One of my biggest goals for 2017: book a commercial. At the beginning of 2017 I had cultivated a modest number of acting/modeling credits to my name, and it seemed to me that booking a commercial would be the next big goal to work toward. I can’t tell you how long I’ve lusted over booking a commercial. Not only would it be a blast to shoot a commercial, but who knows what opportunities a commercial gig could create?
I’ve come close three times this year and watched each one of those opportunities slip by.
The first opportunity, I made it to the final round of casting but didn’t make the cut.
The second opportunity, I had a last-minute scheduling conflict.
The third and most recent opportunity, the production team and I couldn’t agree on the contract.
Allow me to elaborate on that third one.
A couple weeks ago, I responded to a casting call on Facebook (where I find many reputable casting calls actually) seeking actors for an insurance company commercial. It was a small project in the northern part of Illinois, about 100 miles away from my place near the city. Yes, there would be quite the commute involved and the rate of pay was practically pennies, but I liked the script, thought it sounded like a fun project, and I was intent on reaching this goal.
I submitted my taped auditions and the production company supporting the project emailed me back: I was booked for the commercial! Huzzah!
We emailed back and forth discussing wardrobe and scheduling options. I had yet to see a contract, but I wasn’t concerned! I was going to be in a commercial! I mentioned my achievement to a dear friend of mine, and her infinite wisdom urged me to request to see the contract ASAP and ensure the terms of usage were appropriate.
As she explained, if you’re not careful with your terms of usage on a project, a client could end up using your work forever (typically phrased as “in perpetuity” or “indefinite usage” in these contracts) and only pay you once for your work (total buyout). Furthermore, when an actor transitions from non-union to union status with an “in perpetuity” project on their resume, there’s a chance they can never do a project for a different business in the same type of industry as it is considered a conflict. So, if I were to go through with the commercial for this smaller insurance company and sign a contract allowing them to air it indefinitely, and in two years State Farm approaches me to do a commercial, there’s the possibility I wouldn’t be able to do it because my likeness was already associated with another insurance company; a competitor. As far as my research says, most of these “indefinite use” projects are non-union, and the union has more stipulations in place to prevent this from happening. But for us little guys not at union status yet? You gotta know your facts and be careful.
With all this insight, I requested a contract from the company. They responded saying they wouldn’t draft an official contract for this project (strike 1) and sent a generic actor release form. In this release there weren’t any specific details about the commercial, no beginning air date or end date, except for “indefinite use” (strike 2). I communicated my concerns, and they responded with an addendum stating a maximum air date throughout Illinois only for 18 months, but the spot would be promoted online indefinitely (strike 3).
At this point I ran this by my agent, who knows I book a lot on my own as well as through her, heck she encourages it. It’s a very collaborative effort, which I’ve always valued and I often ask her opinion on projects I book on my own. I brought this scenario to her and her response was, “No. Just no. Absolutely not. They’re not using an agency for a reason. They’re hoping to take advantage of you. You’re worth more than what they’re offering.”
So I backed out of the gig. I was devastated to do so and felt awful about leaving this team without an actor, after I gave them my verbal commitment for the project. My decision was also continuously challenged when the production team emailed me back with a series of harshly toned and not exactly understanding messages…Although, I have to say their reaction to my concerns confirmed for me that it was not the right opportunity for me.
While this gig would have been a good milestone for me creatively, it would have been a bad business decision and could have potentially jeopardized future commercial opportunities. I’m running a business. Sure, it’s a creative and fun business, but it is still a business. It’s one that I devote myself to each and every day, building slowly each day, strengthening my foundation and growing my knowledge about the industry daily. Could I have handled this differently? Absolutely. And thanks to this situation, I understand what to ask for moving forward during other negotiations. I also have a further understanding of the responsibility I have to myself and to my business to pursue opportunities that will propel my business forward. In addition to seeking projects that satisfy my creative desires, I must ensure that these projects also measure up in business terms. Understanding this balance between business and creativity, I acknowledge now that it is not only my duty, but my right as an entrepreneur to remove myself from a project when it doesn’t align with my terms and values. And as tough as it was, that’s exactly what I did. Well, after consulting with a few of my closest confidants who lent me their ears during this day of length negotiations, that’s exactly what I did.
Here’s the really eerie part – after I sent the final email declining the commercial spot, my agent called me with a booking for a commercial. Not a starring role, but a supporting role – complete with the proper terms of usage. Thanks, Universe.
After this experience, I am reminded to be patient – sometimes it’s not the best idea to jump for every opportunity. I am reminded to always get a second opinion when dealing with contracts, and that there isn’t anything wrong from backing away from a bad business deal. I am reminded to know my terms and stand by them, upholding them in every business interaction. I am reminded to listen to my gut and to trust that with hard work and perseverance the right opportunities will find themselves to you.