Podcasts Voice Over Experts What’s a Union Paymaster and How Do They Work?
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What’s a Union Paymaster and How Do They Work?

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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Are you a member of an actors guild or union? Jim Kennelly of Lotas Productions shares insight for actors who are curious about the use of SAG-AFTRA paymaster services. A paymaster himself, Jim maps out what a union paymaster is, their unique role, how they work and at what stage in the process a paymaster is typically engaged.

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Lotas Productions

Your instructor this week:

For over 30 years Jim Kennelly, owner of Lotas Productions and Realtime Casting, has specialized in finding the right voice for creative radio and television campaigns and narrations. In 1985, Jim started to cast, record, direct and produce at Lotas Productions in NYC. Jim has long standing relationships with the top talent agencies in NY, LA and Chicago, has worked closely with SAG-AFTRA as a union paymaster and signatory and casts and produces voiceovers in his own NYC studio every day. Jim enjoys a national reputation in the voice industry for his honest insight and positive attitude. An experienced professional with global credentials, Jim has established himself as a trusted expert in the voice-over industry.

Welcome to Voice Over Experts, brought to you by Voices.com the number one voice over marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom, and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voice over. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voice over talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform and succeed from the privacy of your own home, and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else. Now for our special guest.
Jim Kennelly: Hi. I’m Jim Kennelly, owner of Lotas Productions in New York City, and it’s my pleasure to be on Voice Over Experts. I look forward to sharing my enthusiasm for the voice over business and talking a little bit about proactive talents and what that means to me, and paymaster services.
I love this business. I cast and produce and direct voice overs in my New York studio every day. We use union talent, non-union talent, voices in local markets and internationally. By working together, I’ve created longstanding relationships with the top talent agents and agencies in New York, Chicago and LA, and I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with SAG-AFTRA as a union paymaster and as a signatory. So I believe I have experiences that have left me uniquely equipped to help our industry to function better.
I want to start with a topic that I’m very interested in, and that’s how the voice over industry is changing. We live in an online world. Today, very few industries are immune from a complete reinvention of their business, and it’s true in the voice over business. Almost five years ago, I started working on bringing online casting opportunities to SAG-AFTRA members and their agents.
Why was this important to me? Because I know that the industry moves much faster and agency producers are challenged by heavier workloads. Today’s producers need to post projects and get auditions at warp speed. Now this creates an opportunity for what I call proactive voice talent. Now a proactive voice talent takes the responsibility to create and improve the success of their career.
Okay. How can proactive talents make a producer’s job easier is tied to my thoughts on the future of the voice over business. I recognize that advertisers are under constant pressure to make sure that their production approach is streamlined, efficient and consistent, and that they effectively balance creative considerations, the talents they’re going to hire, with financial factors, the budget.
So here’s the key. The talents we support pride themselves on being the best possible production partners to meet that challenge. So what proactive talents need to be able to do is record, capture and deliver audio in a professional manner. Now that means perfectly, consistently and quickly.
Today’s proactive talents need to make themselves and the hiring of themselves also streamlined, efficient and consistent. More and more, talents are going to generate their own leads by working through their agent, through online casting opportunities, and other professional contacts that they create for themselves.
I want to talk about this new proactive talent that I’m hiring every day. Online casting has been part of the industry for 10 years. I’ve mentioned my work to change the perception of online casting and that we need to bridge SAG-AFTRA talent and their agents into today’s online voice over marketplace.
So this leads me to talk about paymaster services, what they do and why we use them, and I’ll share an ideal situation of using a paymaster to turn a non-union or special project into a union job. My company, Lotas Productions, has been a union signator and union paymaster for 30 years.
If you ask me when you should get a paymaster involved with your project, the answer will be, as soon as possible. Ideally, a paymaster should be brought onboard during the casting process, but honestly, we are also very used to working at the last minute. This is a very popular question from producers who are hiring talent online. Why can’t I just write the voice talent a cheque? What’s a SAG-AFTRA paymaster?
