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Wanted: Enthusiastic people to take anything from six to 24 hours out of their day (with the ‘promise’ of more days to come), be ordered around like dogs when needed, virtually walked over when not. Food may or may not be included, it depends on how the employers feel. Same goes for payment.

‘Any takers? Eh, no thank you! But it’s for television.’ ‘Me!’ ‘Me!’ ‘Me!’ ‘Me!’ ‘Me!’

Ah yes, what some of us ‘little people’ will put ourselves through just to get on television. The lure of the camera makes certain folk lose all perspective.

Arrependitos, National Geographic.

Angry cops (especially when they don’t get paid sufficiently) …

Some are what we call ‘media whores’, those who stop at nothing to get a bit of exposure. It’s a tad off the mark to actually call them ‘whores’, as a lot of the time they’re happy to prostitute themselves out to the media lords for free.

The thinking behind this is that the ‘nobody’ will become a ‘somebody’, thereby reaching a position where they can demand payment (for example, Bart Simpson, accidental as it was, as the ‘I didn’t do it kid’ and more recently all those seeking fame and ‘recognition’ via YouTube).

Others aren’t quite as, um, ‘in your face’ or driven as the above, but they still get weak at the knees when the chance to be on TV comes along.

Thus, with a number of people acting in such a subservient manner towards the TV gods, it’s little wonder that the industry’s powers-that-be take advantage of the situation. Why pay people for something that they’ll willingly do for free, or practically for free anyway?

In countries such as Colombia, this mentality appears worse than in more, let’s say affluent places. There are a number of factors at play in this.

Firstly, for outside productions, which predominantly come from the USA, the costs of filming here are generally cheaper. Wage demands for personnel hired on location, those used both on- and off-screen, are much lower than the country of origin. No big surprise there, the cost of living in Colombia is lower (for most) after all.

Then we’ve locals with next to nothing in terms of income and future prospects, so any sort of ‘easy money’ they can make is taken, understandably, without question. There’s also the steady stream of backpackers passing through the country who jump at the chance to do some ‘glamorous’ extras work, regardless of pay.

On top of all this, you’ve a host of greedy agents, all trying to pocket as much as they can from the people they send to film.

Now the argument can be made that the payments offered are fine in a Colombian context. Again, it depends on how you look at it, where you come from and what exactly you’re being asked to do. For one, in terms of basic extra work, foreigners tend to be paid better than locals, receiving up to five times more.

When it comes to landing speaking parts, some agencies pay little better than what they give extras. The problem here is that landing even just a small role can rule you out of working on that production again, unlike being a standard extra. What’s more, you generally have to go to castings and learn lines for these more prominent parts.

Narcos, Series Two.

‘Actors’ on the cheap …

For example, I was paid 180,000 Colombian pesos (less than 60 euros) for my little speaking part in Narcos II, practically the same as extras pay. It now appears I can’t be in Narcos again, so from a monetary point of view, I was robbed (for the record, other agencies offer at least 500,000 Colombian pesos for speaking parts).

Considering the amount of money the likes of Fox, Netflix and Univsion — to name but a few of the companies that film in Colombia — have in their coffers, there’s no reason why they can’t be more financially generous to those at the bottom rung.

That they’re not may be more to do with the agencies on the ground than the production companies themselves. The former are doing their bit in maintaining and deepening the gap between rich and poor. They’re certainly not doing us any favours, despite what they might like us to think.

Some of us poorer folk are not only happy to let all this happen, but we also help them along the way as well. Hey, it’s all-powerful TV after all; thou shalt not question its wisdom.
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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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