The internet has many helpful lists of terms specific to the entertainment industry. It’s always great to be as knowledgeable as possible about the vocabulary, and the correct way to use it. Sadly, we see examples every day of people who’ve learned a “word” but not the proper way to apply it. For people who are very experienced in the industry, a misused term is easy to spot and almost impossible to miss. Some mistakes fall under the category of pet peeves – but other boo-boos might be causing real harm to your child’s career.
Here’s a look at just a handful of the most misused terms.
“Pilot” – the granddaddy of them all. The internet has brought empowerment to other creative people, besides actors. We now have producers and visionaries who make their own content, without having professional level funding or outside interest. Many people have adopted the word ‘pilot’ to include anything that has nowhere to go, yet. A traditional pilot is ordered by a television network and has already passed some tests of interest in order to be made. They are almost always union projects since all the major television networks are union signatories. Even with that pre-determination, many pilots never see the light of day. Traditional pilots are risky. The rest of it, the unknown up and coming producers, are even more risky. Odds vary, but are not good, that anything will ever come from a project labeled a pilot or pilot presentation, that is not network affiliated.
The focus on “pilot season” is not about any of the independent, off the grid projects. The business goal of pilot season is to book a regular or recurring role on a network ordered pilot. That’s how new series regulars are born! And that’s where the money and career progression is. That is the goal of talent, and their representatives. When you claim on a resume, verbally, or via your marketing efforts that your child “booked a pilot” you need to be talking about a regular or recurring role on a network pilot. Period. Otherwise, you might impress the relatives by using the “P” word, but for those in the industry, you may be looking foolish – as if you don’t understand the significance or the difference. Foolish is the best opinion that decision makers might have: worse, they may see this as an attempt to be untruthful or misleading. All bookings are worth celebrating; but beware of embellishments – especially about a pilot.
“National Commercial” – This is a term that is the “pilot” equivalent in the commercial world, in that it’s the type of commercial actors and their representatives are hoping to book because of the payment involved. A coveted “national” commercial has to be a SAG-AFTRA union commercial, and run under Class A payment scales. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of these around anymore. “National” or “National Network” doesn’t JUST mean it is shown all over the nation. It’s an indication that it is a SAG, Class A network commercial which means it will run on all 4 networks (Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC). Disney and Bravo, for instance, are CABLE channels and that doesn’t qualify. The difference in pay between a real national network commercial and a cable buyout is tens of thousands of dollars. It matters, especially to agents and managers who take a commission. Note that there is no legally binding function to what a producer lists on a breakdown, so they often will say their commercial is a “national” in order to lure better actors into submitting. What matters is what is designated on the union contract that you get on shoot day — it will say if the intended run is “national network Class A” or “cable”, etc.
Nothing is more uncertain than commercials. You work the day, and wait for it to air, and wait to see if the usage structure holds up. There are lots of variables, and that can make it difficult to properly describe and promote. Just know that saying your child booked a “national” or “national network” commercial is claiming the top of the heap – and if in actuality the commercial is a non-union buyout, or a cable-only run, professionals will notice. Better to just say what you know…that your child booked a commercial and you are very excited!
“Guest Star”, “Recurring” etc. (credits) – This area is referenced in both of the above definitions. It’s a fine line to appropriately promote your child’s career successes without embellishing. Credits are usually negotiated in writing, in the contract, and are very valuable in terms of money and prestige. Be careful not to just decide that your child had a certain number of lines or scenes and that means they were a guest star. Be careful that background work isn’t promoted as principal work. The risks are the same as above, you look foolish or dishonest. This can make the difference in having the respect of your representatives and future employers.
It’s a common “trick” to call a role Recurring, if you – or your representatives – decide that there is a chance the particular role your child did on a show could be used on the show again. This can backfire though: for a prospective employer, recurring means your child already is working for someone else. That could oust you from a future job because they believe you are busy or committed to another network. Honestly disclosing experience and future commitments is always recommended.
“SAG” (union member status) — The Screen Actor’s Guild, also known as SAGAFTRA, is very picky about who is allowed to use their name on their resume. In order to put SAG on your resume, you must have actually joined, paid the money and gotten the card. Legally, you may not put “SAG” on your resume if you are a financial core status, or if you are SAG eligible. To professionals reviewing your resume, SAG status matters — if they are doing a non-union project, it means they can’t easily hire you. If they are doing a union project, it means when they call the union, they expect that the union will say you are a “paid up member”. Don’t fudge on this…it can oust you from future jobs! If you are SAG eligible (slang is “SAGe”), that is a GOOD thing, because you can do both union and non-union work, so use the right terminology and enjoy that status. Also note that your credits will make your SAG status obvious. If you are claiming SAG, but have no credits to back it up, professionals will be suspicious.
“Audition” – In California’s Krekorian Act (created by the major studios, unions and other industry professionals) an “audition” is defined as a job interview for an actual job. You don’t “audition” for an agent, a manager, a series of acting classes or showcases. You might “meet with” those people, but you are not auditioning because there is no job available. If a business advertises an “audition” in California, there better be a job attached.
