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New Frontiers in Labor Exploitation

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Not only do you now have to pay to be an extra in a movie, but Groupon offers deals so you can pay less!

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  • UberMitch

    In fairness they claim this is an indie film and this is how they are raising funds. Sort of like Kickstarter but with contributing labor in addition to capital.

    • Manta1976

      My thought exactly, Uber.

      On the other hand: how much money would people pay to do my house chores?

      • UberMitch

        On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does your house have to do with zombies?

        • Manta1976

          Not much: maybe a 4? Except on Saturday night, where it gets a bit higher.
          But for a little extra, I can zombify it to an 8.

          • UberMitch

            SOLD!

      • Rhino

        I know a gay man who gets submissives off craigslist to clean his house. Apparently it’s quite a common fetish.

    • Right, and I appreciate the creativity in trying to get the film made.

      But I can also see some dollar signs flashing before the eyes of Hollywood producers. Even if they can get people to pay $20 a day to be an extra rather than get paid, I can see a future of this. And I think a lot of people would do it too.

      • DocAmazing

        Frankly, I’m amazed it hasn’t been done before and bigger.

        • Captain Splendid

          Because Extras, as useful as they are, have to be managed: Anywhere from dozens to hundreds of people need to be logged in, herded, perhaps fed through some sort of dress/makeup triage, and kept both relatively content and from creating any disruptions on the set.

          Which means the bigger a production gets, the less they worry about whether or not they can make some cash and more about accomplishing everything as smoothly as possible.

          • BradP

            I would bet that there are “talent” companies who specialize in providing extras.

            • heckblazer

              There are indeed. You’ve heard of the oldest one even if you didn’t realize; the phrase “call central casting” originally literally meant “telephone the casting agency Central Casting”. There also used to be an screen extras guild, though it merged with SAG a few years ago.

      • sparks

        Does any extra who gets left on the cutting room floor get his money back?

        I’m guessing no.

        • Dan Miller

          I’d imagine the people paying want the experience as much as actually being on film. Frankly, this would be a cool gift for a friend of mine who’s very into zombies. That does not rise to the level of exploitation.

      • Warren Terra

        I’m with Erik here. I don’t want to stand in the way of the enthusiasts backing this indie flick as an expression of their love for the genre, but I’m guessing that any film with major Hollywood glamour behind it – or even the illusion of same – could charge good money to be an extra. Want to be the blur in the corner of a restaurant scene featuring Will Smith or Angelina Jolie? That’ll cost you, friend.

        Heck, people pay to go on studio tours and watch reconstructions of the filming of movie scenes … so imagine what they’d pay to be in the real thing.

        • Anonymous

          Maybe at first, but film sets are supposed to be pretty boring. The days can be long, and most of the time is spent sitting around while shots are set up, repeating takes multiple times, etc. And it’s unlikely you would actually get to meet or in any way interact with the stars. I imagine the novelty would wear off very quickly if you weren’t getting paid.

          • heckblazer

            The standard joke is that they don’t pay you for acting, they pay you for waiting around. I was an unpaid extra for the wrestling match scene in the first Raimi Spider-man film. What was onscreen for maybe a few minutes took a week of 10-hour days to shoot. And lo behold only a quarter as many people showed up on the last day compared to the first (they moved people around between shots so there was always a full crowd in the background). Studio movies have a minimum required number of union extras, and even unpaid extras are required to at least get meals.

            If you aren’t shooting a scene in a high profile film you’re going to need to spend money to get the same people to keep showing up after the first day. If they don’t keep showing up it’s a noticeable continuity error and that’s true even in large crowd scene for the folks near the camera. To use my Spider-man experience again, the folks in the first three rows were all paid, and they stayed in the same seats even when they moved the crowd around.

            I’ve also done work as a non-union paid extra, and the standard minimum then was $50/day plus meals, with more for overtime. On one TV show the meant a hot meal at the commissary and full access to craft services, which was quite nice.

            • Were the meals any good?

              • heckblazer

                On Spider-man us unpaid folks got box lunches. When I actually worked how good and how much variety was available depended how much money the production had, whether or not it was on location and whether or not the peon extras got to eat with the actors. Even the forgettable cable shows shot on location had decent hot meals.

                Incidentally, I never planned to be an actor. I just happened to have been unemployed in LA and Spider-man made me notice a source of temp work.

