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What is an upgrade?

An upgrade request is a reclassification of a performer’s category based on the requirements of the role in which the performer was engaged. Occasionally, a production will wrongfully categorize a performer. This, for example, may be an instance where a background performer should be credited as an actor, or a special skills extra should be credited as a stunt performer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I know if I deserve an upgrade?

The following are definitions from the Independent Production Agreement (IPA) of background roles:

  1. Background performer means any performer other than a Principal Actor or an Actor, who is:
    • Not required to give individual characterization;
    • Not required to speak or sing any word or line of dialogue;
    • Not required to perform as a Special Skill Background Performer;
    • Engaged to perform, either alone or as a member of a team or group, special silent businesses requiring a level of proficiency or other physical skill within the competence of the average person, even if required to perform in dress clothes or costumes.
  2. Photographic Double means a performer doubling photographically for a member of the cast during on-camera long shots and other scenes in which the photographic double is not recognizable.
  3. Stand-In is a performer engaged to replace physically another Performer during a set-up period.
  4. Special Skill Background Performer means a background performer engaged to perform, either alone or as a member of a team or group, special silent businesses with a level of physical proficiency or other physical skills superior to that of the average person, provided that such level of proficiency or other physical skills shall be deemed to exclude stunt work as provided for in A26.
  5. Examples of such special silent businesses are:
    • Water-skiing, diving, skin or scuba diving;
    • Driving a marine vessel or a commercial motor vehicle, or any motor vehicle requiring a chauffeur’s license;
    • Any sport such as, but not limited to, baseball, football, skiing, hockey, soccer, and horseback riding.

If you have been engaged in one of these categories, but are fulfilling the duties of another category, you may deserve an upgrade.

It is of paramount importance, however, that you realize that every instance is unique and that what may be deserving of an upgrade under certain circumstances may not be at other times.

What is not generally deserving of an upgrade (and often assumed to be)?

  • Being in proximity to the camera.
  • Being in proximity to or touching the main actors.
  • Receiving direction from the Director to perform tasks which require a level of proficiency of an average person – like opening a door, for example.
  • Speaking when in a group.
  • Having a name or title in the project – like wearing a stethoscope and being referred to as Joe, the Doctor.

What is deserving of an upgrade?

Individual characterization of a role

When you are not only Joe, the doctor, but told that you are actually Joe whose wife left him last night, ran over his cat in the driveway this morning, has been stealing prescription drugs from the hospital and selling them on the side who just happens to be a doctor. Suddenly, you are a very specific, unique character. You are being asked to act. When in doubt, ask for an upgrade.

How do I ask for an upgrade on set?

Ask the Third Assistant Director (3rd AD), the Production Coordinator, or whoever is responsible for background performers on set. In any case, do not ask the film’s director. The person may say no (they probably will), but then, they may say yes. If you are upgraded on set, regardless of whether or not you should have been, the upgrade will stand.

The process for ACTRA upgrade requests

  1. Fill in and submit a request. In order to request an upgrade, begin by filling out a Performer Upgrade Request Form (found below) and emailing it to montreal@actra.ca. The ACTRA Montreal Upgrade Committee – a collection of ACTRA Business Representatives will review these requests as a group.
  2. Wait for a response. Based on the information you provide, the Upgrade Committee will review the circumstances and conduct an investigation. This may require the Committee to go as far as to request the raw footage from the production company, which could take as long as 8 weeks, so please be patient.
  3. You will receive a letter informing you of the Upgrade Committee’s decision. Their decision is final.
    • It is important to realize that you are not asking ACTRA for an upgrade. ACTRA has no right to upgrade anyone. What you are asking is for ACTRA to file a claim with production for wrongfully categorizing you.
    • When ACTRA does file a claim, the request may be for a straightforward upgrade or a request may be made for monetary compensation for the production’s negligence.
    • When ACTRA files a claim, they win because ACTRA does not file frivolous claims.

Performer Upgrade Request Form

To apply for an upgrade, you must fill out a Performer Upgrade Request Form and submit it to montreal@actra.ca. You only have thirty (30) days from your work date/date of the incident to submit the form.

Updated: June 12, 2023