The Red Flags to Look For Before Signing on to an Indie Project

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

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Having cast and produced many, many film projects over the years, I’ve had a lot of experience—and I’ve seen everything from the good to the bad to the ugly. From the audition process all the way through your on-set experience, you’ve got to keep your eyes open for red flags that risk derailing the project or even yourself.

I was casting a big-budget studio film years ago, and the director proposed a scene in which he wanted me to cast two very young children. Once he explained the parameters of the scene, which included shooting late at night, explosions going off near the kids, and them being shot at, I immediately said no and attempted to explain why he wouldn’t be able to hire children for this scene: He’d never get a work permit in these conditions. His team then told me that they wouldn’t get a work permit or pay them through payroll—they’d pay them out of petty cash. I alerted the producer, who said he’d take care of it. The next thing I heard was that the kids and the lead actor had been killed while shooting the scene. A helicopter that was part of the scene came down on top of them after a Quonset hut was blown up and fragments of it flew into the tail rotor of the ’copter.

It’s an extreme example, but it shows that no one can afford to cut corners. And yet, I’ve noticed a lot of that on some of the films I’ve worked on. It’s especially prevalent in the indie film space. They lovingly call it “guerilla filmmaking.”

But if you’re asked to do a stunt and they don’t have a stunt coordinator to meet the required safety regulations, you must refuse.

Sometimes, the filmmakers request a voluminous amount of research and training when there is no offer. Within reason, some of these requests are valid. If you’re doing a baseball movie, we need to see you play. That said, if you find yourself in weeks of training for a part you don’t actually have yet, you might want to rethink these requests and get your rep involved.

So, use your “spidey-sense”; everyone has one. If you’re sent an audition with a request to meet after hours at the director’s home, request a daytime interview in an office setting. Remember, you have the right to bring a peer with you if you aren’t comfortable going alone. Or if a filmmaker says to you, “You know, it would be easier just to make the deal with you,” or “Ugh, reps are such a nuisance,” an actor should not engage. This is exactly why you have representation.

These issues can also come up with nudity riders. If you ask about one and the director’s response is, “You’re cool, right?,” that’s your sign to walk away. The SAG-AFTRA Basic Contract requires a nudity rider to specifically outline the nudity that is agreed upon along with any intimate contact. Make sure you’ve agreed to all of the terms together before you arrive on set. The production is not allowed to ask you to do anything that you haven’t agreed to in your rider.

Not all indies are bad, of course; just keep in mind what we all learned long ago from our parents: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is! Listen to your instincts.

Make sure to check out my online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

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Your Life Is Worth More

midnight-rider-doctortown-trestle Mike McCallPhoto credit: Mike McCall

By Marci Liroff

The events on the train tracks in Wayne County, Ga., Feb. 20, while filming the Gregg Allman film have been weighing heavily on me. I have a hard time calling it an “accident.” I know that no one meant to do it on purpose or had any ill intent. But I know firsthand what it’s like to be pressured into doing something that you don’t feel is safe. I know what it’s like to be in a situation that’s chaotic, and “the team” is pressuring you into doing something you’d never normally do. Second Assistant Camerawoman Sarah Elizabeth Jones lost her life for an ill-conceived “camera test”, and seemingly no one had her back.

I was involved in the casting of “Twilight Zone: The Movie” years ago, and refused to cast the children that John Landis and his producer were asking for. I was one of the very few people who said “no” to him.

I spoke to Terri Becherer, SAG-AFTRA’s national director of specialty performers, and asked her a few questions.

In response to what actors should do if they feel they’re being put in a dangerous situation on set, Becherer says, “I can’t emphasize enough that performers should never do something that they feel is dangerous unless they are qualified to do so. The performer’s consent is required prior to performing stunts or other hazardous activity. The first AD and the stunt coordinator are responsible for the safety of the set; if a performer feels they are being put in a hazardous situation, they should locate the stunt coordinator or the first AD and let them know of his or her concerns. If there is not a safety person available, then the performer can call the union. We have a hotline they can call 24 hours a day, and the number is printed on the back of every membership card.” That hotline is 800-551-9110.

As for possible repercussions from speaking up, Becherer points out that “nothing is worth risking your well-being or the health and safety of your fellow cast and crew. There are protections in place to prevent repercussions from the producer. Be as professional as possible when voicing concerns, and when in doubt, call your union.”

Should any actor feel unsafe on set, he or she should find the union-required, qualified person and speak to him or her. “Whenever stunts or stunt-related activity is planned, our contracts require that there must be an individual qualified by training and/or experience in the planning and setting up, or performance of, the stunt engaged, and present on set,” Becherer says. “If you believe that such individuals are not on the set, please contact us immediately.”

And as far as nonunion productions go, Becherer’s advice is the same: “Trust your instincts. Don’t do anything if you feel your safety is compromised.” She adds, “Also, SAG-AFTRA considers performer safety to be of utmost priority. Our contracts contain many provisions to ensure that safety. There is a lot of excellent information available on the SAG-AFTRA website. There are links to all of the safety bulletins issued by the industry, as well as many articles on safety from the SAG-AFTRA magazine.”

Please be safe. It’s not worth your life. Never again. #SarahJones

PLEASE share with your friends. I’d love to hear your stories if you’ve ever been in a situation you felt was dangerous and what you did (or didn’t) do about it!

Want to share this post? Here are some ready-made tweets!
Click to Tweet: Safety is SO important on a set. Don’t do anything u feel is dangerous! via @MarciLiroff #SarahJones
Click to Tweet:  Don’t be afraid to say “NO” if you’re confronted with a dangerous stunt on set via @MarciLiroff #safety