Have SAG-AFTRA Stand-Ins in New York Been Underpaid When Photo-Doubling? (We Think So.)

By | 2017-08-01T16:05:04+00:00 August 2nd, 2017|Concepts, Debates, Editorial, Lessons, Terminology, Tips, Tricks|0 Comments

With recent confusion about the tentative 2017 Theatrical Agreement and whether New York stand-ins who photo-double would get an increase in their photo-double adjustment from $10 to something higher, something about the wording of the 2005 Basic Agreement also came to light:

Is it incorrect to pay only a $10 adjustment to stand-ins who photo-double in the New York Zone?

We think so. In fact, by the contract wording, we believe that stand-ins who photo-double should be getting what equates to double the stand-in adjustment rather than simply a $10 adjustment.

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s a dive into the contract language that leads us to believe so.

About the 2005 Basic Agreement

The 2005 Basic Agreement is the master contract for work by SAG-AFTRA members in motion pictures and dramatic television. If you are a stand-in in New York or California and you want to know how producers should be treating you, the 2005 Basic Agreement will probably dictate those terms.

Various memoranda of agreement altering the rates and terms of the Basic Agreement have come out over the years, when the union SAG (now SAG-AFTRA) and the AMPTP negotiated changes that were ratified by the union’s affected members. In terms of the issue at hand, the main changes the various memoranda of agreement have made have been in increases in the rates stand-ins make.

In July 2005, stand-ins made $137/8 hours. Stand-ins received pay increases each year under various subsequent memoranda of agreement. The 2014 Memorandum of Agreement gave stand-ins pay increases of 5% starting in July 2014, and subsequently in July 2015 and July 2016. As of June 2017, stand-ins make $189-$195/8 hours depending on the exact kind of film or television project.

Background Actors in the New York Zone — And Stand-Ins — Are Covered in Schedule X, Part 2

Most of the 2005 Basic Agreement covers performers — that is, principal actors, not background actors. Background actors are covered in two different “schedules” toward the end of the document. Stand-ins are also included in these schedules, where they are fundamentally classified as “background actors.”

The first schedule — Schedule X, Part 1 — covers background actors who work in the zones consisting of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Hawaii, and Las Vegas. The second schedule — Schedule X, Part 2 — covers background actors who work in the zone consisting of the New York City and its surrounding area (a zone which is more clearly defined in the Basic Agreement).

The language of Schedule X, Part 2, is what interests us in this article. As for what the adjustment should be for stand-ins in the New York Zone who also photo-double on the same day, we look to the language of Schedule X, Part 2.

There Are Numerous Background Actor Classifications

Schedule X, Part 2 (3), distinguishes four types of background actors in the New York Zone:

  • General Background Actor
  • Special Ability Background Actor
  • Stand-In
  • Skaters and Swimmers

Each type of background actor receives a different rate.

Under the Agreement that expired on June 30, 2017, these are their rates:

  • General Background Actor: $162/8
  • Special Ability Background Actor: $172/8
  • Stand-In: $189/8
  • Skaters and Swimmers: $418/8

(Note that these rates are for SAG-AFTRA film and television. For AFTRA Exhibit A television, the rate for general background actors is $167/8, for special ability background actors is $177/8, for stand-ins is $195/8, and for skaters and swimmers is $435/8.)

Stand-In Work Is Special Ability Work

In the above list, while special ability background actors and stand-ins are separate classifications, it’s not actually that clear whether they are separate classifications in the contract.

In fact, Schedule X, Part 2 (3)(B), includes “stand-in work” in a list of examples of special skills. Its first passage reads (bolding and underlining added):

The special ability background actor rate shall be paid to background actors who possess special ability and who are specifically called or assigned to perform work requiring such special ability. Special ability shall include but is not necessarily limited to the following areas of special skill: Riding horses, driving horses, handling livestock, non-professional singing (excluding atmospheric singing in groups of more than 16), mouthing to playback in groups of sixteen or less, professional or organized athletic sports (water polo, polo, football, basketball, baseball, tennis, golf), sports officiating, riding or handling camels or elephants, amputees, insert work, practical card dealing, stand-in work, skating and actual swimming not covered under this Section 3. above nor Schedule J, skateboarding, driving that requires a special license such as trucks, limousines or motorcycles, playing of a musical instrument, and any choreographed social dancing not covered under Schedule J.

