Last week, Crikey alerted readers to a shout-out for unpaid actors to star in a series of real crime re-enactments distributed by those savvy cost cutters at Fairfax Digital. The idea was that struggling young actors would happily trade their wages for “exposure”, which given they were to appear in possibly unwatched videos on The Age and Sydney Morning Herald websites, seemed a tad galling.

After the actors union arked up with a sternly-worded email and Crikey lodged its own query, Fairfax backflipped, claiming that the “one or two” actors would now be “paid”. You would have thought other media organisations might have got the message — slave labour just isn’t acceptable in the brave new world of Fair Work.

But, apparently, the Fairfax run-in has failed to sway the expenditure-allergic production department at Channel Nine’s Sydney HQ. In an email obtained by Crikey, Nine producer Meryl Jackson issues a desperate plea for unpaid Logies assistance from acting school pupils, citing “budget cut backs” as a reason to closet the cash:

As explained we are shooting a VT piece for the Logies on April 16th and are looking for 30 extras to play the parts of Logie party goers.

Specifically, the ABC program Review with Myles Barlow will be doing a short comic review on the Logies to be shot at the ABC here in Sydney.

Although we are unable to pay any extras due to budget cut backs, this shoot will provide invaluable experience for actors wishing to enter the television industry. We are looking for a range of actors from 20 years up.

For the curious, Review with Myles Barlow is a Sydney-based black comedy that screened last year on ABC2 where reader queries are “reviewed” in Shaun Micallef-style by the po-faced host, Phil Lloyd. Ignoring the question of why Nine is producing a segment to be aired on the national broadcaster, it seems unlikely that Lloyd would approve of an unpaid cast, ensconced as he once was in the progressive hotbed of student theatre.

Crikey contacted the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance who said Nine’s approach “flies in the face of what the Logies are supposed to be about.”

“Television’s night of nights is supposed to highlight the skills, experitise and the quality of product that Seven, Nine and Ten are broadcasting,” said MEAA spokesman Simon Whipp.

“We just don’t think it’s appropraite that anyone asks people to do something for nothing — there are minimum rates of pay for extras.”

Whipp said only charity productions could legitimately engage extras for free and only then with the extras’ explicit approval.

Nine is currently trying to hack $20 million out of its budget as advertising revenue collapses with this year’s Logies coverage eschewing the usual expense of flying in foreign talent, and stumping instead for struggling B-lister Gretel Killeen.

It appears the unpaid approach is gaining traction within the notoriously-frugal and cost-stressed acting industry. Since our original story appeared, Crikey has been alerted to various bottom-feeding agencies that dangle the “exposure” carrot to secure cheap or free talent. The approach might be quasi-acceptable for independent directors without reams of cash but for corporations like Fairfax, Nine and the ABC, it seems beyond contempt.

Last week when the Fairfax scheme was drawn to their attention, the actors union said the following:

“On this logic performers would agree to work on Underbelly for free as their work will be exposed on Channel Nine.”

On the latest evidence it would appear the decision-makers at Nine, and their supplicants at Aunty, are well ahead of the curve.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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