        • Ken

          The screen actors guild would object. Yet another way that unions cut into the profit margin of corporations.

  • BradP

    This should be outlawed. I am outraged.

  • Tom S.

    For the right kind of money, I’d let you paint my aunt’s fence . . .

    • Billy Fisher

      I’ll give you a kite, in good repair, if you’ll let me whitewash for a while.

    • Ben Rogers

      ’ll give you the core of my apple

    • Johnny Miller

      I have a dead rat on a string. Can I go next?

  • Davis X. Machina

    Touch the hearts of the people and they’ll turn out in the tens of thousands, many in costumes, for free.

  • Matt

    I think that union rules would probably prohibit this on most major studio pictures

  • tt

    Clearly the people signing up for this have no agency and therefore need Erik Loomis to speak up for them.

    • BradP

      Alright, I have to bite. What exactly is the exploitation here?

      Even if this were a major motion picture, what would be the exploitation here?

      • BradP

        I didn’t intend that as a reply to you, tt.

        My apologies.

      • mpowell

        You could compare it to an unpaid internship (or I imagine Erik would). Just because something is achieved through consent, doesn’t mean exploitation isn’t present.

        My view is that there is legitimate space for this kind of activity as unpaid or even with money going the other direction. It depends on the nature of the task and the paid employee that is potentially being displaced. I don’t have a fully developed theory, but I’m not sure that ‘background in film’ is a real worker class that needs protecting.

        • sparks

          “Dress Extra” was a valued position in the silents, one could make a living at it. “Background Zombie” just doesn’t have the same ring.

          I still don’t think this is a good idea. If anyone wanted to invest in the film, why can’t they do it direct? This seems a duplicitous way of getting investors you never have to pay if the film’s a success. I wonder if the suckers will even get a film credit to point at.

        • Dan Miller

          The difference between this and an internship is that interns are implicitly promised that the internship will lead to better things–a job, or even a line on a resume that will lead to other things. In other words, they’re acting instrumentally. These people are doing it for pleasure–they want to have fun dressing up like zombies, and the pleasure of seeing their names in the credits.

          • This seems like the major difference, yes.

          • Nutella

            If the unpaid internship leads to a job then it’s illegal. Yes, a lot of companies do it but almost all of them are breaking the law.

            • mpowell

              That doesn’t contradict his point. Unpaid internships as a apprenticeship replacement are both highly unethical and illegal.

        • Lindsay Beyerstein

          If this model caught on, it could be a lot like unpaid internships.

          In acting, as in other creative fields, you’ve got a huge pool of aspirants who are willing to work for nothing in order to build their resumes. If everyone starts doing this, this unpaid apprenticeship becomes the de facto price of admission to the field, even if it started as an optional enrichment activity.

          • mpowell

            In this case, I think this is a non-concern. The hiring process for acting is not exactly meritorious but it is capricious in different ways than suggested here. I can’t imagine ‘background cast’ becoming a requirement of any significance on a resume.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    The last episode of X-Files shot in Vancouver needed a crowd of extras in BC Place stadium. It was unpaid, but doubled as a way for Chris Carter and Gillian Anderson to say a fond farewell. The paid “goodbye” event in a more intimate theater was untethered from the actual show.

    So you can see me in an X-Files episode. I’m the blue pixel on the top corner of the wide shot of the fleeing crowd for 2 frames when the assassin attempts to shoot the psychic chess kid.

    Good times.

  • Mo

    It’s been said above, but in filming, time is money. Lots of money. Having to redo a shot because an extra messed up would cost more money than paying all the extras.

    An astonishing percentage of micro-budget indies never get enough footage in the can for there to be a final film. The unpaid people have mutinied and/or just not shown up because they got a paying gig.

    • Mo

      Although, I’d like to add, this is fairly clever. They are raising money for their film by offering the extras cool footage of themselves professionally made up and shambling as zombies. That is what the Grouponees are paying for. The filmmakers are then not giving them the video until after they’ve done the extra work.

  • steverino

    I had a shipmate who was on the USS Dallas when they were filming “The Hunt For Red October.” He and several other crewmen were given the opportunity to be extras; they had to take leave (burning their own vacation time); I don’t know if they were paid over and above their military pay, but I doubt it. He said it was tedious, but it did give the control-room scenes some verisimilitude.

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