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Austin Actors
Chris Bonno

From an Austin Actor now in L.A.
by Chris Bonno

August 2000

Hi Actors:

I received this question from an actor buddy of mine in Austin and thought that the exchange might be informative to some of the "post-ers" at your site.


So what does that mean, "non-union"? Is doing a non-union commercial crossing the picket line right now?

ME: most cases.

Some insight from one of you who has moved on and has been saved many times by network residuals on commercials.

Austin is known as a place to shoot legitimate, network national commercials. Advertisers LOVE the place. When I was in Austin pursuing the local commercial career thing, I did many non-union spots because I was non-union and the spots were legitimately "non-union" ones (as opposed to many of the spots currently being cast with the casting directors LOOKING for non-union actors but for NETWORK commercials). But I eventually landed a role in a Network commercial and became SAG (SCREEN ACTORS GUILD) eligible.

In fact, it's easier than you think to become union in Texas. If you stick with it long enough, and work on getting your on screen, "tv chops" (much different than the onstage "chops" that most of we comics and theater actors all work on.) You have to take non-union gigs as practice for the days when you get the chance at landing a union spot. As you get better, you have the very real possibility of booking a union commercial and then you, after paying a fee, can get in the union which is more about YOUR FUTURE than you might think.

During the current strike. I don't believe the ":struck" jobs give you the option of becoming SAG eligible.

As far as I know, this is how it goes- In Texas if you were non-union and got a union spot, you would be "Taft-Hartleyed" and then becom SAG-eligible, meaning that when you are ready, after a certain time designated by the union, you can pay dues and start getting the benefits of being union.   

After being in this business for sixteen years, which I started in Austin at the old Comedy Workshop, I now have GREAT insurance, am eligible for pension when I'm sixty-five and have a sense of pride where the union and what it represents is concerned...not to mention an ace resume... <>

There are nothing but PERKS in being part of a union. They've made it so I have a set wage on these TV jobs I get...NO haggling with some ner-do well who's working on a non-existant budget who doesn't want to pay me after I've done the job, which has happened doing non-union stuff. I had one guy declare bankruptcy because of a divorce and suddenly my underpayment for 18 or so hours of work of $200 was completely unattainable!!

I get BENEFITS when I work union. I'm also in good company. I've joined the professionals who have gone through the same process to get where I am. I knew I was talented when I was non-union, and it was frustrating not doing the big jobs, but every one of the little ones prepared me in ways I didn't realize at the time, for the the bigger budget ones where there's MORE PRESSURE on you to GET IT RIGHT. Thank God for me getting the crappy non-union regional gigs so I could see the difference...

NO matter what you get you STILL have to prove yourself and that pays off later.

Simply put--The advertisers want to bust the union. To do that they have to continue working without hiring union talent. If you are NON-union and do a commercial now, there's a good chance it's a network spot, posing as a non-union one...They have been hiding the fact that their spots are "struck" ones here in L.A., and other towns, to get away with busting us. They are out to break the union when they, the advertisers, are at a peak where their earnings are concerned. It serves no one but them. If they went to Austin to avoid L.A. and New York strikers, only to find that Austin, and other smaller but talented markets, are SAAVY to their shell game, to their "con", then we might be able to break them.

Ask the folks in town who know me...I started pursuing the TV market THERE, in Austin and am making it happen, little by little, HERE in LA. 

If you're thinking about crossing a line to get your big funny face on tape because you're "really good" and "now's your chance"... don't do it. That's their "con". Their playing you. They want you to be eager and sign their release form that allows them to use your face in perpetuity across the universe for the rest of your life (or the duration of the commercial) with no chance of you EVER getting paid more than you made the day you shot it!! I've already been exploited by the LAST crappy deal we made for cable pay...They showed my spot into the ground, which affects how quickly I'll get hired again. I got a flat fee for cable. Something around 2500 bucks that becomes 1300 after taxes and commission for a thirteen week period...They're trying to take all of the payoff away from us for our years of annoying sacrifice and struggle. I just want to succeed in having the quality of life all of us would like...which can be a pretty modest one compared to your average bookkeeper.

If I worked EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE shooting a new commercial each day I could make a good living that way but even the VERY BUSY ACTORS may work only three or four days a year on spots, while auditioning the rest of the time, juggling night jobs to keep their days open to remain competitive. It can be murder on the months that you have to do catering or a restaurant gig. But MAN do I LOVE the WORK and want to do it until I get old because it's what I enjoy doing.

Why not do it right? Why not be as respected as the DP or the concept person from the ad agency? We're bringing it to life and have been picked over sometimes hundreds of applicants fo the job!!!...Not to mention the times we get picked for the job after ALL the sacrifice, are on HOLD for the days to shoot and then are told that they've GONE WITH SOMEONE ELSE!!!

This profession can be a nightmare. But, when you get the work, start building your reel, know that you have medical insurance and a long history of respected actor's who created the union supporting you, you can't help but feel that it's all worth it. Heck I did my one of my first tv movies in Texas (Knightrider 2000) and William Daniels, our SAG president was in the darn thing! (His voice was) How cool is that? So was Mitch Pileggi of the X-Files... All from just plugging away at it in Texas.

Think twice. The union IS your friend. It's worth getting into if you want to be a professional, have plans to have a family and intend on staying in the field...Or just want to work with some of your heroes who are all in the UNION!

Screen Actors Guild folks are very nice once you get in. I used to call the union office in Houston. The fee there was less than to join in LA and made it easier to do so when I finally got here.

There. Done. Go strike. Don't let em bust us.

Chris Bonno

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