Balance Between Worlds
It’s a tough life making ends meet as an SA. The picture above demonstrates perfectly the nature and in some cases the extremes that some people will go through to pursue this line of work. And I just want to hold them by thier shoulders, look deep into their eyes and slowly but firmly reiterate “YOU. WILL. NOT. SUCCEED.”
There are very few people who can survive this career purely on SA work. I consider myself extremely lucky enough to have a report with various AD’s and agents and thankful for work at least 2 days a week but I still need my part-time weekend job at a warehouse to keep my head above water. Especially during the quiet months.
Allow me to elaborate how dire the SA game can be, let us create an apt and common hypothetical scenario. So, you want to be an SA? Great! You’ve signed up to an agency, got an inquiry, follow through the messaging procedure, had a long but fun day on set. Woohoo! Time to get paid, right? Eventually…
See, some agencies take anything from 3-6 weeks to pay you in various methods from easy BACS into your account to cheques which will take 5 working days to process. The dodgier agencies (who how they get away with it, god knows..) like to hold onto your money to incur interest then pay you. Even though by law they are required to pay you within 28 days of receiving the money. Still, good days eventual pay right? Well, all agencies take a 15% commission fee plus VAT (so flat-out 18% comes off regardless). Oh wait! I forgot this is your first booking, right? Don’t forget that one-off annual admin fee. This could range from standard £20 to some changing £60! And good luck getting more than one day a year out of those agents. So, on this hypothetical day you’re on an Equity PACT rate which (includes holiday pay) is £75.09. So take off agency commission and VAT (£13.52) and that one-off admin fee (£20 for arguments sake). You’ve just taken home £41.57 for a (up to) nine hour day which is equivalent to £4.62 per hour. Well below the minimum wage.
But that’s not all. It gets worse. Then there are agencies trying to undercut the competition of other agencies by offering their SA’s at deal rates. Deal rates are essentially a reduced flat-rate for all their background staff, normally exclusively used as a kind of “bulk discount” on large group scenes but become more commonplace by, again, the dodgier agencies. A perfect example of this was a shoot I did earlier in the year where we were shooting a riot scene. Due to my weapons training, I was booked through a military-esque agency whilst the rioters were through previous referenced dodgy SA agency. The SA’s were on a flat £75 deal rate for up to 12 hours whereas I was paid £130 + £20 travel. Yeah. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
But it doesn’t stop there as well. Some productions (including incredibly well-know ones) often drag people off the street, offering them anything from £20 cash-in-hand to nothing at all. And idiot joe-public doesn’t think twice about it as they become instantly star-struct at the prospect of being on the television. Which, I’d like to add right here and now, if you haven’t noticed by now reading this blog, is not as glamorous as you think it is.
Now going back to this boy and the post he issued on an agents private Facebook group. I understand the frustration he feels because I was offered the same job too. It lapsed on my real-world weekend job so I begged my manager to swap my shifts and grateful she did but in the end it was all in vain as we was informed the producers were “just going to film their mates instead”. Yes, I was gutted I missed out as it would’ve been a cool gig but I would never have quit my job for it. It is literally just not worth it.
Even if the gig wasn’t cancelled, sure it would’ve been nice to have a few hundred pound (eventually) and a nice weekend away, but what then? Ultimately you cannot, and I really can’t stress this enough to new guys, you cannot rely on SA work for a regular sustainable income. I’ve gone 2 months solid in the past with nothing on my plate, scraping pennies to get by to working 75 days straight without a day off. The unpredictability and it’s last-minute booking nature means you need something to fall back on.
The SA world is fun. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s awful. Sometimes you meet some like-minded insane people, you can’t help but laugh like an idiot in conditions where it’s like Noah is about to rock up in his boat. But there needs to be a balance between the SA world and the real-world for most people. There are few who do survive on a purely creative career and I take my hat off them them. I really do. I envy them. The disillusion needs to be broken about our industry, we work hard to make a living and constantly battle between dodgy pays, competition between people willing to work for free and giving up your crappy pub job for one days SA work will not be glamorous thereon out.
SA’s don’t choose this job to be famous, those who do seriously underestimate how much of a blur the back of their head is on screen and are definitely in the wrong job. We do it because we enjoy it, and if you want to enjoy it too you need to be happy, comfortable and often flexible in the real-world first.