A background performer is a performer without dialogue who provides atmosphere to a scene through what’s called “special silent business,” either alone or as a member of a group.
The Working Environment
The following conditions must be met for all performers on an ACTRA set:
- a supply of pure drinking water
- a suitable seat for each performer
- a stretcher in case of medical emergencies
- separate clean and private change rooms for men, women and minors of each gender
- safekeeping for clothes and valuables
- clean, accessible toilets and washrooms
Independent Production Agreement (IPA)
Under the IPA, (ACTRA’s collective agreement covering film and television and online content, other than commercials), a background performer does not give individual characterization, does not speak, sing or mime dialogue. Further, the performance should be within the competence of the average person, even in dress clothes or costumes.
The IPA requires that the first 10-31 Background Performers on any given day on a Production must be ACTRA members paid at the regular BG rates in the Agreement. This number is called the “count”. The count is different depending on the type of production – a low budget production which qualifies for the Canadian Independent Production Incentive Program (CIPIP) can have a count of 10; a purely Canadian dramatic content production can have a count of 16; most productions have a count of 21; feature films with budgets over $35 million have a count of 26 and series that are block shooting can choose a count of 31.
The count does not include Stand-Ins and Photo Doubles. After the count, the Producer may engage any additional number of persons on the day at the additional BG performer hourly rate, sometimes called “cash.”
The IPA gives ACTRA members preference of engagement for BG roles. The rule is that production must first offer the BG roles within the count to full members who are suitable for the roles and scenes, and then to apprentice members. If full or apprentice members cannot be found to fill the roles, we ask that productions offer preference of engagement to AABP (ACTRA Additional Background Performers) before going to non-members.
Preference of engagement is not the only factor considered when casting BG roles and is not a guarantee that full members will always be cast. Casting is dependent on the suitability of available members for the roles and scenes in question. In the “over the count” category, we always ask that productions give preference of engagement to ACTRA members, such as AABP Members, who are suitable and interested in the roles.
For a more detailed overview of ACTRA’s membership categories, the background performer count and a brief guide to understanding preference of engagement, see:
ACTRA AT A GLANCE: Membership Categories the Background Performer Count & Preference of Engagement.
Minimum Fees and Conditions for Background Performers are defined in Part C of the IPA. The 2013-2015 IPA is available online here. The 2016-2018 IPA will be available as a complete document soon. In the meantime, this Memorandum of Agreement “reflects the complete understanding reached between the Parties. As soon as practicable and subject to ratification as per the practices of the Parties, this Memorandum of Agreement (and any Appendices) will be reduced to formal contract language, where necessary, for inclusion into the 2016-2018 IPA“.
If restaurants are available in the area of the shoot, you may be required to buy your own meal. The production usually supplies a meal, but they don’t have to unless the first meal break is only a half-hour.
The producer is required to provide an escort or transportation to the nearest public transit if the performer wraps between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
IPA Article A 2005 says,
“The Parties agree that safety of Performers is a fundamental issue. When a Performer completes an audition or a call between the hours of 22h00 and 6h00, the Producer shall, except when the Performer declines, provide either transportation to the Performer’s home or to his or her place of accommodation within the zone or an escort until the Performer has boarded the nearest public transit that will transport the Performer to his or her home or to his or her place of accommodation within the zone.”
IPA Article A2402 requires that specific information about the exact nature of nudity, semi-nudity or loves scenes of any kind be provided as a rider to the contract 48 hours prior to the signing of the contract. The nudity rider shall include the maximum amount of nudity requested, the nature of attire, the nature of the simulated sexual activity, how it will be shot etc.
IPA Article A2402 (d) says, “The minimum fee for a Background Performer appearing nude in a scene shall be not less than that specified herein for an Actor, but such performance shall not attract Use or residual fees.”
(Note: if the above are not provided, notify the appropriate person on set. If the situation is still not resolved, call your agent or the ACTRA Toronto Business Representative responsible for the production.)
If the production requires a wardrobe call prior to the day of the shoot, you must be paid a minimum of two hours at the hourly rate. If you’re required to bring two or more wardrobe changes to a “go-see,” you must be paid for a wardrobe call. Sign a time sheet or voucher. If you wear your own clothes to the shoot and aren’t required to change, time isn’t deducted for wardrobe. Background performers are only required to bring one change of clothes. If you’re asked to bring more changes of clothes, you must be compensated an additional $5 per change.
Meal Penalties: IPA
Unpaid meal breaks one-hour long are given at the end of the sixth hour from the start of your workday. If you go over six hours and you don’t receive a substantial snack (if one is required), you’re paid at the applicable minimum hourly overtime rate until you receive a meal break in addition to the payment for the time worked.
Subsequent meal breaks must be called no later than six hours after the end of the first meal or after each four hours of overtime worked. (Please note: the meal penalty can be paid in quarter-hour units. Completion of the shot is permissible and is not an infringement of the meal penalty.)
If your call time is earlier than the general crew call and you receive a meal (non-deductible first meal), the next meal break will be six hours from the general crew call.
Getting Paid – IPA
Your cheque will be mailed to the address on your voucher. If you had an upgrade on set, mark it on your voucher and get a contract for the upgrade.
If you do not agree with the information on your voucher, check the box marked “disagree,” notify your agent and the ACTRA Toronto Business Representative. Keep a copy of your voucher – it’s your recorded proof of work.
National Commercial Agreement (NCA)
Under the NCA, a background performer is one whose face may be recognizable and appears solely as atmosphere. A background performer may be directed but cannot be directly associated/materially illustrate or react to the off-camera narration and/or commercial message.
The NCA also includes a definition for a Group Background performer, who is a performer engaged as part of a group who always appears in a crowd scene and is not given individual direction. The NCA is available online here.
If the production requires a wardrobe call prior to the day of the shoot, you must be paid a minimum of one hour at the applicable hourly rate. Be sure the wardrobe call is noted on your contract. Performers, including background performers, may be required to bring up to two wardrobe changes without additional compensation.
All Performers shall receive the same meals when being provided by the Engager. If the meal break is not given before the sixth hour from the start of your work day, a substantial snack must be provided prior to the fifth hour. If this condition is not met ,you’re entitled to a meal penalty.
Your cheque is mailed to ACTRA Toronto within 21 calendar days from the day you work, and then forwarded to you or your agent, as indicated in your membership record with ACTRA. If you do not agree with the information on your contract, check the box marked “disagree,” and notify ACTRA Toronto’s Commercial Department. Keep a copy of your contract – it’s your recorded proof of work. It’s your responsibility to send in ACTRA’s copy of your contract.
Signing Out: IPA and Commercial Agreement
Make sure all information on your voucher or contract is correct – the times worked, your meal breaks, your address, postal code, social insurance number (SIN) and ACTRA number. If you have a HST number, make sure it’s correctly written on your contract.
Dealing with Problems on Set
Call ACTRA Toronto immediately at (416) 928-2278 if you see a performer-related problem on set that involves:
- young performers (under 12 years old for the IPA; under 12 years old, notwithstanding Parent’s/Chaperon’s consent, for the Commercial Agreement) working more than eight hours a day;
- unscheduled stunts or dangerous situations where stunt performers are not being used; or,
- unscripted nudity or sexual situations not outlined in your contract.
See Problems On Set for more information.