Denis Murphy

Off the Table: Screen Producers Ireland, Irish Actors Equity, and the Buyout of Residual Payments

Year: 2014

Keywords: , , , , , ,


Dublin City University
(at time of presentation)

Personal profile:

I am currently researching my PhD topic, which deals with the labour history of Irish film and television production, 1958-2013. Broadly, the research tracks the evolution of trade union power in the industry over the past fifty years. I have presented some of my research findings in a paper entitled “Ardmore Studios, film labour and the Irish state”, at the ECREA European Film Cultures Conference, in the University of Lund, November 2013. In addition to my research, I have lectured in Cultural Studies, Film and TV Finance, Media and Power, and Irish Cinema at DCU. Research interests include creative labour, critical media industry studies, short film, and the Irish film industry.



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For the last fourteen years, the actors union Irish Equity has conducted on-again, off-gain talks with film and television producers in order to renegotiate the 1990s labour agreement still largely in place today. The failure of these negotiations thus far has extended the status quo in relation to actor compensation for on-going performance rights. This is based on an advance “buyout” system rather than “pay per play” or residual payments, the latter a “long tail” system spreading compensation over the entire commercial life of the film or television performance.

Screen Producers Ireland (SPI) have therefore precluded conditions similar to those in the US, where residuals have shown to be especially valuable to those at the lower end of the pay scale (Paul and Kleingartner 1994). Arguably, SPI has also avoided a further important concession of power to screen labour: the US residuals system for actors is so complex that the major entertainment corporations rely on SAG-AFTRA for its administration. The union has therefore retained an integral role in the employment relationship, despite the decline in labour bargaining power generally following the industry’s vertical disintegration and transition towards “post fordist” flexibilisation (Christopherson and Storper 1989).

It would appear that Irish Actors Equity, already in a symbiotic relationship with Irish producers over the administration of casting and payment of screen extras, have so far failed to extend their representational role in relation to principal actors. The SPI’s successful prevention of Equity’s bid to reinstate residual payments is thus reflective of the general decline of labour power in the 21st century Irish screen industries.