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The following is an article that was published in "Civil War News" in 1992. As I don't have the actual published version on my computer, this is from the original information submitted. Although it is 5 years old, I think it is still relevant.
I am posting this under my real name because I believe in what the article has to say and in the principals of the First Amendment (Free Speech). In doing so I am taking some risk and may already being blackballed by some production companies because of the earlier publishing of this article in the "Civil War News."
I have added an addendum to the end, to sum up some specific areas that my wife feels might be unclear in the article.
Re-Enactors and the Film Industry by Terrance C. Leavey
During the past several years, the interest in using reenactors in films has been increasing. This interest has been growing on both sides. We've seen reenactors used in such productions as: Far and Away, Ironclads, Back to the Future 3, Glory, Rambo 3, Alamo Price of Freedom, Young Riders and many more. There are good reasons for both sides to be interested in the use of reenactors in films.
The reenactor can bring a great deal to the film industry. They bring realism in Battles, Drill, Language, Wardrobe, Weapons, Accessories, etc. By being use to a para-military environment, reenactors work together well and are used to taking direction (orders).
With their experience and attitudes, scenes can be shot with less setup and in less takes. Time is also saved because they don't have to go to wardrobe, props, weapons and wranglers each day to receive and return their image. For the film crew time is money, often many thousands of dollars per hour. The need for less support personnel in these departments, also save the production money.
The film industry can offer a lot back to the reenactor. Reenactors have invested anywhere from several hundred to many thousands of dollars in their image(s). Yet, no matter how much you have, there is always more to be bought. With the "pay / costs reimbursement" you receive from films, you can help to support this expensive hobby. It can help buy uniforms or equipment, pay for travel or return some money to the family. It is also as if someone is giving you a "Paid Vacation" to do what you enjoy most.
In using reenactors, the film industry is adding credibility to "Living History" and "Living Historians". The industry is also showing their respect for professionals when they HIRE them for a production. They can create films that could not be created in any other way. Everything from realistic combat; not just in the foreground, but all the way into the background; Mass scenes of troops marching into battle, looking like soldiers not just background; etc.; etc.; etc.
You can become a part of this also. All you need to do is contact someone who has done it before and ask him who to talk to. But is it really that easy? The answer is Yes and No. Yes, you can get into movies that way; and no, there are a lot of mistakes that you could repeat. The fact someone has been in a movie, or more, does not mean that they know the ropes. There are lots of rumors and a many of them are way off.
Wages, benefits, wardrobe, props, livestock, agents and unions; these are all areas that may concern the reenactor interested in the industry. It really doesn't matter whether you want to do it for fun or for a living; if you don't know the facts, you won't get the most return for your effort and you could lose more than you gain.
The fact that you do reenacting for free has nothing to do with the movie business, any more than helping a friend build a barn would have anything to do with a construction company wanting to hire you to help build a building. Your time and experience are worth money and if you take part in a money making project you should be reimbursed.
There are currently three categories of "on screen talent". They are extras, stuntmen and actors. Extras are the people in the background, usually with little or no training. They are the people in the crowd, walking across the street, sitting in the restaurant, etc. Stuntmen are the people who do stunts. These stunts can be as simple as fight scenes or hard riding to body burns or high falls. Actors are of course the people who act; acting doesn't always involve "lines". Stuntmen and Actors are trained and experienced professionals.
WAGES (including Wardrobe, Prop and Livestock pay)
The wages depend on area of the country and whether it is a union shoot. For extras this varies from $35.00 to $90.00 per day. For stuntmen from $75.00 to $400.00 per day plus so much per stunt. For actors from $50.00 to $400.00 per day. This is for the basic person (not including "STARS" or specialists), no wardrobe, props, horseback riding or livestock. An extra amount is paid for these items. Wardrobe and props normally adds $15.00 to $50.00 per outfit per day; $30.00 or more is added if you are mounted; livestock adds $35.00 and up per day.
