One of the fun things to learn when you are an actor-in-training is that when you do a TV show or film, the work pays once when you do the job, and then the full fee again when the episode airs a second time. Smaller residuals are paid when it shows the third through nth times. Forever! In addition, film residuals are generous when a film goes from the big screen to all the little screens.
I am married to an actor who has been working steadily since the 1960s in theatre, television and film.
Getting the mail is a little like receiving lottery ticket winnings. The promising envelopes arrive, and I sort them on the way from the mailboxes, sliding the SAG-AFTRA envelopes to prominence on top of the pile. I give them to my husband who then begins the suspenseful opening of the envelopes. It’s a little like the Academy Awards.
Jimmie did a number of movies back in the seventies and eighties with quirky titles- “A Little Sex”, “Hanky Panky,” “Smokey and the Bandit.”
You never know when you are opening the mail if the contents of the envelope will be a check for $10.00 for A Little Sex or $1.50 for some Hanky Panky, or a $300 check for a random episode of a show that has gone into syndication. Like I said, a lottery. Great fun.
When the residual well ran dry between February and August of this year, at my husband’s urging, I began tracking his missing residuals. I started at the online portal of SAG-AFTRA and used the handy residuals tracker where one could see all residuals for the past quarter. What? Blank. Nothing. Nada.
I found the customer service number and called, waiting on hold until the sweaty voice of an underpaid clerk broke the silence. She sounded besieged, amidst the noise of many other apologetic phone clerks. I gave her the information and with little interest, she said that there were no residuals pending.
I reported this to my husband who said “Something’s wrong. It doesn’t make sense. We are going to take a trip over to SAG to sort this out.” After a check with the FB clan, I learned that other savvy spouses facing the caboose on the gravy train, had solved their residual traumas in a variety of ways, mostly by phone or with the help of their agents.
But we got into the car and drove over to Museum Square where the Sag-Aftra offices are. After finding the correct bank of elevators, we boarded the elevator and ascended to the seventh floor. The receptionist pointed to a telephone in the corner and said “See that phone over in the corner? Go and dial extension 6353 and push 3 when you get the recording.”
I was a little miffed , having driven 30 minutes to the SAG-AFTRA offices to be told to use the phone to talk with someone. However, I did as instructed, and picked up the phone. The person who answered asked to speak to my husband. Talking on the telephone for him is difficult because of his hearing loss, and I was getting really aggravated as I watched him leaning forward, brows furrowed. Plus, I’m too much of a control freak to not be hearing what she was saying to him. I signaled him and pulled the phone away and said with some irritation ,”My husband and I have driven over here and we’re sitting in the lobby. Is there anyway you could please send a live person down to talk to us?” Within about five minutes a beleaguered looking woman came down and plopped down on the bench next to us.
It turns out that a few pieces of mail had apparently been returned to the SAG office by our postal worker. So they cut off our address as valid. There were in fact, she said over $2,100 worth of residuals being held in trust for my husband. Those residuals would be released within 30 business days, and we should expect to start receiving residuals again if he just filled out the address correction form. He did, and we left, feeling very satisfied that we had made the trip, and happily anticipating the continuation of the residuals. Sure enough the next day, we received our first residual envelope in about 8 months. $2.35 for Hanky Panky. Things were looking up.
My husband marked in the calendar when we had been to SAG-AFTRA and when the $2,100 check should arrive by as well. Seven weeks later, the check had not arrived. So today we went back to the SAG-AFTRA offices. Same drill. Picked up the phone in the corner and called upstairs. A different person answered the phone, and said “There are five of us who answer these phone calls. Why did you need to come over to the offices?”
It takes a lot to get me to the point of making a complaint. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a customer service situation where you were invited to recount all the errors leading you to the point of lodging a complaint, but I really enjoyed telling Miss M that we had tried to reach them by phone and had been told that there were no residuals there. That we had made a trip once before to the office and met with a very nice woman who had assured us that the check would be there within 30 days.
“Well, 30 days is the normal timeframe; if the money is all in the bank, that check can be cut within 30 days; however, sometimes not all the checks are in the trust account and they have to be pulled from the floor.”
I kid you not.
My very visual-and-way-too-literal-brain got busy peeking through the roll up door of a Costco-sized warehouse space, bins of overflowing SAG residual checks scattered all over the floor. I saw all five of the residuals clerks with their green visors crawling around on the floor looking for my husband’s checks. “Oh, here’s one, Dolly! Add it to the pile.”
“Is there any way to accelerate the process? ” I asked.
“Well actually, my supervisor is calling us all for a meeting. I will print this out and talk about this with him.” She took my number and we left the office; she called when we were only about ten minutes away to tell us that the check would be rushed.
“When do you think we will get it?” I had to ask. At this point, I’m pretty sure my idea of a rush is not the same as the union’s.
“It could be as quick as one week or maybe two.”
We’ll see how that works out. I feel sorry for those SAG-AFTRA employees who have to deal with so much residual disappointment.