities for our members.
- Enforcement of preference of engagement to ensure that casting/production engage our members in priority
However, ACTRA does not promote a particular member. If you -as an individual- are not getting background work, but our members are, then the production is complying with their obligations to hire members -as per the collective agreement.
Being a performer who works on contracts, means that you are working for yourself and need to develop your own self-promotion. You may also ask that an agent or manager promote you in exchange for commission. ACTRA does offer a free promotional tool allowing members to promote themselves via their profile on actraonline.ca which can help them be seen and obtain work. ACTRA cannot promote an individual member and ask that casting hire member Joe over member Bob.
To join the AABP, you must prove that you have worked fifteen (15) days as a background performer within the 12-month period immediately preceding your application for membership.
You can complete, print and sign this application form in advance and call or email ACTRA Montreal at 514-844-3318 or firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for Member Services. You will need to provide ACTRA Montreal with:
- Proof of at least fifteen (15) work days as a background performer during the past twelve (12) months and
- Proof of Canadian Citizenship in the form of a passport or permanent resident card.
- You must have 15 vouchers from the 12-month period immediately preceding the day you are joining. (Note: You cannot reuse these same 15 vouchers to count towards joining as an apprentice in the future.)
- All vouchers must be fully legible. If any of the information on the voucher is not able to be read due to damage, getting wet or being written on it will not be counted.
- Your vouchers must be in date order. That means the first voucher will be the oldest one in the 12-month period and the last voucher will be the most recent one.
- Do not submit duplicates. If you have the performer copy and the production copy that may have been attached to your cheque, only one can be submitted.
- No non-union vouchers will be accepted.
- If you have misplaced a voucher or have one that is too damaged to be accepted, we will accept a pay stub or a report from a payroll service instead.
- Separate vouchers specifically for COVID testing or wardrobe fitting do not count as a day of work and will not be accepted.
- Union membership. AABP members are ACTRA members.
- Can apply and participate in ACTRA Montreal Professional Development Workshops and Events
- Included in Background Lists we provide to Background Casting of our membership
- Access to make a profile on ACTRAONLINE and ACTRAONLINE Background
- Priority for White Vouchers over non-members.
- Can create and participate in Member Initiated Projects
- Receive ACTRA communications that go out to membership
- Invited to ACTRA Montreal Annual General Meeting
- Save! Enjoy Deals & Discounts brought to you by ACTRA’s partnership with Union Savings – Canada’s only not-for-profit, union run, members’ benefit program!
- Group rates on Home & Auto insurance and extended health benefits from the Arts & Entertainment Plan from Actra Fraternal Benefit Society.
- Opportunity for advancement. Earn your first ACTRA Apprentice credit by working 200 days/1600 background hours as an AABP Member.
To apply for an upgrade, you must fill out a Performer Upgrade Request Form and submit it to email@example.com. Remember that you have only 30 days (from your work date/date of the incident) to submit the form.
What is an upgrade?
Occasionally, a production will wrongfully categorize a performer. This, for example, may be an instance where a Background Performer should actually really be an Actor or maybe a Special Skills Extra should actually be a Stunt Performer. An upgrade is a re-classification of the category based on the requirements of the role in which the performer was engaged.
How Do I Know if I Deserve an Upgrade?
The following are definitions from the IPA of Background roles:
a) Background Performer means any Performer other than a Principal Actor or an Actor, who is:
- Not required to give individual characterization;
- Not required to speak or sing any word or Line of Dialogue;
- Not required to perform as a Special Skill Background Performer
- Engaged to perform, either alone or as a member of a team or group, special silent businesses requiring a level of proficiency or other physical skill within the competence of the average person, even if required to perform in dress clothes or costumes.
b) Photographic Double means a Performer doubling photographically for a member of the cast during on-camera long shots and other scenes in which the photographic double is not recognizable.
c) Stand-In is a Performer engaged to physically replace another Performer during a set-up period.
d) Special Skill Background Performer means a Background Performer engaged to perform, either alone or as a member of a team or group, special silent businesses with a level of physical proficiency or other physical skills superior to that of the average person, provided that such level of proficiency or other physical skills shall be deemed to exclude stunt work as provided for in A26.
Examples of such special silent businesses are:
- Water-skiing, diving, skin or scuba diving;
- Driving a marine vessel or a commercial motor vehicle, or any motor vehicle requiring a chauffeur’s license;
- Any sport such as, but not limited to, baseball, football, skiing, hockey, soccer, and horseback riding.
If you have been engaged in one of these categories, but are fulfilling the duties of another category, you may deserve an upgrade.
It is of paramount importance, however, that you realize that every instance is unique and what may be deserving of an upgrade under certain circumstances may not be at other times.
What is NOT generally deserving of an upgrade (and often assumed to be)?
- Being in proximity to the camera.
- Being in proximity to or touching the main actors.
- Receiving direction from the Director to perform tasks which require a level of proficiency of an average person – like opening a door, for example.
- Speaking when in a group.
- Having a name or title in the project – like wearing a stethoscope and being referred to as Joe, the Doctor.
- What is deserving of an upgrade?
- Individual characterization of a role.
What is deserving of an upgrade? Individual characterization of a role.
