A recent news release has pointed out that film and television producers are unsatisfied with the current agreement with the Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the union that represents Canadian film, TV and radio performers, and this is forcing our actors to go on strike.
Even with all the tax credits and government funding they get, producers are still trying change the rules so that actors can’t get a fair break.
In Canada, the federal and provincial governments have numerous programmes, incentives and tax credits dedicated to promoting film production in this country; and although there is much production going on in Canada, they are not necessarily this country’s productions. These tax incentives have mostly been a boon to large Hollywood studios who move north to take advantage of Canada’s scenic shooting locations, trained workforce and large body of talented performers, and most recently, our incredibly developed capital infrastructure for film production. Though these big American pictures are perhaps not what Canadian artists would produce could they have their way, we do benefit indirectly through the economic trickle-down effect which produces jobs, contracts for small businesses, and a variety of small spin-off industries.
However, none of these measures (which amount to little more than corporate welfare disguised as artistic patronage) has had the desired effect of creating a large, permanent market for Canadian-content film and television, or a lasting, stable base of economic development. This is because these government measures can be instituted anywhere, and they currently are, south of the border. The flagging US dollar and politicians eager to make a more inviting climate for investment, have made Canada somewhat less alluring as a site for offshoring more US production, namely that of the Tinseltown elite.
How pathetic. Even with all the tax credits and government funding they get, producers are still trying change the rules so that actors can’t get a fair break. No wonder ACTRA is exasperated.
It is important to realize that most actors - even those in a union - earn less than $12,000 a year at their craft. Almost all supplement their income with low-wage work in the service sector as wait staff, retail clerks, etc. Very few actors actually make a living from their craft and far fewer ‘make it big'.
We must learn to recognize that all art is the product of labour, and these artists - except for the rare occasion they are producing their own work - are exploited.
When actors do get a ‘gig’, it is often a part that is merely a step to something bigger (hopefully); it is rarely a job that is an expression of the actor’s own creativity, of his or her authentic self. Often gigs are degrading, boring, a waste of time and energy, or only necessary to pay the bills. Thus even for actors, work can be alienating.
Yet even if that labour is more fulfilling and gratifying than, say, factory work, there is still a producer, studio, network, advertising or theatre company that gains profit from the actor’s performance. Thus, actors, like the worker on the production line, exist in an exploitative relationship with their employers. Their labour, though rewarded with a fee or wage, enriches a capitalist.
Actors must organize with other artists, and demand the following concessions from producers and from government:
- A system of tax credits for income earned from the arts, so that artists are more able to live off their work and develop their craft, and contribute to Canadian culture.
- Canadian Content legislation extended further in the realm of TV and radio broadcasting, through both quotas and taxation of multinational for-profit corporate content.
- Extending similar rules to cover the theatrical motion picture and DVD industries, in order to create a market for Canadian material, to promote production of CanCon, as well as jobs and opportunities for Canadian artists, producers and technicians, and to contribute to the development of a distinctly Canadian culture and artistic community.
- A raise in the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour, fixed to inflation, so that artists who do need to work other jobs can support themselves more easily; and eventually, a shortening of the working day, to allow people more free time to pursue, and be exposed to, the arts.
- Increased public funding for the CBC, the Canada Council for the Arts, the National Film Board, and Telefilm Canada.
- The creation and funding of high-quality, independent, publicly-owned and community-run theatres, recording studios, film cooperatives and television and radio stations.
- That actors’ unions and collective agreements be accepted and respected.
It is a poor civilization indeed that does not respect its artists. The work of artists creates the cultural products that define a people and an age. It is worth asking at this point, whether these demands can be met in the context of our current socioeconomic system. Perhaps we should close the curtain on capitalism, and act as an ensemble to move our dream, as we say, ‘from the page to the stage'.
If given the chance, artists of all kinds - writers, singers, painters, actors - can be revolutionary; for we can create and give life to the ideas, passions and struggles that will define a new generation of people, and give expression to a new era. It is artists that, through the act of self-motivated work, perform labour that does not alienate the self, but is a true expression and realization of their inner being. They live the socialist ideal, that all labour should be “not only a means to life, but life’s prime want.”
Actors must come to understand the part they play in the economy, their role in production, and heed the call for solidarity and unity – across the country, across all the arts, and across the world’s borders.