ACTRA Apprentice Caucus meeting - November 21st 2002 - Report

The first general meeting of the Actra Apprentice Caucus was held on Thursday November 21st 2002 at the Steelworkers Hall on Cecil Street Toronto. The meeting was chaired and run by John Henley (Chair). John Ford, the outgoing Secretary, was unable to attend because of continuity shooting which ran through the Thursday.

The meeting was opened with a welcome to the 100-120 people who were present and the Agenda for the session was outlined.

First was a report from the Chair regarding what had happened between the formation of the Caucus at the January 2002 meeting, and the present day. Emphasis was laid on the relationship that had been cultivated with various people at ACTRA and how the process of dealing in a diplomatic way has helped to get many of the ACTRA board on side.

At a recent roundtable discussion at a board meeting, attendees were asked to list matters that they would like to see dealt with during the coming year, and it was gratifying to note the number who brought up the subject of Apprentices and how our situation needed to be looked at in depth.

Regarding our successes, one of our main priorities was the issue of the 3% which is deducted from our pay cheques. According to the cheques, this deduction is made for our retirement fund, but from Actra's perspective, this is just an equalization deduction to make us competitive with full members, and the deduction goes into ACTRA's general funds for use as they wish.

Under current law you cannot make a deduction from someone's pay without a corresponding benefit being provided, which has not been the case. Actra has appreciated the virtue of our argument and this is the result.

*** When an Apprentice attains full membership of Actra, the deductions made in the two years prior to attaining full membership, will be applied to their retirement fund. For those who have been Apprentices for many years this will not recoup everything, but for those who take 2 years or less to reach full membership, they will have all their deductions applied to their retirement fund. This is expected to be ratified in December.

The Right to Work has also been a big issue and I, as the Chair, have encountered many Apprentices who wished they were still Cash Extras. At that time they worked more often and, effectively, made more money. We cannot resign from being Apprentices and go backwards, but we asked Actra to consider an alternative. This is the result.

*** Under current rules an Apprentice is entitled to work as cash background if he or she cannot be employed at Apprentice rates as part of the first 25 background people on set. This is an entirely voluntary option and is up to individual members to decide if they want to hang on for the lean work at Apprentice rates, or if they want to work as cash.

As a cash background person, you would not be classed above other cash background people. You would eat from the cash background table and NOT from the Apprentice, Full Member and Crew table at lunch.

If you wish to take advantage of this opportunity, you will have to make your own decision and advise your agent accordingly. If you want only Apprentice work at the higher rate, then you are not compelled to work as cash background if you don't want to. It is a personal choice.

The Chair indicated that there were also moves afoot by Actra to revamp the whole membership system, and the Chair had been asked by Actra to participate in the process.

There were a few members of the audience who were totally against the idea of working for cash background rates, and it was pointed out that they did not have to. the option was there for those who chose to do so, an no-one was compelled to work as cash if they did not want to.

A question and answer session operated as the various points were raised, and most questions were relevant to the topics we were discussing.

The first stage of the elections followed. Dan McKenzie from ACTRA announced the positions available and nominees were sought for the position of Vice Chair. Nominees were given 30 seconds to "sell" themselves to the members and let everyone know who they were an what their position was. Nothing like being put in the hot seat! James Finnerty was elected. The position of secretary went unopposed to Cheryl Hancock.

Whilst voting for two additional committee members took place, Brian Topp gave an address on what was happening with ACTRA, the direction it was going and how the whole membership issue would be reviewed. He discussed the state of the movie business in Toronto and how work had diminished considerably during the current year. There were less background positions which was why so many of us have not been working as much as usual. This was also, partially, because no blockbuster big budget movies had come to Toronto for a while.

Barbara LaRose and Judy Barefoot were also in attendance to help answer questions, but time was short and Q & A session was kept to a minimum.

Our next speaker was Sherry Lawr from Sheridan College who had been invited to talk about student films and the benefits for Apprentices who cared to get involved. Apart from the obvious benefit of being able to obtain credits for the work, Apprentices were also in a position to get practical experience in front of a camera and also obtain material for a show reel.

There were quite a number of questions posed and answered. (N.B. from the Chair. Having been involved in a student movie the day before the meeting and also one the previous week, I can assure you that students are great to work with and in some cases the level of professionalism is similar to what one would experience on a regular set. Even if you do the work for no fee, there is tremendous value in the material you can get for your show reel.)

Following Sherry Lawr we had a panel of various agents and casting directors who were there to answer questions from the audience. On the panel were Eleanor Lavender (Background Casting Director), Anne Dodds (Background Agent), Lisa Parasyn (Principal Casting Director), Kathy Gaitt (Principal Agent) and Austin Schatz (Actor and Actra board member).

This was an opportunity for people to ask a variety of questions, some very pointed, about the process, including auditions. There was a lively exchange and some interesting questions and answers.

Once the panel had concluded, the results of the votes for the two additional committee members were announced, and the meeting was closed. The committee members elected were Sistah Lois and David Gray

Note from the Chair: The meeting closed around 4.20pm and it was interesting to note that there was not a mad rush for the door. People stood around in groups for some time, and many people came up to me at the end of the meeting to say how much they enjoyed themselves and how much better the afternoon was than they had anticipated.

There were a lot of additional questions asked, some congratulatiosn and hand shakes on a good afternoon's session and a few requests to know when the next meeting might be.....always a good sign !

On behalf of the Caucus members I have expressed my thanks to everyone who helped putting this afternoon show together and contributed to the content and smooth running.

To those who attended, my thanks and appreciation. I know there were quite a few who were going to come but could not, mainly because they got called to set....the best reason for missing anything!

We ARE making progress on behalf of the Apprentices, and there is still a long way to go. It will take time because so many people are involved in the decision making progress, but Actra is listening to us and is more than prepared to help us overcome the challenges we face.

Respectfully submitted
John Henley
Actra Apprentice Caucus - Toronto