“Callback” — A callback is a second audition–for a JOB. An actor auditions once (usually for a casting director or their associate) and if they are lucky, they get a second physical audition, a “callback” for the producers, director or other decision makers. This all revolves around an actual job. When businesses or young actors say they had a callback at an event or convention, we know they were involved in a scam because that is a misuse of an industry term, designed to make you feel “chosen” and special, when it actually means nothing. Typically, questionable businesses (see Avoiding Scams) require or pay representatives to give a certain number of callbacks to paying families.
“Feature Film” — A feature film is not just any film. It is a full length (over 40 minutes) film that is exhibited in a commercial, public, big screen movie theater. It is a “feature presentation”. Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars) publishes a list of the movies that meet the criteria, and thus are eligible for an Oscar. The individual actors with authentic credits in those movies are also listed. Spoiler: for the 2020 ceremony, there were only 344 of them! The Academy’s most recent list is here.
Stating that your child is “starring in a feature” can be a hint that you are less than honest if the movie, or your actor, do not appear on this list. Almost all feature films in the US are union projects. Short films are less than 40 minutes and are never a “feature” or a “movie”, no matter who is producing them. Films that are straight-to-streaming are not “feature films”. Just to be safe, it is best to say your child is in a “film”, and leave it at that unless you are certain of the status.
“Agent” vs. “Manager” — Not just anyone can call themselves an agent. An agent is typically a state licensed entity, and the only person who can legally solicit employment on behalf of a child. A manager is unlicensed, and unregulated. Their job descriptions are different as well. Sadly, scam companies often confuse these terms to make themselves seem more legitimate, and/or they understand so little about the industry they don’t know the difference themselves. If you say you have an “agent” or are approached by an “agency” in the mall or online, you should be sure that the person is actually a real licensed talent agent. For more about agents and managers, read here: Agents & Managers 101
“Featured” (credits) – Featured is not a contractual term. Professionals recognize what this is on a resume…background or extra work. Beware of the casting notice that advertises “featured roles”–they are just extra work, with no lines. In Los Angeles and in most major markets, extra work does not belong on an actor’s resume at all, so using “featured” is discouraged.
“Casting Agent” — There is no such thing as a “casting agent”. An agent is a licensed entity (see above). Professionals who work in casting are unionized (as Teamsters) and they have chosen to call themselves Casting Directors, Casting Associates, or Casting Assistants. Those who use the term “casting agent” are probably not involved in the legitimate industry.
“Voucher” vs. “Time Sheet” — Only background actors use these items. A “voucher” is a half sheet, triplicate form with SAG on the top, and they are given to union actors who are working on union productions. Occasionally, a “voucher” is given to a non-union actor who is working on a SAG job. If you collect 3 of these vouchers, you may be eligible to join the Screen Actor’s Guild. Not to be confused with a voucher, non-union background actors get a time sheet. It looks similar, is small in size, and doesn’t say “SAG” on it. Both documents are used as a log of your time on set, provide documentation for payroll, and are sent to the payroll company at the end of the day. Principal actors do not get vouchers, ever. So if you say you got one, professionals know it was a background job.
“Contracts” and “Deal Memos” — Both of these documents are legally binding and are recognized by the labor unions as a formal employment agreement. Both have the specifics of the deal such as pay rates, dates of work, credits, etc. Typically a “deal memo” is the precursor to the formal employment contract and is a little less formal, and a contract is often not signed until you go to work. The contract will be a legal sized document with several pages (as opposed to a background voucher). It isn’t unusual to have a Deal Memo and a contract for the same job, with the Deal Memo being negotiated and signed prior to work, then the real contract signed later (but before you step before the cameras). Very important: legally, a parent cannot negotiate a contract, nor can a manager because they are not licensed. You must have a lawyer, or a licensed talent agent to negotiate an employment deal. This is why you will see us say that you MUST have an agent, but a manager is optional.
“Cannes” “Fashion Week” and “Sundance” — All of these events are real and highly competitive. But the terms are often misused in order to get models and actors to participate in a free or pay-to-play project. We have seen short films casting with promises of a deferred pay “film for Sundance” but they couldn’t possibly promise that at the casting stage! Similarly, a finished film is not really at the Cannes Film Festival if it is screened somewhere nearby, in the city of Cannes, but not actually a part of the competition. Sometimes a fake “designer” will hold a fashion show in a rented hotel ballroom down the street from NY Fashion Week. These things do not mean that you will be “starring in a film for Sundance” or that you “had a film at Cannes” or that you “walked NYFW”. The real industry is very tuned in to these events and they know when you are claiming something that was a fake. It won’t make you look good, and it is certainly not worth paying for that kind of opportunity.
MORE TERMS — The Screen Actors Guild Young Performers Committee developed a fun website that has the most extensive showbiz glossary around. If you want to learn more industry terms, visit their site at http://youngperformers.sagaftra.org/glossary
There’s nothing wrong with being new to this industry, and hopefully we all continue to have new experiences, learning every day. If this information is new for you, try to expand your vocabulary the correct way. Using the very traditional terms appropriately will eliminate your child’s risk and also enhance your professionalism!
COMMON ACTOR GRAMMAR MISTAKES — Your child was a “principal” actor, not “principle”. Your child had a “recurring” role on a television series, not “re-occurring”. Your child was “cast” as a lead boy, not “casted”. They really brought life to the “role” not the “roll”.