Ontario Film / Talent Industry Abuse: When will it stop?

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(updated Dec 23 2016)

They call us “Hollywood North”; it’s no secret that Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver have all been the filming spots for countless Blockbuster productions. Like most young starlets, Canada’s film industry is vibrant, energetic and very sexy. It seduces young and old with it’s lights and behind the scenes access. But along with the glitz, this temptress has other secrets: she’s an industry with a increasingly frequent occurrence of bullying, exploitation and abuse.

It is a unique and very powerful world. Media, arts and entertainment background jobs are often seen as dazzling and desirable, however private confessions and public online rants have revealed that talent is often subjected to major violations of their rights, with no department or authority to whom reports or complaints can be made. In fact, if you are in the industry more than likely, you or someone you know has been bullied, harassed or discriminated against at least once. You’d think this billion-dollar industry would have little tolerance for the consistent reports and the shocking levels of ill-treatment and inappropriate behavior. But there’s a culture of “keeping silent”, with only a third of those suffering bullying and harassment reporting the incidents. They soon find out why the other two thirds decide to keep quiet.

Our film industry stiffens competition for TV, film, orchestra or even background work. This is why most talent workers freelance or work on short-term contracts.  But in doing so, they have to accept fewer statutory rights. The result is working in fear knowing there is always someone else hungry to take their place or the possibility of becoming blacklisted if they complain.

And blacklisting is something that can occur in any industry (not only film/talent). Blacklisting has been known to happen from studio films with budgets ranging from 50 million all the way down to short indie films with a budget in the low thousands. A clear distinction needs to be made between the two because talent that’s blacklisted in the motion picture studio sector can still get jobs in the making of indie films. This happens all the time. A well known example of blacklisting is Troy Duffy, who happened to be filming a documentary (Overnight 2003) during his rise to fame and consequent descent back down to the unknown.

Victimized talent fears the repercussions of reporting abuse by their superiors. Reports site merciless cases of megalomania among set managers and talent agents who repeatedly try to prove their power by affecting the livelihood of cast members. When asked why they don’t report it to filming executives, one response was “Who would dare think of accusing a person that is well known and respected of verbal, defamation or other types of work abuse?” If someone is brave enough they speak up on behalf of themselves or a group. But once the person is dealt with and made an example of, it won’t cross the minds of the many others who are affected. Higher up refuse to see or have not time for the infringement of their rights. It’s a put up or shut up situation.

For those who suspect these claims to be mild cases of paranoia, digging deeper unearths more tangible proof of exploitation. It is also well-known in the entertainment industry that movie studios use fraudulent accounting – widely known as “Hollywood Accounting” – to cheat writers, actors and others who are not on their favored lists from getting paid. Numerous and well known examples abound, where writers and actors have been paid little or nothing on films which made billions of dollars.

Then there are also diversity challenges as previously discussed in our article on racial diversity in the film industry, it’s an issue consistently highlighted by Oscar nominations to right down to extra casting choices.

If the perpetrator is the target’s superior who often may suffer from delusions of grandeur, he or she may: set the target up for failure by setting unrealistic goals or deadlines (12 AM casting calls anyone?),  or denying necessary information and resources (outdoor shoots etc.); either overload the target with work or take all work away (sometimes replacing proper work with demeaning jobs); or increase responsibility while removing authority.

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Ministry of Labour has in place The Occupational Health and Safety Act for harassment in the workplace. Ontario’s law on harassment and violence in the workplace defines harassment as when a worker in the workplace is the victim of a course of vexatious comments or conduct that is known, or ought reasonably to have been known, to be unwelcome. Often times these matters can be resolved through human resources policies and investigations. However, in the film/talent fields they rarely exist for acting talent. In more serious cases or where there is a void between HR and the employee, lawyers may have to intervene.

Slander & Libel acts Michelle Morrison
Click to expand to see Admin Michelle Morrison attempt to use her connections to promote fear into joining the competition.

Online discredits and defamation has reached its zenith in the last 2 years. The fact of the matter is it doesn’t take much to become a victim of such crimes, and yes they are crimes. These infractions don’t lose their criminality because they didn’t happen in an office or on a factory floor. Cyber bullying doesn’t just happen among high schoolers. Smear campaigns in this day and age can cripple a person mentally and professionally if not taken seriously. A social media group that has perhaps 5,000 members could spread a message like wildfire with a few simple posts. If an average person in a social media setting has 1 to 3000 of friends or followers that message can expand exponentially within seconds. All it takes is one person with widespread influence in the industry to say the word, others will follow and you “will never work in this town again”. Defamation is definitely a tool of abuse used in this industry.

