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Actors warn greedy producers in artistes’ better pay campaign

The crusade to name and shame producers and production houses that do not pay actors and crew has been gathering steam online through the #PayArtistesKE hashtag. Chairman of Kenya Actors’ Guild, Gilbert Lukalia speaks about artistes’ welfare

Q: How big is the problem the Guild is trying to address?

A: As the chair of the Guild, I receive many calls from artistes who go unpaid long after doing the work. Often, producers ask actors to work first, with the promise of payment, yet when they are paid they delay the cash, some for years.

Some producers would rather take their families on holiday and buy cars before they pay artistes. Others will play the crew against the actors by paying the former. We have actors who are so frustrated that they are joining the crews. We want to regulate the industry, negotiate the minimum pay and working conditions for artistes.

What do you mean by working conditions for artistes?

Some producers want to get more money for themselves while putting in as little as they can get away with. If it means shooting a whole season in a week, they will do it. They will make actors work long hours or compromise on script quality and entire process.

What are you doing for artistes? What’s going on beyond the online campaign?

We did a call-out asking artistes to lodge their complaints with us. We will name and shame those implicated once we establish the facts. We also intend to mediate between the parties and if that doesn’t work, we will engage arbitration and litigation.

We have reached out to Kenya Film Commission and Performance Rights Society of Kenya to assist us with legal and logistical support. Our committee that handles the welfare of artistes is also coming up with a rate-card for the actors and crew.

Our aim is to equip the artistes and ensure a conducive work environment for them. We have done workshops on personal branding. We did an actor’s monologue challenge at Kenya National Theatre, where we invited producers and directors to come fish for talent.

We are talking to several counties so that we can identify talent from all over the country. We are also working on a directory of artistes where anyone seeking actors or crew can find their profiles.

Why do artistes shoot many episodes of a show without a pay?

Most producers prey on artistes’ desperation. If an actor has been jobless for months, he will only be too happy to work for a promise. However, even established actors fall victim to this, because producers will beg them to star in their shows. If they do not take the job, someone else will take it for less.

And what do you intend to achieve with the campaign?

We want a professional industry. We want only producers who are worth the name, who have the muscle and can access the resources required to pull off the capital-intensive production business. We have too many briefcase producers that have no capital, projections, business structures, sources of funding or websites. We have some really professionals too.

How do you tell witch-hunts from genuine complaints? This could be a legal minefield…

We have asked the artistes to exercise fairness and honesty and we do due diligence. I received a phone call from a production company that had been implicated, and they said they had an agreement with the actors that they would shoot three episodes for the purpose of looking for a broadcaster, which has not happened.

They said the actors had not consulted them before naming them. So we are careful about producers being maligned.

Have implicated producers responded?

Most have not and some have paid some people to ‘get off social media’, which goes to show how spiteful they are of artistes. The most notorious are the producers who haven’t paid their artistes.

How do other countries address payment issues?

Through unions and guilds. These are there to protect the artiste. In South Africa, for example, a producer must commit to honour the regulations of the union before signing up the artistes. All departments should form unions and speak with one voice. We also want the government to validate what we do. Artistes are not recognised as employees. Yet we pay taxes. We deserve bank loans, medical cover, recognition of our talent. Can we be certified in accordance with our experience, even if we don’t have university degrees? Can schools of performing arts validate what we do? Can we join Cotu ?

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