A Note on Supporting Artists

Last week I received a call from a frazzled extras agent. They needed advice regarding an artist that was demanding Musicians’ Union rates after they had already been paid. Of course, I will generally sympathise with the performer, but in this case, they hadn’t been upfront about their union membership and expectations. With this in mind, I hope that the overview below of background musician rates, proves helpful.

Yes, casting musicians for background roles is a pretty niche area. But, ask a member of a production team, and they may not be aware that there is actually a dedicated union agreement for musicians that are miming.

The Musicians’ Union has an agreement with PACT (for those of you not in the know, PACT is the trade association for the independent production sector), which provides a guide to suitable minimum rates for this kind of work.

Through my experience in this field, I believe that, in the majority of cases, productions pleading ignorance are genuinely unaware of these proposed rates (the MU might beg to differ).

Why? It’s mainly down to confusion caused by the PACT agreement with BECTU, which has terms relating to the work of supporting artists.

The Film Artistes Association (FAA) is a division of BECTU, and is part of this larger union body which looks after background artistes. It’s safe to say that these rates are used in almost every major film and TV production. Add-on rates can then be used for special categories of performance, such as body doubling, driving or specialised dancing. However, although an add-on rate is often used, there is not a provision within this document for musicians.

At Classical Vision, I make every effort to raise awareness of the Musicians’ Union/PACT agreement. There are real benefits of being informed about these terms, and how they can impact a musician’s approach to the shoot day. I’ve seen production teams caught out when musicians turn up on a shoot day, and understandably, want to stick to these terms.

Production teams might ask why they would want a specialist musician, when they can source an extra from a pool of thousands in the UK? Firstly; attention to detail. The sight of an inexperienced performer feels completely incongruous to the high standards you expect of other aspects of your project.

Secondly, reliability. A 2nd AD needs reassurance that the performer they have booked can actually deliver as promised. It’s reassuring not to have to rely on the word of a supporting artist that, from prior experience, may have an unrealistic idea of their abilities on the violin.

Lastly, booking a group of professionals just makes sense. Particularly if you’re considering booking a mixture of abilities- it’s not worth it on the shoot day, when time constraints are always a factor.

The Musicians’ Union offers advice regarding their various agreements. However, it can be useful to have specific guidance related to your production. For consultations and guidance on any of the above issues, please get in touch, and I’d be happy to walk you through it.