Add it up: extra wages with wardrobe and props are AT LEAST $50.00 per day and can be $105.00, or more, per day. For a mounted image with wardrobe, props, horse and tack at least $115.00 per day minimum. Typical rates for foot impressions have been from $50.00 to $80.00 per day; for mounted impressions from $125.00 to $175.00 per day. Projects that require "hard riding" often pay up to $250.00 a day. Cannon with limber rental of at least $125.00 per day, plus an amount per round (about $10.00 for a 1 lb. round). If you are asked to act or do stunts (as defined by the industry, not just what you think), then that should pay more. On a union shoot this should be at union rates, with a union contract.
Union actors receive residuals for each time a product is shown in a new market or contract period. These residuals are based on the original salary, the type of new usage and the industry area (Motion Picture, TV, Commercial, etc.). This is too complex to go into and not appropriate for reenactors; but it's part of a professional union actor/stuntman's wages.
Reenactors combine some of the aspects of all three categories. They are background extras, sometimes they are asked to do what is actually light acting or stunts and at times more. There are two problems with doing something for less than it's worth. First you short change yourself, second you anger the professionals by downgrading their efforts and undercutting what they have worked long and hard to build. The short changing of yourself should be a good enough reason to know what your worth, what is reasonable and get it.
You have invested a lot of money in uniforms, equipment and accessories. Each time you use these items, they receive wear and tear. They are also subject to being destroyed, misplaced or stolen. You have invested time in learning the period and your impression. This knowledge is also worth money.
For example, a western series shot in California paid reenactors $150.00 per day and the production supplied the horses. An Arizona western series recently paid $150.00 per day for a complete impression including horse. A TV commercial paid six reenactors $250.00, plus five days per diem, for a one day shoot that involved "hard riding" (for this shoot "hard riding" was defined as galloping across rough terrain).
Usually, the smaller the project, the better able they are to pay. Large projects usually can't afford to pay as well. Even small increments in money add up quickly when multiplied over a large number of people. Your involvement with a production should be a "Win, Win Situation". You should make sure they get a better "product" for their money, and if possible help them save money. They in turn should help to defer your costs involved with your travel, image, wear and expenses away from home.
Don't plan to make a living in the film industry. Very few on screen professional are even able to do this. Look at it as paid vacations and extra income and you won't be disappointed. Be reasonable in your expectations, but don't sell yourself short.
Most often the benefits have been two meals per day worked, camp area, water, showers, firewood and feed for horses seven days per week. Some shoots will pay per diem of up to $50.00 per day, but this is unusual.
The production company also carries insurance and/or workmen's compensation. As people do get hurt on almost every film, this is an extremely important consideration. If you are injured on the production and can't work your regular job, who pays your salary and medical bills.
Workman's compensation disability is based on the salary you received on the job where you were disabled, such as the movie set. And don't count on Social Security Disability, it requires that you are unable to work ANY job before you receive benefits. Many private insurance policies will exclude certain activities, especially if you receive some type of compensation. What about working for trinkets, what does that do to insurance? Unfortunately, companies often look for ways out of paying. You can sue the insurance company or Social Security, but remember who has the time and resources. If you broke a leg, you could be off work up to six weeks; can you afford this? And the injuries could easily be worse!!
Verify the quality of the benefits being offered. Remember, meals can be anything from green hot-dogs to edible and satisfying meals. The same is true for other benefits.
Check on the reputation of the reenactment coordinator; not just what he has done, but how well he did it. Who will be his reenactor staff; have they worked with him before? When checking on past events, many people remember the great battles and forget the problems with water shortages, bad food, long registration lines and other factors. Ask how everything went and, if possible, ask the staff from the past events.
WARDROBE, PROPS & LIVESTOCK
Wardrobe and prop companies usually charge 5 to 10% of item cost for a daily rate, three to four days for a weekly rate and often 50% of the weekly rate for additional weeks rental. Very expensive items, such as cannons, will be charged at lower rates. Livestock suppliers charge from $35.00 to $50.00 per day for horse and tack.
If you are asked to supply addition items for use in the production, you should rent these items to the production company. The best way is to deliver the items to the appropriate department head (Wardrobe Master, Prop Master, Boss Wrangler), let that department control the items during the production and return them to you at the end of the production. This is the way the production personnel are used to working and things will normally run smoother this way.
