London Productions: Key Things to Consider When Working with Background Actors
Dubbed by some as the “new Hollywood,” London’s film and TV production industry is red hot. As a location, London offers instantly recognisable backdrops from the historic Big Ben to the uber modern Shard, which makes it a destination of choice for producers worldwide.
And now – as the UK production boom continues and studios and production companies fight for space – many are turning their attention to the capital. In addition to its base at Shepperton Studios in nearby Surrey, Netflix is developing new studio space in Enfield, North London. Even the US is interested, with Atlanta-based Blackhall Studios developing a £150m studio space at the Thames Valley Science Park.
If you’re working on a film or TV show in the UK, chances are at least part of the project will be filmed in or around London. As special rules apply for background actors working in this region, this article sets out the key things you’ll need to consider.
Background actor rates
If your production is filming within 40 miles from Charing Cross, London, the Film Artistes Association (FAA) agreement will normally apply.
This agreement between Pact (the UK screen sector trade body representing independent production and distribution companies) and Bectu (the UK broadcasting and entertainment union) sets out the rates for engaging background actors (also known as “supporting artists”) on productions filming within the so-called “FAA zone.”
Note that on some occasions, a production may be explicitly working under a separate agreement (e.g., with the BBC).
Pact has agreed to support Bectu’s FAA Good Practice Guidelines for Availability Enquiries and Bookings of Supporting Artists, which outline a non-performance fee for testing days (equivalent to a half day’s pay).
This guidance has largely become the industry standard in the UK. It recommends that workers on HETV or major motion pictures be paid the full day rate if they must:
- Isolate before an engagement at the employer’s request;
- Quarantine following an engagement if required by the employer;
- Suspend work for a Covid-19-related reason;
- Visit an employer’s site to be tested (unless this is included in prep); or
- Stay at home to await a home visit for testing.
A worker who must do any of these is unlikely to be able to take work elsewhere. Lower budget productions should also try to pay all or most of the day rate. At the very least, workers should be paid 50% of their wage for a standard day (an FAA standard day is eight hours plus one hour for lunch). Background actors should be paid at least a non-performance call.
Production obligations and liability
Productions should supply agents with certain documents that they can pass on to background actors. These typically include:
- Release forms;
- Pence forms (if applicable);
- Covid-19 health declarations and policies (if applicable); and
- Data and privacy policies (if applicable)
Best practices when contracting background actors
The rate should always be included in an availability check (e.g., let background actors know that the Pact/FAA rates and terms apply).
At the booking stage, background actors must be informed of:
- The type of engagement (Clause 7).
- Transport information – if public transport is not available, the details of transport must be provided. If public transport is available, it must be running before and after a call (Clause 14).
- The call time, estimated length of day, location and parking information.
- Meals to be provided (in the absence of which a meal allowance should be paid).
- Make-up and costume arrangements (Appendix B).
Ideally, background actors should also be informed of the size of the cast so that they can decide whether they’re comfortable with the number of background actors who will be on set.
Background actors should also be informed of sickness provisions (including for Covid-19) in advance of calls. They should receive a minimum of full payment for the first day of sickness or symptoms should it occur. Remember that the full pay cancellation cut-off is now 3:00 pm the day before, not 5:30 pm.
In advance of the first day of work, all background actors should be provided with a written statement of particulars, including notice of who the employer (i.e., the engaging production) is.
Under the FAA agreement, background actors must be paid by the following Friday. The agreement now takes into consideration e-chits and chitless systems, with Clause 12 requiring productions to:
- Sign out background actors in the presence of an AD at the end of a call; and
- Give background actors details of their fee for the day.
This is intended to reduce delays, errors and omissions on chits, all of which delays eventual payment of background actors.
Productions can leverage technology to speed up the sign-in and out process and pay background actors on time.
How EP can help
The EP Casting Portal is an efficient and compliant way to pay your background actors on time, every time. Sign in and wrap artists digitally, calculate pay automatically in line with the relevant union agreement and simplify the payment process. To find out more about using the Casting Portal on your next production, get in touch.