Celebrity Spokesmen and the Actor

Dearest Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Bridges, Ty Burrell, and all other celebrities this applies to:

I have made my often meager living (although sometimes quite good when you stick to your main source of income) as a commercial actor for the last sixteen years. For the entirety of my commercial career, I have been paid union scale. This is a very small sum for a day of work, but I must admit that when the commercial runs in enough markets for the right amount of time, I can make some decent money. It’s all arbitrary dumb luck from my point of view, but the odds of good dumb luck have been severely diminished by the ever-growing number of cable stations, the internet, and union contracts that simply haven’t changed with the times. Sure, it is the risk I took when I chose to be an actor that I would be broke much of the time. I get that. But commercials are not the cash cow they were before my time, the magical seventies and eighties when there were only three television networks and ad agencies made one or two commercials per product that aired everywhere for several years. Now they will shoot a dozen spots for one product’s campaign and a lot of those don’t even air, while the ones that do only run for a cycle or two. Back in the day, an actor in a commercial could earn fifty to a hundred grand off one spot. Those numbers today are five to twenty thousand. I’m not adjusting for inflation.

And now there is you. The movie and television stars that make millions a year doing your television shows and feature films. I don’t begrudge you those millions. You are all very talented. I have admired your work from afar since you started appearing on the various screens at which I choose to stare. You have already choked me out of pilot season, accepting all the offers you once turned down because you considered television a lesser medium. I am lucky if I get a one-scene guest star audition on any pilots anymore. I get it, too. Times have changed, and television is where the real creativity seems to happen these days. But commercials? Those of us who work mostly in advertisements are still considered lesser actors, and as I said we all still work for scale. Why do you get to do them and maintain your awesomeness? (Maybe you don’t. Maybe everyone thinks less of you when you shill investment companies and cell phones. Maybe the only difference between you and me is the paycheck.)

You get what? A million or more for a day’s work? I can hardly blame you for taking the job. Easy money. But every time you take one of these commercial jobs, one of the actors like me out there who gets paid much less than you, and counts on that work simply to make ends meet, gets screwed out of a gig. I guess what I’m asking is, how much money do you need? How many houses, boats, golf courses, restaurants, and other fulfilled materialistic dreams will satiate you? And yeah, I’m sure a lot of you are giving a lot of that commercial money to your favorite charity or whatever. But there are some of us out here who don’t need charity, we need work. And you are taking it from us. I mean, if you want to work a trade, I would be happy to do your job for a while. You can go to the casting offices and sit in waiting rooms and audition while I sit in a fancy trailer and make blockbuster magic. But if you want to do it all…well, just understand precisely the impact your choices have on the rest of us.

I suppose you might tell yourself that if you don’t take it, some other celebrity will. But you might want to consider leading by example. Perhaps try to remember how many people out there who have talent, drive, heart, and understand the craft don’t get the opportunities you do. And we watch you doing the thing you do, and we all wish we could get the same kind of work. Maybe if you turn down the commercials, no matter how bad you might want that fourteenth house in France, other celebrities might follow in an effort to be as gracious and understanding as you. (If you are not sure what you’re supposed to understand, keep in mind that most of us are merely trying to maintain the one house here in the good old United States, land of opportunity.)

You guys are stars. Leave the grunt work for the rest of us.

Respectfully, although with no small amount of aggravation,

Todd


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