Proposed bill pushes for better pay and conditions for background actors in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As more film and TV sets pop up throughout New Mexico, they need that many more background actors to craft the perfect scenes.

People may think it’s a cool, glamorous gig but being in the background comes with its own challenges.

Now, there’s a new push from a local legislator to set standards for those who might have small parts, but play big roles in productions.

Giuli Frendak talked to industry insiders about why having and enforcing a Background Artists Act is sorely needed.

Issues with pay, sexual harassment, and overall on-set safety have been going on for years. That’s why the Background Actors Association of New Mexico started working with legislators three years ago to help set better standards, and they’re excited to see where their draft goes during the upcoming session.

“We get reports on a daily basis from background actors,” said Ruby Garcia, president of Background Actors Association of New Mexico. 

It’s a growing system helping protect 10,000 background actors in the state. It’s also a safe place to report all on-set issues.

“Major reports that we’ve been receiving lately in the last year had been non-payment issues from paid from production companies,” said Garcia. “I have reports of people who haven’t paid been paid from eight months ago, on certain productions.”

Their mission goes hand-in-hand with pre-filed House Bill 23, the Background Artists Act. The act would establish regular pay days for background artists, and it mentions an “Artist’s Bill of Rights” where an employer would have to provide a safe and healthful workplace, free of sexual harassment.

Employers would also have to accommodate for physical or mental disabilities or conditions.

“We’re happy, but you know, this is just the beginning. We understand we have a long fight ahead of us, hopefully not a fight but a long journey for House Bill 23,” Garcia said. 

Peter Yanke has worked with background artists for years. He says productions wouldn’t be the same without them.

“If you didn’t have any background, you know, every single film you’d see would be two people on screen talking to each other and that’s it. And it’s not very entertaining, it’s not very real,” said Peter Yanke, owner and talent agent of Phirgun Mair Worldwide.  

He has also seen his fair share of issues with pay.

“Not so much on the big studio, but a lot of the smaller independent projects there’s always issues with pay and different things like that,” said Yanke. 

Garcia hopes this legislation helps further solidify New Mexico’s place in the film industry.

“They love our state and we love having them here,” he said. “We just want our voices heard.”

We also asked the New Mexico Film Office about the pre-filed legislation. 

A representative said they take claims of non-payment very seriously, and keep a record of all missed payments.