So, given this passage, a stand-in is not just a background actor, but specifically one type of special ability background actor.

On its face, it may seem contradictory that stand-ins are distinguished from special ability background actors in the list in Part 2 (3). However, there is no contradiction. The list simply clarifies that stand-ins are a special kind of special ability background actor in that they are paid more than standard special ability background actors.

Similarly, special ability background actors who drive animals are also a special kind of special ability background actor with their own special rates, depending on the number of animals they drive. To that point, Schedule X, Part 2 (3)(B), reads:

The minimum daily wage scale for a special ability background actor driving horses (or other animals) shall be increased by ten dollars ($10.00) for each two (2) horses (or other animals) in excess of two (2).

How Photo Doubles Are Paid

As for photo doubles under the Agreement that expired on June 30, 2017, their pay rate is not explicit. Instead, a couple of passages determine how photo doubles should be paid.

If you are a background actor who has been asked to photo-double, then Schedule X, Part 2, 3(A)(2), applies. It reads:

A general background actor required to do photographic doubling shall be paid the special ability background actor rate.

This would mean that a photo double on a SAG-AFTRA film or television project would be paid $172/8, which is equal to the special ability background actor rate. (This rate would be $177/8 for photo doubles on AFTRA Exhibit A television.)

However, if you are a special ability background actor who has been asked to photo-double, then a different passage — Schedule X, Part 2, 3(B)(4) — applies. It reads:

A special ability background actor assigned to do photographic doubling shall receive, in addition to his basic rate, the difference between the general background actor rate and the special ability background actor rate.

Note that a formula is used to determine the rate adjustment for a special ability background actor who also photo-doubles. That formula is:

[The Special Ability Background Actor Rate] minus [The General Background Actor Rate]

The trouble with the above passage is that “the special ability background actor rate” is not a single rate.

There Are Numerous Special Ability Background Actor Rates

As outlined above, there is a rate for special ability background actors — and a special rate for special ability background actors who do stand-in work. There are also special rates for special ability background actors “driving horses (or other animals).”

Under the Agreement that expired on June 30, 2017, those rates on SAG-AFTRA film and television are:

  • Special Ability Background Actor Rate: $172/8
  • Stand-In: $189/8
  • Special Ability Background Actor Rate Driving 4 Animals: $182/8
  • Special Ability Background Actor Rate Driving 6 Animals: $192/8
  • Special Ability Background Actor Rate Driving 8 Animals: $202/8
  • etc.

(Under AFTRA Exhibit A, special ability background actors earned $177/8, stand-ins earned $195/8, and the special ability background actors driving animals earned a rate starting at $187/8.)

Given the above, there are clearly multiple special ability background actor rates. No one rate constitutes “the” special ability background actor rate.

Also given the above, these are all basic rates below which the special ability background actor cannot work. In other words, $172/8 is not the basic rate for stand-ins — instead, $189/8 is the basic rate for stand-ins. Stand-ins cannot work at $172/8.

Determining the “Basic Rate” for Special Ability Background Actors Who Photo-Double

Remember that Schedule X, Part 2, 3(B)(4), outlined how the photo-double rate was calculated for the special ability background actor who photo-doubled. Here it is again (bolding and underlining added):

A special ability background actor assigned to do photographic doubling shall receive, in addition to his basic rate, the difference between the general background actor rate and the special ability background actor rate.

For the stand-in who also photo-doubles on the same day, the basic rate for stand-ins should be used in the formula to determine the final rate, not the basic rate for special ability background actors who perform a non-exceptional skill.

On a SAG-AFTRA film or television production, to determine the photo-double adjustment for a stand-in, that calculation would be:

[The Special Ability Background Actor Rate] minus [The General Background Actor Rate]

$189 − $162 = $27

In other words, the stand-in who photo-doubles on the same day should receive a $27 adjustment for the photo-double work. That means that the stand-in who photo-doubles should be making a rate for eight hours equal to:

$189 + $27 = $216

$216/8 for stand-ins who photo-double conflicts with the standard rate stand-ins in the New York Zone usually get: $199/8.

