Titanic Actor Files Lawsuit Seeking Residuals, Back Pay After Role Changed From Extra To Principal Performer
Titanic is one of the most successful movies in history. Grossing over $2 billion worldwide after its release, many aspiring actors would have loved even the smallest percentage of those profits.
One such actor, Vi Jay, known professionally as Abrax Lorini, may actually be entitled to part of the proceeds from Titanic. In 1996, the actor tried out for a part as an extra in the James Cameron film. He was hired on as an extra and was contracted to be paid $60 per day for his work.
When it came time for filming, James Cameron spontaneously offered Vi Jay a bigger part. Rather than a non-speaking extra, he became “Spindly Porter,” and was required to interact with actress Kathy Bates in the beginning of the movie. He also had a line of dialogue with the actress.
The extra responsibilities and the line of dialogue bumped him up from an extra to a “principal performer.”
Now, nearly 20 years after the end of filming, Vi Jay filed a lawsuit against the film’s producers, seeking back pay and residuals on account of his bigger role.
Bigger Parts Mean More Benefits
According to Vi Jay’s lawsuit, the larger role meant that the he should have been offered a membership into the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and that he should have received SAG benefits. In addition to higher union pay, Vi Jay would have received residual pay from the film with SAG benefits.
Vi Jay alleges that he was never offered an opportunity to join SAG, and only received the $60 payments for his work, even though the larger role required him to spend an additional 90 days on set. He alleges that the studio violated the SAG collective bargaining rules, and that the union should have been notified of the change in his role.
Since Vi Jay never received his SAG membership, he wasn’t eligible for benefits like union pay or residuals. The residuals, a percentage of profits that a movie makes when it is released into other media markets like TV or video, could be worth a large amount of money even for a small part.
Though Vi Jay does not request a specific amount of damages in his lawsuit, he has asked for specific damages for his back pay and residuals, and punitive damages if he proves Twentieth Century Fox deliberately defrauded him of his right to SAG membership and benefits.
The Importance of Collective Bargaining
SAG works under the same types of collective bargaining agreements as any other union. The union membership allows actors to work together to demand better pay and benefits for their services. Membership in SAG is a lucrative option that allows actors to receive fair compensation for their roles.
It remains to be seen if Vi Jay will win his case against the producers of Titanic. If he were a part of SAG at the time of filming, he would have been required to take up his grievances through the arbitration process required under the SAG rules. Whether or not he will be forced into arbitration is an issue to be decided by the courts.
Issues regarding SAG residuals often arise. It’s essential that producers fully understand what residual obligations stay with them even after a distributor acquires their film. All too often producers are ignorant about these facts and can get sacked with unexpected bills. PLG regularly counsels both its production company clients and its talent clients on such issues. If you have questions, contact Anthony Hanna at tony@Piercelawgroupllp.com, Brian Hewitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or David Albert Pierce at email@example.com.
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