Significantly well aware of the fact that 99% of the highly-paid Departments on Hollywood sit-coms who work approximately two days a week on a show and have little or no respect for my humble job as a (usually four or five days a week) Stand-In, I’m quite accustomed to being regarded as perhaps one miniscule step up the Tinsel Town ladder from the generally unappreciated throngs of background actors.Throughout my career, I’ve been (ahem) “asked” to move to the back of the line at Craft Services so that the Director, Actors and “real crew” could eat lunch first on camera blocking days; I’ve been relegated to the empty audience seating during run-thrus when the Network and Producers are present on stage; and have even been told to “try to be invisible” when I’ve successfully filled in for the occasional voice-over all week before the official Chosen One had been hired.
Welcome to Hollywood…
And flopping awake to a text message early in the morning from an AD I know and adore, I read the information carefully:
“R U available for BOTH SI and BG this Thurs, and BG on Fri?”
And right there in front of my eyes, was that wacky Universe’s Twisted Sense of Humor that I’ve grown to passively/aggressively love and despise!
FIRST of all, yes of course I could stand-in on a show if that was my one-day challenge; but apparently I would also be required to perform double duty as a background actor (for a single paycheck), which would entail presenting multiple wardrobe changes to the Costumers; as well as being treated like chattel for two days in a row, all the while praying hungrily for a meager untoasted bagel or half of a leftover stale donut.
SECONDLY, I was not about to trot my clothing around for the disapproval of the contents of my closet which does not currently consist of business attire, sports equipment, glamorous ball gowns or whatever nonsense the casting people wished me to lug from my car (which of course would have to be parked absolutely as far away from wherever the stage might be).
And THIRDLY, I didn’t particularly care for the idea of being corralled into a group of talented people who possess a unique skill-set of patience and tolerance that I’ve never been able to master. (An Advertising Exec friend of mine once gave me the chance to be BG in a national Snickers commercial, but the Director kept admonishing my left elbow in the shot for being “too animated”.)
Frankly, if I were recruited to be BG at my age these days, I would probably attempt to steal the scene in a restaurant and throw food at people because I find it incredibly, logistically unbelievable (if you ever watch sit-coms) how everyone nods and agrees with each other most pleasantly in that Utopian atmosphere where conflict isn’t permitted to exist unless it’s specifically scripted.
What? No drama in their fictional lives? Pfft! Who really lives like that?!?!
Now, as I’m a free-lancer in Tinsel Town, I recognize that my fellow co-workers on their miscellaneous rungs (higher or lower than mine on the Hollywood Ladder being of no consequence here), may adamantly agree to disagree with my decision to respectfully decline the offer on the grounds that I ought to be able to suck it up and appreciate the opportunity (be it my “forte” or not).
But I’ve learned over the past few years that ultimately, it’s up to each and every one of us to decide for ourselves just what standards and behaviors we accept or reject in our lives – be it personal or professional.
Logging on to the computer that evening - an unsuccessful twinge of guilt trying desperately to burrow into my belly - I cast all doubt aside and actually felt an enormous sense of pride that I had chosen to respect myself for making the choice that was right for me.
And scrolling through emails, I admit I was more than unnerved to see a personal correspondence in my inbox from my previous UPM…
“Well, that can’t be good” I sighed, as our show isn’t scheduled to begin its second half of our season until October. “Oh dear God, what if he’s giving me the heads up early that I’ve been replaced, that I should shop around now, and should immediately accept any other offer should it come my way? Oh, and on the only day in my career when I had finally found the balls to decline what could perhaps end up being my last two days in show business?! Uck, just shoot me now…” I withered.
But finding my courage one more time, I clicked on the email only to read the following:
“Hey Penny –
“I’m starting to get (our show’s title) set-up and you’ve been on my mind. Just want to make sure you are going to be able to come back and join us this fall! xo”
And just like that, this One Red Cent felt the heartwarming respect of the One Percent that comfortingly compensated for every other variable in my Inexact Equation of Appreciation!!!
I must say, that I have been tempted by a few other queries as to my possible availability for upcoming shows this fall (including my previous Network gig that gave me an on-camera speaking role); but the simple human act of making me feel important by reaching out to me personally (not through the casting company that books Union Stand-Ins) sealed the deal. And confirming to my UPM that despite other opportunities (sort of) presented to me, my loyalty does indeed lie with him.
“Aww. I adore you :) Talk soon” he replied.
(Seriously, when I eventually accept my Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress for a Situation Comedy, he and his husband will be right there on my “Thank You” list!)
As my occasional Screen Actors Guild residual checks (at least as of June 16, 2012) are still proudly mailed in SAG labeled envelopes (I hope they continue to use EVERY SINGLE LAST ONE IN STOCK!!!), I tried to rally a wee bit of enthusiasm at the envelope in my mailbox from the SAG–AFTRA ONE UNION Residuals Department.
I was grateful of course that my dues were in fact working for me and that there are people out there diligently making certain that I am compensated for re-runs of episodes that I’d performed in; but the giddy “OOH-WHAT-COULD-IT-BE?!!!” excitement of finding compounded monies of untold fortunes on any given day that I used to embrace had long since passed…
Honestly, it’s tough to get aroused when you’ve been unwittingly negotiated down to a pimp/whore AFTRA level contract where any cable TV show has been stripped down to its tattered fishnet stockings and finds itself the equivalent of strolling down the Boulevard, willing to hop into a Pinto for a cheap ride.
Yet nevertheless, I teased the envelope open and glanced at the top bit of information – that being re-uses of my cable episode that aired five more times!
Hey, this could be a decent check!
After all, my first residual for this particular episode had paid around $600.00 (albeit only after they were allowed to run it freely ELEVEN TIMES IN A ROW before paying me a DIME), but certainly another five episodes would surely yield at least a few happy hundred bucks!
And tearing open the envelope to collect my riches and begin to make preparations for the purchase of my future Hollywood Hills mansion, I stared blankly at the check.
Granted, before taxes, the net earnings were $85.52, and there was the automatic deposit into my savings at a separate Credit Union of $40.00, but…, but…, but…, twelve bucks???
Now, having suffered from either food poisoning or a bout of the flu the last couple of days, I understood that perhaps I wasn’t quite right in the head. (Shocking, I know!) But wasn’t there a zero missing somewhere in SAG-AFTRA ONE UNION’s bottom line???
Excavating an old phone number for the payroll company – which is not the Union itself - but who have long ago stopped printing that helpful bit of information on their pay stubs, I eventually spoke to a human being in Accounting who seemed equally confused by the drastic cut in compensation. “Let me connect you to a specialist in the residuals department” the kind lady offered, unable to explain the anomaly.
And chatting with “Mary”, I laid out the situation.
“Hmm… Ohh… That’s a cable show…” I could almost hear her shudder with utter disdain as she studied her computer screen. “You should have checked with your Union for the pay-scale, because according to our records, once they air it eleven times, they only have to pay you about 1% for the next five re-runs. And of course after that, it decreases from there” she added, matter-of-factly.
LESS than ONE PERCENT?
Welcome to Hollywood…
Still choosing to look at the world with a glass half full (of 2% milk!),
~Lactose tolerant P