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LETTER FROM L.A.: Paris actors on unions and age; the true meaning of reality (TV)
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier



                I may now confess: the last two columns you (hopefully) read were written some weeks back to fill the space left empty by my trip to... Paris! (And other places).

                As luck would have it, I know several actors over there and found myself at a party with several more.  This allowed me to compare notes on a few issues, not least of all SAG's Global Rule One. This, as I read it, requires foreign actors living in Los Angeles and belonging to SAG to work under SAG contracts even when they do films in their home countries (I have tried to get clarification on this issue from other members, but the bottom line seems to be that, while this may not be its primary intent, it would indeed be one result.) I'm afraid our discussions on this point were pretty brief - they dismissed the idea out of hand.

                It doesn't help that some, at least, view American unions as one more corporate entity, essentially defending the interests of a small group and not particularly advancing the interests of the larger base. The fact that only about 5% of SAG's members live fully off acting (as I remember) didn't help convince them otherwise.

                While the subject of Global Rule One wasn't very fruitful, it did lead to one I found more interesting: how French actors' unions operate. I never had a chance to get the official versions of all this, but based on my conversations, at least one thing is true: in France, the fact that you are a union member in no way limits the work you can do. Union members can work on non-union projects (to the degree that the distinction has any sense there.)

                The obvious question then for an American actor is what assures that French actors will get a decent minimal rate for their work, not to mention residuals? The answer seems to be that payment over there is handled by a system more like what we use for musicians over here (with ASCAP and BMI). The organization responsible is called ADAMI (which must stand for something, but they don’t tell you what - the English version of their Web page is at: As long as you are signed up with the ADAMI, you will get your residuals, just as a songwriter gets theirs if they are a member of ASCAP or BMI.

                The next question is, if French unions don't ensure that actors get decent pay, what DO they do? The answer seems to be that they act as a form of lobby for actors, which is one reason, for instance, that French actors have a very special (and generous) unemployment status. It's important to bear in mind too that France has a fairly generous social support system overall, not to mention a bit more governmental respect for culture overall. Unlike a country where the NEA's very existence is regularly threatened.

                As I say, I was on vacation and busy doing other research. So I'm sure there's still more to be said on this subject. If anyone knows more about how this works in France or other countries, I'd be interested to  hear about it (c/o of

                Another issue that came up was that of age. One of my French half-brothers has been a screenwriter for decades, and continues, well past 50, to get work. He told me that in fact there was a period when anyone over 40 was in trouble, but not so much anymore. An actress who happily told me she was 37 (already a rarity in Los Angeles) said she'd been getting more rather than less work as she got older and seemed shocked it would be a consideration.

                My good friend Nathalie Mann, on the other hand, did consider it an issue - even as she's handily overcome it. She recently did a téléfilm (kind of a movie of the week) about a difficult subject: a transsexual goes back to Paris ten years after the operation to see the children whose father she had been. This was Nathalie's first leading role, and she said plainly in one interview that she especially appreciated getting it when she was past 30 (and the mother of two little boys.) I don't know how often such films get widely reviewed in France, but in this case she got rave reviews across a broad spectrum of press. Which only made the whole experience that much more delightful, for her and for her old friends.

                Finally, there's the issue of reality TV. The big hit in this area in France has been "Loft Story". A Nous Paris, a free paper in the Metro, had an article on the casting for "Loft II" and other shows called "Casting Madness" ("La Folie des Castings"). The article concluded: "And so one becomes a candidate for notoriety to escape an ordinary working life, now considered worthless. The consumer himself becomes a consumable product, for television to squeeze dry. Result: the current lack of social visibility is compensated by an excess of media exposure."

                Uh, yeah. What he said.