By Stephanie Ciccarelli
January 29, 2008
Curious to know more about AFTRA?
I've been given permission by Paul Horn, President of the New England AFTRA Local, to publish an interview conducted with AFTRA voice actress Denise Dal Vera about her experiences as a member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Check it out here!
Interviewer: So Denise, tell us a bit about your career as a union performer and your decision to join the union (AFTRA).
Denise Dal Vera: For me, living in a smaller market (Cincinnati) I do a variety of on-camera as well as voice-over work. I work for small, local companies as well as the big players like Procter and Gamble, General Motors and Boeing, all of it under an AFTRA or SAG contract. I choose to be union because itâ€™s a jungle out there, and employers will always try to pay you less. Without the union to negotiate minimum standards for our work, it pits actor against actor, and we end up in a â€œrace to the bottomâ€ over rates and other working conditions.
Interviewer: What have you gained by becoming involved with the union?
Denise Dal Vera: More than anything else, Iâ€™ve gained respect. From my employers, my peers, and actually, myself. I think that being part of something that is bigger than me helps everyone in the business. Plus, as far as personal benefits go, Iâ€™m eligible for health insurance, a pension and other benefits that would be difficult or impossible (or very expensive) for me to get as an individual performer.
Interviewer: Denise, as a union member, how do you feel about turning down non-union VO work?
Denise Dal Vera: Well, certainly itâ€™s never fun to turn down work. But I've learned that you can turn work union. Youâ€™d be surprised at how many producers have never been asked. When you explain to them that itâ€™s not that difficult to hire union, and that the cost is a very small portion of their budget, they often come around. The important thing to remember is that youâ€™re in control of your own business, but as a union member, you need to be able to walk away when necessary. Solidarity is critical to our strength as a union, and if I canâ€™t get the producer to budge, I simply have to decline that work. Itâ€™s for the good of more people than just myself. Of course, that problem goes away if the more talented performers are in the union and insist on a contract.
Take ownership and understand the rates and utilize your local office for help. They can sometimes find ways to work within the contract as well as within the employers budget.
Interviewer: Denise, what advice would you give to someone who might be doing quite well on non union work (perhaps thousands of dollars a month) but who suspects she could be making more and/or not working as hard...?
Denise Dal Vera: The important thing is to look at the total compensation you would make working under a union contract, including health insurance, pension, and so on, and compare it to your non-union rate. While the non-union pay may sound good in a lump sum, it might not even be close to what you can make under the terms of a union contract. Most importantly, in the case of commercials, residuals can make a huge difference. If a spot is going to air for a year, would you rather get paid once, or four times? Plus, keep in mind that you have no protection against your image being used forever without your consent. Itâ€™s intellectual property, and you need to keep control of it.
Interviewer: What if the union rates are higher than what Iâ€™m charging. How do you tell a client you are now more expensive?
Denise Dal Vera: You need to assess whether you think your talent is competitive with union members who are commanding those higher rates. If you decide to join the union, my advice would be to approach each employer individuallyâ€”and well ahead of time-- and explain your decision. You may be surprised at how many of them agree to working with you on a union contract. Plus, you need to make the clients aware that you add value to their production every time it runs, and youâ€™re not being paid for your time in the studio, youâ€™re being paid for the use of your likeness. Thereâ€™s a big difference.
Interviewer: Iâ€™m afraid I may lose some of my clients.....
Denise Dal Vera: I understand completely; thereâ€™s always that risk. But remember that by joining the union youâ€™ll also gain access to producers who are already signed to the union contract (called â€œsignatorsâ€) who work with union talent exclusively. Also, explain to them that the contract is designed to protect them as well, as it sets out specifically what is expected of the performer. If youâ€™re good at what you do, chances are thereâ€™ll be greater â€œupsideâ€ potential than downside risk. Don't underestimate the client's loyalty to you or their ability to pay you. If you decide to join once you have the facts, it takes the fear out of such an empowering profession business decision. And as I started out by saying, youâ€™ll gain their respect.
Interview provided courtesy of Paul Horn, President of the New England AFTRA Local.
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