Should any items be lost, destroyed or stolen the production company should be charged for replacement value and should be aware of this up front. If you are unsure of the reliability of the company you are renting to, requesting a deposit is good insurance.
For reenactment units that attend as a group, there are some other area's to be addressed. These include: Accounting Fees, Taxes, 1099's, legal fees, licenses, legal responsibilities and more.
In the area of legal responsibilities, you or your organization can be sued for all types of things. Even if you win the case, it can cost substantial amounts for court fees, legal fees and etc. The production company can be protected by workmen's compensation laws, leaving you a target for a lawsuit.
There is a lawsuit pending against one organization, that was filed by a "reenactor" who was injured by a horse he rented from a third party for a movie. Though, he never made it out to the set, was paid directly by the production company and received workmen's compensation. Workman's compensation laws protected the production company but not the reenactment organization.
Especially when it comes to Freebies, be sure of what you are involved with. Just because the production is filming a specific movie, doesn't mean that is all that the film will be used for. Film footage is a "reusable product".
Unused footage often will be sold as "Stock Footage", to be used again and again. This means that the production company can make money each time the original project is shown and also make money by selling footage to other productions. It also means that your participation in a "important historical movie" could show up in a production you would not be "seen dead in". The production company often shoots an hour of film per day, how many days do they need for battle scenes in a 2 or 3 hour movie?
Don't get fooled by the "we don't plan to make money on this project"; production companies are not in the business of losing money. If you are asked to work for free, ask if the reenactor coordinators are also working for free or for a reduced amount.
On a union shoot all actors and stuntmen must be union or wavered. In many areas even the extras must be. Being union does not guarantee you work, but it does guarantee that you can't work on non union shoots.
Before joining a union, make sure that it will increase your income. Some states are "right to work states", and often productions come to these states to "get away" from the unions. This does not mean that they may not even pay union rates, but if you belong to the union you can't work a non union shoot. Even in a "union state" there is a lot of non union work and many actors can make as much or more money with these non union projects.
Remember the competition for union jobs is usually more trained and experienced, don't join before you're abilities are equal to union jobs.
Any individual or organization interested in pursuing movies, TV and commercials seriously, needs to consider signing with an agent. Agents make their money from you. For this arrangement to be worthwhile this should be as a percentage of what you make and the agent should be getting you work that you would not have gotten anyway. Other things your agent should do is to obtain contracts; verify the company hiring you has the ability, and reputation, to pay; promote you and get you auditions.
Not all agents make the majority of their money from work you do. Some make their money by getting you to take classes and buy composites. If you are not making money at something, there should be a limit to your investment. "Extras" do not need expensive composites or classes. Acting and stunt classes will not get you work. These things will only help you get in the door, your ability to obtain work depends upon your ability to sell yourself and the clients needs.
Signing with an agent does not mean that they will promote you or even submit you for parts. If your not submitted you can not be picked, it often takes twenty five auditions to get one part. Before signing with an agent, make sure what that agent will do for you. Be sure that the agent is contacted by casting directors, for the type of work you are interested in. And if an agent isn't getting you auditions, look for a new agent.
Sign with only one agent, unless the agents work in different areas (territory or type work). If two agents submit you the same casting people, the casting people will 'trash can' you, they don't want to figure out which agent submitted first and therefore represents you.
A good agent will get you more auditions and therefore more work. They can also get you more money and make sure that you are paid. If you find a GOOD agent, do not be afraid to sign an "Exclusive" contract. (Some agents will exclude reenactment work from the contract, ASK). A good agent can increase your income more than the amount you will lose in commissions, for the work you "could have gotten on your own". But be careful, a bad agent can bury you.
About the Author
Mr. Leavey is the head of the AzRA Reenactors' Association, an organization created to promote and coordinate the use of reenactors in films and commercials. AzRAHist also supplies historic consultants, wardrobe, props, location scouting and livestock. Mr. Leavey is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and has been an actor in projects such as: Glory, Young Riders, Witness to Survival and Unsolved Mysteries as well as commercials. He was also an actor/stuntman in the film Duelo de Colosos. He has been involved in over two dozen film projects since North South, Book 2, many as reenactor staff.
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