A paymaster is a payroll company hired by the production company, or the ad agency, or an individual talent to assume the payroll obligations for the job. This includes paying the voice talent’s salary, taking proper deductions, handling pension and welfare contributions, talent agent commission, keeping track of residuals, and processing unemployment and W2 forms.
I have a long experience as a paymaster, and I can assure you it’s not simple, and as a client, you’ll be happier to have a paymaster to explain the ins and outs of working with voice talent. It’s important to form relationships n the voice over business. We hear that being said all the time, and it’s true of a paymaster also because what you get is a production partner to call any time with talent questions, issues, or just to ask advice.
Let me take a moment to break this down for anyone who is interested in hiring union voices for their next project, or for anyone interested in turning their non-union talent fees into a union job. So people want to know what fees are involved in using a paymaster. Well, the first thing is the SAG-AFTRA talent fee. Then there’s the agent’s commission, 10 percent. The SAG-AFTRA pension and health contribution number for radio and TV commercials, right now, is 16.8 percent. Payroll cost at Lotas Productions happens to come around 22.5 percent, and that can vary between paymasters, and then their signatory service is usually 10 percent.
When you add those percentages up, they come to a number around 45 percent. For example, if Adcom in Cleveland wants three radios for 13 weeks’ use, it’s basically $300 a spot times three spots, $900. Now that 45 percent is figured on top of the talent fee. What’s important for talents to consider when they’re saying, how am I going to take a non-union production, a non-union job and try to turn it into a union job, you need to know how to explain it to yourself concisely, correctly to the producer you’re working with.
Now I’m not saying every single person you ask is going to jump at the chance, but the more you ask, the more opportunities you’ll have for people to say yes, and what they’re going to ask you is, how do we do it? And you need to know how to do it yourself, or you need to have a paymaster who is a production partner to make this happen easily. So you have to do some homework. You have to understand the rates and present them in a clear upfront way to your client to maybe get them to get onboard.
Now here’s a curveball. Sometimes you need to ask the same producer five, six, seven times. Sure, you might think you’re being annoying, but if you’re coming from a good place, you understand your information, you’ll be fine. Here’s an example of a project that originally was non-union that turned into a union project.
The Ford Foundation in New York City had an elesson for their human resources department. They had already selected a voice, a talented union actress who came to me and said, hey, I have this job. I want to do it, and they’re willing to do it through the union, but you need to explain it to them. Okay. Start the explanations and negotiations.
As a paymaster, we explained in detail the union rates, the costs involved and did the estimates. We figured out how long to record all the copy when we saw the script and estimated how much the session fees plus all the extras that I talked about, that I’ve noted would be, and the Ford Foundation, they went for it.
They went for it because we knew the rules and explained it clearly. That’s key to nudging your producer to consider putting it through the union. You have to do the work, or have a relationship with a paymaster who works as your production partner.
So what’s the last piece of advice that I have for the many proactive voice talents who are listening? Become the best possible production partner for your producers. That’s your challenge.
Thank you. I hope I’ve shared some solid information and insights. I love the voice over business. I love the people in it. We’re all different, and that’s a very good thing. If you have any feedback, or want to contact me, please do at [email protected]. Lotas is spelled l-o-t-a-s. Lotas Productions at gmail.com. So thanks for listening. I wish everyone continued success.
Thank you for joining us. To learn more about the special guest featured in this Voices.com podcast, visit the Voice Over Experts show notes at podcasts.voices.com/voiceoverexperts. Remember to stay subscribed. If you’re a first-time listener, you can subscribe for free to this podcast in the Apple iTunes podcast directory, or by visiting podcasts.voices.com. To start your voice over career online, go to Voices.com and register for voice talent membership today.

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a Co-Founder of Voices. Classically trained in voice as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken and written word. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, Backstage magazine, Stage 32 and the Voices.com blog. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.
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