Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Labor Laws or Labor Lies?

(Well, the title was that or "How I'll soon be an Italian celebrity")

I was contacted last week and asked to participate in the filming of a commercial. They said since I looked more European I could come early in the morning, dressed nice, and begin filming at 6am. Then, if I decided to stay later when a couple hundred other extras would arrive at 9am, I would get an additional payment totaling around $22,000 ($45US) for the morning.

I arrived at 6am, after having spent the entire night awake on my feet working the bar at a event. We filmed for a couple hours at dawn, basically walking back and forth on the street. It was freezing. Twice they let us get tea or café, and then literally immediately told us to dump it out so the styrofoam cups weren’t in the shots. I once tried to sneak a sip before tossing it and burned up my mouth.

Then when the large group arrived, we got into lines and walked to the other area for shooting. I wont go into details but basically we had to be standing up, spread out along the street, usually in the direct sun, for hours on end. Every time they called action certain people walked forward towards the camera. We got yelled at for sitting down, and some people were told that they couldn’t go to the bathroom.

The shooting continued past when everyone had expected or been told when they were hired. Finally around noon they started to act like we were wrapping things up. And we were, but just in order to take a 10 minute break. Taking a break means that there was enough remaining time to merit a pause rather than finish it before sending us home.

Everybody started asking how much time remained, when they could go home, etc… and the agents and production company would say vague things like “I don’t know, soon, it cant be much longer, just we have to get a special shot, etc…”

They said if we had to leave before they were done, that you wouldn’t receive any payment at all.

So we got back in place and spent another 2 hours out in the hot sun. My skin was starting to majorly burn, I wasn’t feeling so well, was getting very tired, but I figured that they would be finishing up soon, so I might as well just hold out til the end and get my money.

Eventually around lunchtime they started to mention things like “wrapping up”, “just a couple more takes,” etc… And we understood that pretty soon we could expect…
A lunch break?

They handed out a sandwhich and a banana for lunch. We tried to figure out the official deal with the timing and payment, but everybody said “I don’t know” or “It can’t be much longer” etc.

At around 3:30 pm we started filming again. I was so exhausted that in between every take I would just sit down in the street and let them fuss about it. They switched things up again, and I started to feel quite sick from the sun. I began to doze off there on the sidewalk and some of the production crew saw me and looked rather concerned…but you know, not enough to offer me water or let me sit out in the shade a bit. We decided to kinda slack off after that and just do whatever was needed to get by. The amount of people was large, so those in the back were somewhat less supervised and less likely to be seen on camera. But, they apparently had other plans for me., because someone came and got me from my seated position in the street and repositioned me right in front of the huge crane like camera, in the very front, leading the other 600 extras every time they shouted “ACCION!”

I was really starting to suffer. It was a miracle I didn’t faint. We did the takes over and over again. Then the switched up the positions, and I snuck back about 4 rows. Luckily at this point the sun was low enough that the buildings provided some shade, we did around 10 takes where I had to walk directly by the camera. Everybody was getting really annoyed and edgy. The director was in a good mood making some jokes about it being one of last takes. And then he would say “Just kidding, you really have at least 3 more hours to go!” Everyone laughed at his sarcasm and moods lightened up thinking that finally, it must be ending.

Until they finished up with that sequence and said that next they were going to move all of the equipment again and do a different take,. I was laying in the middle of the street talking with some friends and they came around and selected me and brought me up front with 3 other girls. The lady said they needed us because of our hairstyle or something, and we were going to have close-up shots of our hair. While they were telling us what was going on, everybody started to get really angry and crowded around the people from the production company. They said it was well beyond the time to go home. The people in charge started to get super cranky. They started yelling at the extras saying they couldn’t’ go home, or if they did, they wouldn’t get paid. Everybody was screaming and chanting, demanding more money, etc… Even random people on the streets and residents of the surrounding houses started getting involved. At one point the extras chased one of the directors into a store and they had to close up the metal garage door to keep the angry crowd out.

The production company was unable to get anything done and had to address the crowd.
They claimed the plan all along was to shoot til 8:30 and if anybody had a problem with that, they could present their “particular case” to the casting agents later. But nobody was convinced, especially since we all had the same particular case. Finally, after 6pm, He said they were willing to give $2,000 extra to anybody willing to stay til 8:30. Eventually they said they would pay $5,000 extra for anybody willing to stay, and that the people who had started at 6am were able to stop and go home, because they had “already completed their 11 hours.” BUT, those people who decided to leave “early” could leave, but they wouldn’t be paid til 9pm when everyone else gets paid at the end.