(For AFTRA Exhibit A television, the calculations would be $195 − $167 to equal a $28 adjustment for the photo-double work, making the rate for the stand-in who photo-doubles equal to $195 + $28 = $223 for eight hours. These stand-ins standardly only receive $205/8 when also photo-doubling.)

Putting It All Together

Mathematically, the above findings mean that stand-ins who photo-double essentially make twice their adjustment. On SAG-AFTRA film and television, they receive a $27 adjustment on top of the general background actor rate for their stand-in work. Then they receive another $27 adjustment on top of their stand-in rate for their photo-double work.

Should you need a summary of the above, here it is:

  • To determine the photo-double adjustment for a stand-in who also photo-doubles:
  • Under the Theatrical Agreement expired on June 30, 2017,
  • Because stand-in work is classified as special ability background work in the New York Zone, and
  • Because stand-in work pays at a higher basic rate than most other special ability work,
  • If a stand-in in the New York Zone also photo-doubles,
  • Then the stand-in rate should be used in the photo-double adjustment formula as the special ability background actor rate.

The result of that calculation will equal — not a $10 adjustment — a $27 adjustment for stand-ins photo-doubling on SAG-AFTRA film and television productions. (It will equal a $28 adjustment for AFTRA Exhibit A television).

How we see it, it would be improper for a stand-in to use the standard special ability background actor rate in the photo-double adjustment formula — because that rate is not the basic rate for stand-ins.

Years of Payment Practice for Stand-Ins Who Photo-Double Conflict with the Above

For a number of years, standard practice on productions in the New York Zone has been to pay stand-ins who also photo-double a $10 adjustment. This interpretation has likely come from using the standard special ability background actor rate ($172/8) and subtracting the general background actor rate ($162/8), which equates to a $10 adjustment to the stand-in rate.

But with Schedule X, Part 2, so clearly outlining a formula for determining the photo-double rate for special ability background actors, and so clearly defining stand-in work as special ability work, and so clearly defining a higher rate for stand-ins than for other special abilities, it is a wonder why Schedule X, Part 2, has not been enforced as written.

Presumably, the confusing structure of the Schedule X, Part 2, is part to blame given that it does not distinguish stand-in work from special ability background actor work despite valuing it differently. Also to blame is the lack of transparency in the rates for photo doubles. Rather than spelling out the rates for photo doubles, Schedule X, Part 2, requires a reader to refer on other parts of the schedule to interpret those rates.

It may also be that SAG-AFTRA does not want to press for a photo-double adjustment higher than $10 for stand-ins. If so, the question becomes one worth pursuing: Why would the union not stand up for its stand-ins and instead side with management (the producers), when the union has clear, negotiated contract language that points to a higher photo-double adjustment for stand-ins?

What Can Be Done

It’s unclear what can be done. SAG-AFTRA would need to agree to enforce its Basic Agreement as worded to ensure that stand-ins in the New  York Zone are paid appropriately relative to the wording of Schedule X, Part 2. This might mean contacting a manager or director of television and theatrical contracts to make your case, to ensure the rate for stand-ins who photo-double is accurately enforced.

Should you find yourself in the predicament of only being offered a $10 adjustment for your photo-double work when standing in, you can use the above article as help in arguing your case with production for a higher rate. Alternately, you can choose to file a claim inquiry to have SAG-AFTRA look into getting you retroactive payment at the higher rate. You will probably also need to make sure you can provide contract interpretation like that above so that SAG-AFTRA does not simply disagree with your contention without looking more closely at the language of Schedule X, Part 2.

Have you always been paid a $10 adjustment when standing in and also photo-doubling? Have you ever argued successfully for more? What do you think of the above arguments for more photo-double pay for stand-ins? Post your comments below!

About the Author:

Ben Hauck (Editor, Stand-In Central) has stood in on a number of projects shot in the NYC area. In addition to day-playing, he has stood in on major projects for John Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Jason Bateman (The Longest Week, Disconnect, and The Switch), Jason Sudeikis (Sleeping with Other People), Seth Rogen (The Night Before), and Peter Facinelli (Nurse Jackie and American Odyssey). Ben is an actor and improviser, author of the 2012 book Long-Form Improv (Allworth Press), and host of The Acting Income Podcast. http://benhauck.com

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