The flailing local film industry is notoriously frugal when it comes to thespian wages, but it seems Fairfax Digital has outdone the competition with its latest plans to hire actors for a series of brief “multimedia presentations” on its mastheads’ websites.

The online arms of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, capitalising on an as-yet unnamed Sydney crime reporter’s forthcoming book of the 20 top crimes of last 100 years, have decided to enlist actors to recreate key moments from Australia’s criminal history.

A bizarre expression of interest email obtained by Crikey and originating from deep within Fairfax Digital needs to be read to be believed. In it, a staffer member does their best to put a positive spin on the prospect of appearing in front of Fairfax’s cameras absolutely gratis. In one enticing par, the prospect of appearing in “psychotic”, “gruesome” and “sexual” re-enactments is dangled as a participatory carrot for limelight-starved local talent. The payoff? Excellent “coverage”, in the best tradition of unpaid work experience:

Fairfax Digital are producing a Crime Series for online video in which some of the top crimes of the past century will be discussed by a crime expert, and re-enactments will be shown. These videos are set to be shown via some of our major websites such as The Sydney Morning Herald online and The Age online

I have been asked to source some actors to play the characters in the re-enactments and I thought I’d see if you guys were interested before I went to casting agents.

To begin with, there will be about ten different crimes re-enacted, and generally each crime scene will involve 2 or 3 people. We have been advised that actors can play more than one character across the various scenes if they are able to change their look enough. If the series is popular there is a possibility of continuing it on

We are in the very early stages of putting this series together and as a result, specifics on the roles required to be filled are not yet available, nor are dates. For now I just want to establish if you would be interested in this project and if so, once the details come through, if there is a role that suits you I will get in touch with you and work out your availability.

Things to take into account are that the shoots are most likely to occur on weekdays during business hours, and the scenes will obviously be anything from psychotic, to gruesome to sexual. Also, this job will not be paid, but you will have the advantage of appearing on Fairfax Digital websites, which are viewed by tens of millions of people every week. So the coverage will be excellent.

Please send me an email if this is something you’d be interested in being involved in.

The actors union penned its own email to members yesterday reminding them that working for free would set a dangerous precedent:

Performers should not accept that work on these productions should be done for anything other than commercial rates of pay. If performers were to accept this the future of performers earnings will be significantly undermined.

Fairfax has argued that performers will benefit from the exposure of their work on the websites. On this logic performers would agree to work on Underbelly for free as their work will be exposed on Channel 9.

Crikey contacted Fairfax Digital this morning, who explained that the original email had been issued in error and that Fairfax had subsequently assured the actor’s union: “The actors will be paid”.

Crikey understands that the series will involve mainly murders, most of them interspousal, including one quite wonderful case of a women from Singleton in NSW who killed her husband, cut his head off, boiled, then ate it.

Fairfax, who sacked around 500 staff last year, including 100 journalists, as part of a “business improvement program”, told the union yesterday that the video was only meant to be a pilot, involving “one or two volunteers”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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