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How do you pay a digital actor?

Marketplace Staff Mar 8, 2010

How do you pay a digital actor?

Marketplace Staff Mar 8, 2010


Bill Radke: There were a few surprises last night at the Academy Awards, but the Best Visual Effects Oscar? Not one of them. It went to “Avatar.” A big reason: something called “performance-capture technology,” which records an actor’s movements digitally so they can be manipulated for the big screen.

Well reporter Julia Simon says the technology opens a question: If the acting is manipulated by a computer whiz, then whose performance is it, and how it should be compensated?

Julia Simon: I’m sitting with actor Ron Bottitta in his home in Los Angeles, watching scenes from the recent Jim Carey movie, “A Christmas Carol.”

Ron Bottitta: There I am driving the carriage on the right. I’m also all the male extras in the back here. And here I am singing . . .

Bottitta’s showing me how he was able to play at least 40 roles in a single film as a performance-capture actor.

Bottitta: There’s a lot of times that you’re actually acting with yourself. Makes your head spin sometimes.

Performance capture is opening up new doors for actors like Bottitta. But right now, Hollywood producers don’t always recognize performance capture as acting. Some pay the actors as stuntsmen or dancers.

Jacquie Barnbrook: It’s acting is acting is acting.

Jacquie Barnbrook is part of a new Screen Actors Guild committee to look at performance capture pay issues.

Barnbrook: Ultimately, performance-capture acting is a skilled ability, and so the committee is just going to address the standard contract terms that would apply to any actor.

And that includes setting a minimum pay rate for this type of work, because performance-capture technology is expected to show up in more and more films.

But casting director Victoria Burrows says that actors shouldn’t worry about computers taking their jobs. She said an actor’s talents can’t be denied, no matter how many layers of technology are put over it.

Victoria Burrows: If you have an inner life, it comes through. And you know, the eyes are the windows of the soul, and you have to have that in order to emote something.

The Screen Actors’ Guild begins negotiating its new contract later this year, and it’s likely that all forms of emoting will be on the table.

In Los Angeles, I’m Julia Simon for Marketplace.

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