Brenda Ching – Executive Director, Screen Actors Guild Hawaii Branch (2004-2005)

With respect to changes in the last five years, more women and people of color have moved into higher paid positions in Screen Actors Guild. There are more women branch executives than men. When I started working in the guild, there were more men in executive positions. I was the first Asian woman branch executive. This has leveled out over the years and more women and people of color have moved up in the organization. However, my own work has not been affected by these changes.

Regarding the current climate and opportunities…

Coming from an area of minorities, diversity has never been an issue, since Hawaii is known as the “melting pot” of the Pacific. Work opportunities for actors in Hawaii are not as abundant compared to Los Angeles or New York. While we get our fair share of film work, we could use more work opportunities. When film projects come to Hawaii, they often come with diversity in mind, if Hawaii is filmed for “Hawaii.” If however, Hawaii were the backdrop for another location, e.g. Africa, then it would depend on the script. In the last few years film projects have hired more men and women of color, particularly Pacific Islanders and Asians. They have been primarily younger men and women, and often more men of color than younger women of color. Smaller roles are cast sometimes non-traditionally; however, men seem to get more of the work.

Major film work primarily comes from out of state; the roles cast locally are mostly bit parts and background work. The larger roles are cast in Los Angeles and or New York. We would like to have more opportunities to audition for some of the larger roles.

When a production comes to Hawaii, they hire local actors, crews, drivers, production assistants and vendors. Most of the above-the-line hires (writers, directors, actors, directors of photography, production designers, etc.) are from the mainland. There have been issues concerning the production bringing in too many out of state hires. We feel that we have people who are capable of doing the work for these types of jobs. Over the years, we have built up a healthy and professional talent pool in all areas of the industry.

When companies come in and set up, they usually hire local casting directors to look at the local talent pool for bit parts. There have been instances where the company does not feel comfortable hiring local talent and therefore brings in mainland talent for even these smaller roles. Sometime Hawaii actors have to go to the mainland to get cast for a “role” for a production filming in Hawaii. There is a stigma that if you are not from Los Angeles or New York, then you’re not an actor. Unfortunately, it costs the companies more money when they hire from the mainland.

Currently we are in the process of lobbying for an amendment to increase our current production tax credits for the film and digital media industry. If this legislation passes, we are hopeful that it will generate more work opportunities for the local film industry.

The Screen Actors Guild Conservatory has on-going workshops in cold reading, auditioning technique, master acting, etc., for members, as training is vital for actors getting the roles.

The work I’m currently engaged in is servicing members, industry personnel, organizing, and lobbying for film bills.

Issues of inclusion and/or diversity are definitely a factor in my work. Communicating with leaders of the film/video groups, unions and film commissioners regarding what is going on and how to resolve issues that affect the industry is very important. We cannot afford to lose work if we want to sustain and grow Hawaii’s film industry.

Brenda Ching
Executive Director
Screen Actors Guild
Hawaii Branch

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