Probably half the people were infuriated and returned to the trailers to demand their money then and there, and some others were probably convinced by the $5,000 pesos to stay til 8:30pm which was no longer very far off. But then one of the girls leaked to me that the last scene required it to be dark outside, so obviously finishing at 8:30 was also a lie as it wasn’t even dark yet.

We went along with those insisting we get paid. But then they threw a second surprise at us. They weren’t going to pay $22,000 total, they were just going to pay $12,000… $2,000 more than everyone else for showing up at 6:00am, and nothing for staying nearly the entire day. In the end, they did give me money around 7:00pm. 13 HOURS ON MY FEET IN THE SUN. On the way home I was so hugry and thirsty from spending the whole day in the heat that I spent nearly half of what I’d earned that day, and as soon as I stumbled home so dizzy I could hardly walk, I felt so bad I got sick to my stomach, got in bed and didn’t wake up til Sunday afternoon.

Talk about treating your workers well….


Annje said...

That's awful... so abusive. I am curious as to why you (or others) stayed, I don't know if I would have, especially for the peanut-pay they were offering.

Marmo said...

Ese debiera ser el límite del lema "Just smile and nod"... Probablemente la productora tenía planeada esa agenda desde el principio, es un verdadero abuso. Sería bueno que las condiciones en que contratan a los extras en estas situaciones estuvieran por escrito; como generalmente no es así, toman ventaja de que no hay forma de comprobar cual es el verdadero acuerdo por el trabajo.
Como es posible que si tomas una pega similar en el futuro, sería bueno que quedara muy claro desde el principio que, llegada la hora de término acordada, todos reciben su pago, o se retiran; si acuerdan esto entre todos los extras, (sé que es medio fantasioso, pero vale la pena intentarlo), la presión estará en el equipo de producción, para respetar lo acordado, o decirles la verdad, lo que abre la posibilidad de mejorar la remuneración a un monto más justo por tu tiempo y el de los demás, sin contar con la exposición excesiva al sol.
Me gustaría saber de qué será ese aviso comercial, a ver si al verlo por tv se notan las caras de aburrimiento en la multitud.
Suerte para la próxima!

Maeskizzle said...

mierr.... que lata
That sucks!! What agency contacted you? The same one as for the desoderante ambiental commercial?

lydia said...

annje- for a few reasons we didnt leave. first of all, i wasn't aware the pay was peanut sized from the beginning. someone along the way lied about the pay. also, it was just one huge case of "well, I've come this far" Because we were at all moments under the impression that it was just about over. Also, in my case, although it sucks...taking part in a commercial, a massive event, and a protest is actually quite interesting. my alternative was going home and taking a nap. my body would have preferred the nap but my curiosity would have called my body a wimp. i was with friends too which makes things much more bearable.

marmo- yeah contracts would be nice but really even in stuff like this i've done in the US it hasnt been so official. its hard to do with a high number of anonymous-like extras. truthfully i didn't and wouldn't expect them to be that thorough... but i DO and WOULD expect them not to lie about it, and to be honest upfront.
I think many people thought of grouping together to work something out, but just the large size of us and the situation made it difficult to communicate, also the production company and agents were trying to make deals and such, which did win many people over for the sake of a couple extra mil. the majority of extras were young people who probably were exited to be getting money for this type of thing.

I'm really not positive if all of the lying was on the part of the production company or the agents. i know neither was upfront the day of, but i wonder who knew the real deal beforehand. perhaps the agents changed the facts in order to successfully recruit people. there was also no orientation no explanation, nothing.

No, I dont think it was the same production company, I dont actually know the name at all. But I got hooked up with this through entirely different means (and there were never problems like this before).

The commercial wont be on air in Chile, it will be in Europe. I'll post a link if I find it on youtube, and I have one of my family's old exchange students on the lookout.

Marmo said...

Ese último párrafo me ha dado más curiosidad. ¿Por qué habrán filmado un aviso comercial italiano en Valparaíso? ¿Será por las casas y ascensores, que se supone (creo) son como unos que hay en Italia?
Realmente me gustaría mucho ver ese aviso comercial, ¿Sabes de qué cosa es?

Marmo said...

Asumo que es italiano por el título alternativo "How I'll soon be an Italian celebrity" xD

lydia said...

No nos dijeron casi nada. I'll put it here if/when I ever find it. I imagine it wont be soon because of the editing process and such. I have no idea why Valpo. The part filmed with us was only on the streets, no ascensores... I would guess that the feeling of the city is similar to some locations in Italy, and they will do a lot of editing of the details, and perhaps they picked Chile for cheap labor (i.e. for me, jaja)

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