Should Actors Pursue Audition Pay? A Former Casting Director Worries It Would Lead To “Death Of Developmental Actors”

A pair of hot-button Instagram posts from a former casting director-turned-acting coach has once again put the spotlight on whether SAG-AFTRA should enforce audition pay — an entitlement that’s been in the actors’ contract since 1947.

Samantha Stiglitz, whose former casting credits include Burn Notice, Pretty Little Liars and Final Destination 5, told her 34k-plus followers that it would be “problematic” to pay actors for what is essentially “a job interview.” Stiglitz told Deadline that she’s aware that actors have long been entitled to compensation for auditions; information about the fee structure is available on the SAG-AFTRA website.

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She’s just worried that producers would severely scale back the number of actors they would consider for a role if they had to pay them all for auditioning.

“Just suppose production did find the money to pay for auditions,” she said on IG. Stiglitz now works as an acting and audition coach and has offered tips on making it in Hollywood for years via social media. “Right now with self tapes, casting directors are seeing quadrangle the number of times of auditions they were normally seeing when it was in person. If we had to pay actors, the producers would stop wanting to see auditions, production wouldn’t be paying for 100 auditions per role. They’d probably come up with a budget for like three per role. So that would mean that casting would no longer be able to see all of those new actors they’re taking a chance on, and instead, they would go to the three actors that they know would crush it in the role. So that would mean the death of the developmental actor. … it would be a disaster.”

A post shared by Sam Stiglitz Acting Coach (@auditionprola)

Stiglitz’ comments struck a nerve with actors like Shaan Sharma (The Chosen), a member of the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee who worries that his fellow union members won’t have the gumption or energy to fight for something they are already owed. He engaged Stiglitz on IG by saying “the time has come when performers are reclaiming their power and will no longer have our passion weaponized against us.”

“Part of what we have in our union is contract literacy issues. Members just don’t know what’s in the contract,” Sharma tells Deadline. “We’re currently trying to make our contract more accessible, but even if you did know that it was in the contract, there’s a very real fear of claiming that money. Because if you do claim audition pay, the fear … just like people who have a fear about asking for overtime .. is they don’t want to piss off casting director and risk not being called again, simply for asking for what they are entitled to.”

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Sharma says there has been an “explosion” of claims for audition pay in the last few years, particularly with the advent of self-tapes and the amount of the work that’s now required of actors to try out for a role. Because audition pay has not been strictly enforced, actors must first approach the production company for compensation but end up having to rely on SAG-AFTRA for help.

“Normally productions don’t want to fight something that is a valid claim because they know they’ll lose and they know it’s in the contract,” explains Sharma, who adds the pay should be automated — just like a paycheck. “But by making it that difficult for people to get the money, it discourages a lot of people from engaging in the claims process because identities are revealed when you file a claim. So you might get that audition pay, but then that production may never want to hire you again as retaliation for asking for what you’re contractually owed. That’s a fear that stops a lot of people from not only asking for this pay, but for any kind of fees or things that they were owed. So it’s not a pleasant process to go through claims. It can take 18 months or more to get your money. And essentially, even if you win, it’s not like they owe you any interest for keeping that money from you for all that time.”

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Sharma says the biggest fear now is whether the AMPTP will try to do an “end run” around audition pay in the ongoing negotiations by making self tapes the industry standard for all jobs — with no compensation in return.

“We certainly don’t want the AMPTP to take something away that is worth a billion dollars a year to our membership,” Sharma tells Deadline.

After taking a drubbing on IG, Stiglitz followed up with another video that said, “I would love for you to be paid for auditions.” But she questions whether that’s the right hill to die on for a majority of SAG members.

A post shared by Sam Stiglitz Acting Coach (@auditionprola)

“The infrastructure required to do this would be insane. Also, I don’t feel like the majority of SAG wants this from talking to actors,” Stiglitz told Deadline. “I feel like there’s a small group of passionate actors that do want this, and I hear that. I don’t want it to go unsaid that I don’t hear them. I think there was so much passion in that conversation.”

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“Look, I would love for actors to get paid to audition,” she continued. “I think it is a totally unfair system. Actors pour their heart and soul into their auditions. They feel like it’s not being seen by casting. There is no feedback anymore because impossible to give feedback to that many people .. But if they exercise that [audition pay] clause, you’re going to lose almost all the auditions. I’m just fighting for actors to get a chance.”

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