When you are not only Joe, the Doctor, but told that you are actually Joe- whose wife left him last night, ran over his cat in the driveway this morning, has been stealing prescription drugs from the hospital and selling them on the side who just happens to be a Doctor. Suddenly, you are a very specific, unique character. You are being asked to ACT. When in doubt, ask for the upgrade.
How Do I Ask for an Upgrade?
Ask. Ask the third A.D. Ask the P.M. if you get a chance. Ask the person responsible for background performers. Do not ask the Director. The person may say no (they probably will), but then, they may say yes. If you are upgraded on set, regardless of whether or not you should have been, the upgrade will stand. And everyone goes home happy. But they will probably say no.
So what’s next?
You file an upgrade request with ACTRA Upgrade Committee – a collection of ACTRA Business Reps who review these requests as a group. How?
- You must submit a Performer Upgrade Request Form to firstname.lastname@example.org. All Upgrade Requests MUST include a completed Request Form.
- Wait for a response. Based on the information provided, the Upgrade Committee will review the circumstances and conduct an investigation which may require them to request the raw footage from the production company (and could take as long as 8 weeks). Be patient.
- You will receive a letter informing you of the Upgrade Committee’s decision. Their decision is final. It is important to realize that you are not asking ACTRA for an upgrade. ACTRA has no right to upgrade anyone. What you are asking is for ACTRA to file a claim with a production for wrongfully categorizing you. When ACTRA does file a claim, the request may be for a straightforward upgrade or a request may be made for monetary compensation for the production’s negligence. When ACTRA files a claim, they win-because ACTRA does not file frivolous claims.
No. It’s just that simple. If you are a Full Member or Apprentice Member of ACTRA, you must work on a voucher or you will be in violation of the ACTRA By-Laws and Constitution.
Check the relevant collective agreement for the most current rates.
Are Meals Automatically Provided?
No. While this is common practice, within the agreement it is not always a requirement.
Can I Eat with the Crew?
Apprentice Members and Full Members who are background performers have the right to eat the same meal as the crew, but do not necessarily have to eat with the crew. That decision will probably be made for you as determined by the space available on set.
- Under certain circumstances (as defined by the collective agreement), production may not provide you with a meal during your lunch break, so be prepared – just in case!
- If you have a question, ask the person who is responsible for Background Performers (generally the 3rd A.D.). Do not disturb the Director or others.
- Stay quiet. This is essential!
- Be responsible and use common sense.
Yes, a Background Performer does not always get as much attention as other performers. Yes, there are sometimes hundreds of you on set. But remember that you are still on a contract with the production which requires that you behave in a conscientious and professional manner in accordance with our collective agreements, by-laws and constitution.
PLEASE READ THESE REQUIREMENTS CAREFULLY!
NO SUBMISSIONS WILL BE ACCEPTED UNLESS THEY ARE PROPERLY ORGANIZED.
YOU WILL BE INFORMED OF YOUR ACCEPTANCE BY EMAIL.
- You must submit an organized spreadsheet of the productions you worked on along with your vouchers that you have numbered to match the order on the spreadsheet. You must number your vouchers.
- Manually filled out spreadsheets are not acceptable. You must enter your hours into the spreadsheet provided on a computer so the spreadsheet can add your hours up accurately. If you are unable to do this yourself, ask a friend or family member for assistance.
- All vouchers must be fully legible. If any of the information on the voucher is not able to be read due to damage, getting wet or being written on by you, it will NOT be counted.
- The first 15 vouchers on your spreadsheet will be the 15 that you joined on. Any extra vouchers from the 12-month period before joining as an AABP will not be accepted. Do not include more than the 15 vouchers you joined with. The first voucher on your spreadsheet will be the earliest date of the 15 vouchers from the 12-month period before you joined.
- If you worked a few hours, but were paid for 8 hours, you can claim 8 hours. You may not include travel time, lunch hours or wardrobe calls. We count the hours you were paid to be on set only.
- For days you worked beyond the minimum 8 hours, you will not include lunch hours, wardrobe calls or travel time. Subtract one hour from every voucher when you worked more than 8 hours.
- Do not include separate vouchers for wardrobe fittings.
- Non-union work is not considered. Do not submit vouchers from non-union productions.
- If you have lost any vouchers, we will also accept a pay stub, or a report provided by a payroll service. We do not accept anything other than a voucher, a pay stub or a report from a payroll service.
- Minutes can only be rounded off in 15-minute increments. Do not calculate minutes worked with anything other than .25, .50 or .75 after the hour. This means that if you worked 10 hours and 15 minutes it should be recorded as 10.25 hours and NOT 10.15 hours.
- Vouchers from January 2019 and onward round off the hours worked in 6-minute increments, so the times allowed are as follows:
- :06 minutes will be rounded down to .00
- :12 minutes will be rounded up to .25
- :18 minutes will round down to .25
- :24 minutes will round up to .5
- :30 minutes is .5
- :36 minutes rounds down to .5
- :42 minutes rounds up to .75
- :48 minutes rounds down to .75 and
- :54 minutes rounds up to a full hour
- We will absolutely not consider any application where you are short the required 1600 hours. Please review your submission carefully for errors in the calculation of your hours.