What is an upgrade?
Occasionally, a production will wrongfully categorize a performer. This, for example, may be an instance where a Background Performer should actually really be an Actor or maybe a Special Skills Extra should actually be a Stunt Performer. An upgrade is a re-classification of the category based on the requirements of the role in which the performer was engaged.
How Do I Know if I Deserve an Upgrade?
The following are definitions from the IPA of Background roles:
a) Background Performer means any Performer other than a Principal Actor or an Actor, who is: i) not required to give individual characterization; ii) not required to speak or sing any word or Line of Dialogue; iii) not required to perform as a Special Skill Background Performer iv) engaged to perform, either alone or as a member of a team or group, special silent businesses requiring a level of proficiency or other physical skill within the competence of the average person, even if required to perform in dress clothes or costumes.
b) Photographic Double means a Performer doubling photographically for a member of the cast during on-camera long shots and other scenes in which the photographic double is not recognizable.
c) Stand-In is a Performer engaged to replace physically another Performer during a set-up period.
d) Special Skill Background Performer means a Background Performer engaged to perform, either alone or as a member of a team or group, special silent businesses with a level of physical proficiency or other physical skills superior to that of the average person, provided that such level of proficiency or other physical skills shall be deemed to exclude stunt work as provided for in A26. Examples of such special silent businesses are: i) water-skiing, diving, skin or scuba diving; ii) driving a marine vessel or a commercial motor vehicle, or any motor vehicle requiring a chauffeur’s license; iii) any sport such as, but not limited to, baseball, football, skiing, hockey, soccer, and horseback riding. If you have been engaged in one of these categories, but are fulfilling the duties of another category, you may deserve an upgrade. It is of paramount importance, however, that you realize that every instance is unique and what may be deserving of an upgrade under certain circumstances may not be at other times.
What is NOT generally deserving of an upgrade (and often assumed to be)?
- Being in proximity to the camera.
- Being in proximity to or touching the main actors.
- Receiving direction from the Director to perform tasks which require a level of proficiency of an average person – like opening a door, for example.
- Speaking when in a group.
- Having a name or title in the project – like wearing a stethoscope and being referred to as Joe, the Doctor.
What is deserving of an upgrade?
Individual characterization of a role.
When you are not only Joe, the Doctor, but told that you are actually Joe-who’s wife left him last night, ran over his cat in the driveway this morning, has been stealing prescription drugs from the hospital and selling them on the side who just happens to be a Doctor. Suddenly, you are a very specific, unique character. You are being asked to ACT. When in doubt, ask for the upgrade.
How Do I Ask for an Upgrade?
Ask. Ask the third A.D. Ask the P.M. if you get a chance. Ask the person responsible for background performers. Do not ask the Director. The person may say no (they probably will), but then, they may say yes. If you are upgraded on set, regardless of whether or not you should have been, the upgrade will stand. And everyone goes home happy. But they will probably say no.