Thursday, August 18, 2005

The letter to ACTRA

To: [ACTRA person whose name begins with S]
From: Lawrence Nyveen
Subject: Dr. Bethune


I spoke with you on the phone yesterday about my children's experience with the "Dr. Bethune" production. My concern is not strictly with the amount the production plans to pay them as it is with their classification as background versus actor.

All three of my children worked on camera: [Child One] (age 11); [Child Two] (8); and [Child Three] (5). [Child Two] and [Child Three] worked eight hours on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005 and eight hours on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005. [Child One] worked only eight hours on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005. None has worked as talent before, and none is a member of ACTRA.

At no time was I informed of pay rate or classification, and I have yet to sign any documents concerning the children's work. The two younger children were confirmed for the parts on Aug. 9 by Josa from the MSOPA for the first day of shooting, who described the work as "non-speaking acting roles". She called to book all three children for the second day on Aug. 15.

I was only shown a call sheet at the end of the Aug. 16 shooting day. If I recall correctly, the children were listed as extras. For certain, they weren't in the cast list.

The two days of shooting covered identical same scenes as far as I could tell. On Aug. 10, [Child Two] and [Child Three] played the younger children of an immigrant family that lives in a wagon. Their older sister was played by an ACTRA member named [T]. [T] was unavailable for the Aug. 16 shoot, so [Child One] was hired to replace her.

The children acted with Carl Alacchi, (who played their father, Franz), Anna ??? (mother), Trevor Hayes (Norman Bethune), Sabine Karsenti (Frances Bethune), and David Rigby (One-Arm Jack).

The scenes I remember are as follows:

INT. The children cluster around their mother, who is in labour. Franz hustles them outside. The kids protest: "No, no, mommy, mommy!"

EXT. Franz puts the children outside. [Child Three] refuses, lifts his arms to be carried. Franz picks him up, heads back inside.

EXT. The children are playing outside and spot Bethune and Frances, who have come for a visit. The kids run to greet them, and escort them to their father at the wagon. The kids' dialogue: "It's my turn!" "I found the stick!" "Doctor! Doctor!" "Pappy, pappy! The doctor"

EXT. The kids cluster by the wagon's front door. [Child One] and [Child Two] are tall enough to try to look in the window. [Child Three] tries to listen at the door. No adults in this scene.

EXT. Bethune leaves the family after delivering the baby. Franz hands him money. Bethune won't accept payment, and Franz won't take it back, so Bethune hands the dollar bill to [Child One]. [Child One] courtsies, "Grazie". Franz sends [Child One] inside to fetch the doctor's things. [Child Two] comes out with his coat and hat; [Child One] carries the doctor's bag. They hand the doctor his belongings. [Child Three] crawls into Franz's arms. The doctor kisses all the children before he leaves. The kids wave goodbye: "Grazie, doctor, grazie. Ciao! Ciao, doctor!"

INT. Franz puts the children to bed before burning his family to death. [Child Three] refuses to close his eyes, just stares at Franz.

There may be a few more scenes I don't remember, but the director also took close-ups of the children to go along with the broader action.

This is my family's first time at this sort of thing, and I would have been left in the dark in terms of payment had Carl Alacchi not asked me about the terms the children were working under. I had no idea - I was relying on good faith (I know, I know). He explained that because they had dialogue, close-ups, and because they related to the main characters, they should be classified as actors. He and Anna recommended I speak to ACTRA.

I asked the 1st AD, Tom, about this on set. He told me the children should be paid for what they were doing. As the Aug. 16 shoot wound down, he told me that he had fixed it up with Aldo, the 2nd AD. Back at base camp, Aldo said he'd arrange the pay details with Josa.

On Aug. 17, Josa told me over the phone that the kids were classified as background, and that they would be paid a flat fee of $100 each for their work. I assume that was what Aldo arranged with her after the fact.

The people who saw the children's work on set (Carl, Anna, Trevor, and Tom the 2nd AD) seem to agree that the children were actors, not background, and that they deserved a credit. The people who never saw them on set (Josa, Aldo) dismiss the work as background.

Like I said, we're new at this game. If what the children did is within the realm of background, that's fine. But on the advice of the people my children worked with, I thought I should bring this to your attention. Other than this, I have no complaints about the production's treatment of the children.

Please let me know if there's any necessary information I've left out. You can call me at 514-NNN-NNNN, although if I'm near the phone, I'm near the computer, so e-mail works fine, too. I freelance from home, so I'm always available.


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