There’s hope. Canadian internet defamation case law continues to develop. Take the case of Weaver v. Corcoran, 2015 BCSC 165, (2015). The message to website operators from Weaver is thus fairly straightforward: feel free to publish or host “unmoderated” comment sections on your website, but once you are made aware of defamatory content, you’d better act swiftly to remove that content or risk the pain of an adverse defamation judgment. It’s not in the industry’s best interest to condone or allow defamation, smearing or soiling of reputations publicly online or on social media platforms, it can backfire and act as proof of ill practices internally. Imagine your employer tweeting your poor performance report to everyone in their network. It would be considered libelous.

In another precedent, (Baglow v. Smith, 2015 ONSC 1175 ) concluded that the defendants were responsible, as publishers, for the defamatory content on the basis that they were the moderators and administrators” of the forum, with the power to edit and delete postings made by users. What does this mean? If a casting company or talent agency underhandedly tries to discredit you by encouraging or permitting other “users” to post negative or defamatory comments about a talent/worker, they may now be held just as responsible as the one who committed the slander, especially if they refuse to remove it from their platform.

“The Internet represents a communications revolution. It makes instantaneous global communication available cheaply to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. It enables individuals, institutions, and companies to communicate with a potentially vast global audience. It is a medium which does not respect geographical boundaries. Concomitant with the utopian possibility of creating virtual communities, enabling aspects of identity to be explored, and heralding a new and global age of free speech and democracy, the Internet is also potentially a medium of virtually limitless international defamation.” – Barrick Gold Corp. v. Lopehandia (2004), 71 O.R. (3d) 416

Heroes have also emerged. The talent agency and film industry themselves have formed a number of associations in an effort of accountability and self-regulation.  The EICAA (Entertainment Industry Coalition Agency Association) has crafted a Code of Ethical Conduct for Talent and Background Agents.  Other associations include TAMAC (Talent Agents and Managers Association of Canada) and AMIS (Acting and Modelling Information Service). These organizations elevate and maintain standards in the industry. Their goal is to speak for talent at all levels and ensure that the standards agreed upon are maintained.

Who watches the watchdog? Need for Media Ombudsperson | World of ...

The real question to ask is “who watches the watchdogs?” Critics of these self regulating entities have voiced the need for a Media Ombudsman, and with good reason. Can industry professional organizations like casting agencies and talent management be key members of these institutions, setting regulation and standards if they are the ones currently violating the rights of their workers and committing countless infractions? Structuring these associations, setting up these standards and regulations with no consequences or repercussions is actually pointless. The task of doing it is daunting because there are varied productions, casting directors, and other players, many of whom are accountable to American film studios. The one thing to remember as talent, if you are working in Canada, you have rights, no matter what.

At BGRated, we believe exploitation and bullying of any type is not acceptable and have chosen to shine light on the subject than keeping it in the dark.

If you have a manager, talent agency or “person” that has been abusive or threatened you within a work environment you have many options. (Note to remember, defamation is also a form of abuse. Defamation is false communication about an individual that tends to damage the person’s reputation. The negative communication must be made to other people, not just to the person it’s about. It can be spoken or written, or it can even be a gesture. The law protects your reputation against defamation so, if someone defames you, you can sue the person for monetary compensation toward your damaged reputation and loss of potential earnings.) Read more here: http://www.justanswer.com/canada-law/2l5e5-verbal-slander-canada-ontario-what-need-stop.html#ixzz3rmD1XlXf

It’s in the industry’s best interest to face these issues head on. They poison working environment with low morale, fear, anger, and depression. The employer or productions pays for this in lost efficiency, absenteeism, high staff turnover, severance packages and lawsuits. In extreme cases, a violent incident may be the tragic outcome.

There are many ways for talent to empower themselves. Keep records of everything you do. Take down date and time of events when they happen. If you see someone being abusive to another person or entity keep note of it and who they represent. More than likely it is systemic if done publicly and will happen again and quite possibly to you if the tables are turned. Such efforts add credibility. It’s unlikely that you’d take the time and make the effort to records many incidences if they weren’t really true.

Take action and speak out intelligently. You have a right to work and that right also allows you to do it without fear.

BGRated

 

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