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Growing together: NM Background Actors Bill of Rights covers ‘forgotten chunk’ of industry

Bobbie Shelton, far left, on the set of the film “The Kid.” Shelton is the founder of the Background Actors Association of New Mexico, which helps protect background actors on set. (Courtesy of Bobbie Shelton)

Bobbie Shelton is an advocate of worker’s rights – especially background actors.

For years, the New Mexican has worked tirelessly on set with others to help make New Mexico productions shine as a background actor.

Behind the scenes, she is one of the driving forces in getting the New Mexico Background Actors Bill of Rights in place, along with the Background Actors Association of New Mexico.

“What’s been really great is that it has the backing of the New Mexico Film Office,” Shelton says. “(NM Film Office Director) Amber (Dodson) is a supporter, as well as (Secretary of Economic Development) Alicia J. Keyes.”

According to its mission, the Background Actors Association of New Mexico is dedicated to enhancing the professionalism of the New Mexico background acting community through education, training, and positive mentoring. The association also seeks to work with all film industry stakeholders to create an environment that is safe, encouraging, fair and equitable.

Shelton says the protections have been long overdue.

“We’re proud to be the first non-union state to have a bill of rights,” Shelton says.

On Dec. 3, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists endorsed the bill of rights.

Bobbie Shelton, second from right, is a background actor on the set of “News of the World.” (Courtesy of Bobbie Shelton)

“SAG-AFTRA believes this document can be a significant step to improve workers’ rights, and part of an overall effort that includes protection of bargaining rights and other worker safeguards,” the union says in a statement. “The New Mexico Background Actors Bill of Rights calls for safe workplaces free of harassment, as well as reasonable amenities to provide background actors with shelter from the elements, clean bathrooms and first aid services, among other basic measures. We encourage all productions to respect the creative professionals who make storytelling possible, and to provide fair compensation and safe workplaces for all performers.”

Shelton says the group is trying to meet with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to talk about the bill of rights.

“There’s also an attempt to bring it to the Legislature and bring it into law,” Shelton says. “Background actors are often a huge chunk of a production. It’s also a forgotten chunk. We’re trying to remain non-union by the request of the productions. The main part of it is to make sure that New Mexicans are taken care of as far as health and safety. Productions coming from Los Angeles don’t understand the New Mexico climate and how quickly it can all change.”

Bobbie Shelton and Shayne Hartigan are working together to strengthen rights for background actors. (Courtesy of Bobbie Shelton)

Shelton has gotten a lot of backing from New Mexicans, including Shayne Hartigan of Alessi Hartigan Casting New Mexico.

Hartigan says he helped Shelton find ways for background actors to be taken care of properly by productions.

“We have to grow together,” Hartigan says of the film industry. “We figured there was a place for it, and we had to try. There are standards that we believe that everyone should abide by. There are basic human rights that people get denied sometimes. We set forth some guidelines so that people can make a living off background work.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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