New Mexico background actors create ‘Background Bill of Rights’ for fair conditions on set

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s booming film industry has a group of actors looking to make changes on set. The background actors have put together a petition for better working conditions.

With big companies like Netflix and NBCUniversal setting up shop in New Mexico, there are even more working opportunities for background actors. They want these companies to make sure conditions are safe and considerate.

“Background is basically the palette of a movie or TV show,” said Bobbie Shelton, a background actor in the state. “They’re the individuals in the background who are making what we call crosses, passing in the back, doing action to give the film a real feeling.”

In New Mexico, big companies are bringing in productions throughout the year. Background actors, many local, are a large part of what makes those productions possible.

“Very rarely do they get speaking parts, but they really add to the entire texture of the film,” said Shelton.

Lorrie Latham of Latham Casting is working on CW show ‘Roswell, New Mexico’ filming in Santa Fe. She says production on season two is in the works and they’re in need of background talent.

“We’ll be hiring quite a few people the 7th and the 8th and then the 13th through the 17th,” said Latham. “You get there at least 20 or 30 minutes before your call time so you can have breakfast and fill out a voucher.”

They will likely finish hiring for Roswell around Jan. 27. Those interested in being hired for background in the upcoming second season can email Latham at

She says a typical day on set includes breakfast, costumes and filming, and lasts around 12 hours, with overtime (time and a half) pay for anything past eight hours. It’s growing opportunities, like Roswell, here in the state that Shelton wants to make sure are safe and comfortable for those actors.

“We need to get these standards set now, as it grows, as we have productions coming from out of state, from California, from New York, from Canada,” said Shelton. “They’re not aware of what our temperature conditions are, especially.”

Shelton helped put together a Background Bill of Rights, covering things like shelter from the elements between scenes, reasonable turnaround time for shoots and even just having somewhere safe and secure to keep their belongings while working.

“The bill of rights is kind of a tool to be used in the individual productions and by the casting companies here in New Mexico, as well as the film offices. Just a list of expectations on how treatment should be for these people who work in excess of 8 to 14 hours,” said Shelton. “We do have extreme colds, and a lot of times, we play Texas in July…in February in New Mexico. There’s a lot of, ‘take your coat off,’ etc, for the quality of the film, but in-between, we need warm and safe holding conditions.”

She says many local agencies are already adopting the bill of rights. Shelton says background in New Mexico are not looking to make a union. They just want good conditions while working, sometimes 14 hours at a time.

“This is not a call to unionize,” said Shelton. “We are just looking to be united, to not be surprised and to have a standard that is, basically, pretty easy to understand as far as human conditions are concerned, but at this point, it hasn’t been spelled out correctly.”

Latham also says when working with productions, the background actors she casts usually only spend a day on set, or a few days if it’s a longer scene.

“They’ll only work a day, or multiple days if the scene is long,” said Latham, who keeps talent posted on-call times through a blog. “Typically, we never know the exact start time for the until the evening before because it depends on how late the company shoots the night before.”

Right now, the petition Shelton has created for the Background Bill of Rights has just over 500 signatures. They hope to get it to a thousand and say that anyone can sign, whether they’re an actor or just a supporter or advocate.

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