"Water, shelter, workplace safety and fair compensation are things that any worker should expect on the job," reads a press release from a new initiative aiming to bring basic provisions to New Mexico's background actors, commonly known as extras.
"While most other areas of film-making are unionized and represented (IATSE, SAG-AFTRA, Directors Guild, Teamsters Union, Electricians Union, the list goes on), background actors in the state have no such voice," the release continues.
Its writers are not wrong, and while the film industry continues to boom in New Mexico—Netflix Studios, anyone? The Breaking Bad movie? Disney?!—it will be vital and, honestly, only fair for non-principal actors to have access to fair and humane working conditions. Background actor Bobbie Shelton is serving as a spokeswoman for the initiative. She says the plan for now is not to unionize, but to work toward what's best for the actors—more commonly known as extras.
"New Mexico is not ready to unionize at this point, but what we want is to basically outline, 'hey, this is what we expect, this is how we expect our New Mexicans to be treated on a set,'" Shelton tells SFR. "A lot of people are saying it's so basic, why are we asking for this? Because we're not getting it."
Shelton tells SFR she's observed background actors on set for up to four or five hours without getting water and without shelter, and that the weather in New Mexico is often unforgivingly hot or cold for on-set workers.
"We need to stand up for ourselves. As a united front, we're not asking for [Los Angeles] wages, we don't really want a union, we just want guidelines to be formed," Shelton says. "Ultimately we would like for productions to sign off on it. It's all basic stuff, it's just never been written down before."
Organizers for the initiative kicked off a petition this week to garner support and possible leverage for the proposed plan, though it's still in the early stages. The movement is likely to encounter pushback. Look to recent similar actions among voice actors and workers in the tech sector to see how big industry kind of hates when the little guy gets together to ask for quality of life improvements.
"We would like to have a set of standards that are human rights standards," Shelton says. "Background is afraid to speak up because they're afraid they'll be considered a nuisance. There's that feeling that I'm a troublemaker whereas we're just asking for human treatment."