Actors Should Have Been Paid To Audition For The Last Nine Decades

Howard Sherman posted a link to a New Yorker article about some intrepid film actors who stumbled upon an overlooked section of the The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) contract that guarantees payment for auditioning even if you didn’t get cast.

Bodin’s most startling discovery was that SAG’s very first contract, from 1937, guaranteed pay for players who were called to do “tests” for films they weren’t used in. Ten years later, the word “Auditions” was added in a subheading, along with the line, “If the player is not given employment in the picture, the player shall receive one-half (1/2) day’s pay.” Except for “player,” which now reads “performer,” the line has gone unchanged, if largely unheeded, in Schedule A 15(B) of SAG-AFTRA’s standard contract.

The discovery and distribution of this information made a lot of people, including union leadership, a little nervous. The union pointed out there were specific conditions that needed to be met like a statement that you had to memorize your lines before the audition. Actors started seeing audition notices that explicitly said you didn’t have to memorize your lines in preparation for an audition.

While paying auditionees would raise the costs to produce films a great deal, especially for independent films, and might lead to studios auditioning smaller numbers of actors, the article notes that technology has shifted more costs on actors over the years. For example, the shift from in-person to recorded auditions means actors have to buy more equipment and make more arrangements themselves.

On top of that, actors now have to provide resources that have traditionally fallen on casting offices, including equipment, space, and people to read with. Variety recently estimated that outsourcing scene partners to auditioners has saved producers some two hundred and fifty million dollars annually. “It creates a whole culture where all of us have to have a clutch of collaborators who are willing to be our readers,” Ochoa said; think of all the boyfriends, roommates, and UPS guys dragged into audition scenes.


Now an actor has to pay for subscriptions to multiple online casting platforms, and even more for each reel, clip, or color photo uploaded to every site. Digital made everything faster, but it made it so fast that people expect an Oscar-winning performance in twenty-four hours.”

Learning about audition pay has buoyed an “Auditions Are Work” movement among union members.  The article notes that the Writer’s Guild is currently on strike and the SAG-AFTRA contract is coming up for renewal with indications of tough negotiations ahead.  I had recently heard that the Directors Guild of America (DGA) contract expires in mid-June so we may see a significant revamping of the way recorded programming is created by the end of the summer.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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