Although the two industries are miles apart, with the on-going strike by SAG-AFTRA in Hollywood, it’s hard not to draw parallels…The hitherto moribund Kenya Actors Guild (KAG) has scheduled a Special General Meeting, to be held at the Kenya National Theatre on Monday August 7, 2023, 10:00 am. This follows an informal meeting held by some concerned members of the Guild earlier in the year on April 8.
By most accounts, this is a gathering that has been long overdue; with the changing landscape in the film industry now altered by entry of streaming services and pay channels, the need to have a singular voice and set industry standards necessitates that stakeholders, quite literally wajiite kamkutano.
Reports of short-changing performers and struggling artistes are a timeworn tale, with examples of national celebrities who are one job loss away from online appeals and replete with national State-honoured household names who have died in penury. It is not so much to ask that those who put in their creativity and endless hours to entertain us and tell our stories should be comfortable, or at least have regular, bankable and quantifiable expectations of the work they do- after all, acting is a job like any other. While the more competitive landscape is good for the industry, there is need to speak in one voice. The Guild needs to get its house in order, and quickly.
It is not lost on many that this meeting is happening at a time when, since mid-July, Hollywood is encountering a strike by the Screen Actors Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artistes (SAG-AFTRA), who are themselves striking in solidarity with the Writers Guild of America. With a membership at over 160,000 registered actors and performers, SAG-AFTRA voted to go on strike, grinding activities to a halt after a disagreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) over dwindling residuals payments, demands for higher wages, protection from the use of Artificial Intelligence (A.I) and negotiations for an increase in residuals as streaming services command more of the market.
Admittedly, Hollywood is light years ahead when it comes to industry actions for actors but they have their basics covered by speaking in one voice and being consequential enough to warrant the attention of producers and Hollywood as a whole.
I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things, how they plead poverty that they’re losing money left and right when they’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting, shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history,”
Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA President and more famously known in Kenya for her leading role in The Nanny, was quoted saying.
The Guild in Hollywood is advocating for, among other things, performance-based bonuses if a project does really well on a streaming platform and for actors to have control over how their likeness and voices are used by studios in relation to A.I.
The union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry,”
Drescher added while explaining the strike.
Kenya too has covered some ground from the days when the only platform was the national broadcaster. Speaking during an interview some years back, one TV actor recalled how during auditions back then it was important to point out that you had another job because payments were low and erratic, and they did not want someone who would keep bothering them over money.
The entry of independent TV stations, pay TV and more recently, streaming services have changed all these. Still there remains issues of industry standards because negotiations are, for actors, a lonesome journey. It is not rare to have two actors playing similar roles getting paid vastly different rates.
Undercutting is standard practice in this industry.
I find it extremely difficult to survive just on acting, for me to fulfil my dreams as a performer I’m forced to take up another job that feeds my stomach so that I can act and feed my heart. As it is, not many roles are out there for someone like me, I’ve realised that when I complained about the money, I got replaced in a snap. I’ve been in a production where I couldn’t make it for the last-minute call and I was replaced in an ongoing production without even considering continuity…”
Vikash Pattni, actor and radio host, recently remarked on an Instagram thread where this conversation was being had.
The proverbial elephant in the room are the issues of delayed payments and a lack of framework. Accusations and counter-accusations over project budgets are not uncommon with actors charging at producers for using the ‘low-budget’ excuse a tad too many times to justify low payments.
What constitutes a low budget project?
Many young performers also claim to find it hard to manoeuvre into the film industry because there are instances where casting has heavily relied on social media following as a factor.Perhaps inspired by these conversations, KAG published its Rate Card, sparking further debate on many actors’ forums. In it a seasoned main actor of a local TV Series (with at least 13 episode), is entitled to Sh30,000 per episode, while a junior main actor is entitled to Sh25,000. Seasoned supporting actors will command a fee of Sh20,000 for every episode while junior supporting actors are to be paid Sh15,500. The least remunerated are background actors with a script at Sh3,000 while those without (extras) earn Sh1,500.
If a series is international and a Kenyan actor lands a role as the main lead, then the rate shoots to $2,500 (Sh355,125) and $2,000 (Sh284,100) for the main supporting actor.
For local films, the main actor rate has been revised upwards to Sh15,000 per day from Sh5,000 while new rate for main supporting actors is Sh12,000 per day up from Sh3,500. Junior main actors now should be able to command Sh9,000 while supporting a supporting junior actor new rate is Sh6,000.
Good job from one side of the table but the question is, are there producers willing to sit on the other side? Can the Guild secure a meeting and sign an MOU with major broadcasters in agreement with the rates? It is this and many other issues that confront a Guild that now meets to seek to revive its relevance. The KAG is itself not entirely blameless in its running of affairs, but that’s perhaps a conversation for another day…The proposed Agenda for Monday’s meeting is:
- Align KAG to work as outlined in the KAG constitution; This includes examining the constitutionality of the current office and voting to either keep them until the next AGM or electing a new caretaker committee.
- Establish a system to vet members interested in running for office.
- Presenting of available KAG reports by the current office; This includes reports on their mandate and challenges encountered plus other reports relevant to this meeting including financial reports, membership, etc
- Unlock the stalemate between the office and the members on the outstanding annual subscription fees.
Performers have been advised to attend the meeting in order to understand the functions and structure of the guild and to intricately discuss the proposed agendas.
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Edited by @peterndoria