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'Titanic' Bit Actor Sues Over Back Pay, Residuals

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

A "Titanic" actor with a bit part in the 1997 blockbuster film is suing Twentieth Century Fox for residuals related to his one line.

Vi Jay, who played the generically named "Spindley Porter" opposite the larger-than-life Kathy Bates, is suing "Titanic's" producers and rights holders for allegedly not paying him his due, after he was given a minor speaking role in the film at the last minute, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Is Jay entitled to his tiny piece of the "Titanic" pie?

From Extra to Speaking Role

Jay claims in his lawsuit, filed Friday, that he accepted $60 per day to work as a "background-performer" (i.e., an "extra") in "Titanic" in 1996. According to his suit, James Cameron assigned Jay to play a "Spindley Porter" character in a scene with Kathy Bates where he is carrying her luggage and "recit[ed] dialog."

TMZ identified that Jay's show-stopping line was, "Yes. Yes ma'am."

Since speaking roles are distinguished from "extra" work, Jay argues that he should have been offered entrance into the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 when he was upgraded by Cameron. According to SAG, this law allows a producer to hire a non-union performer for a union role.

Since Jay never received his SAG membership invitation, he wasn't eligible for SAG benefits as a union actor -- like union pay or residuals from the film's success.

What Are Residuals?

Residuals are a percentage of profits made from a film when it is released into other media markets. For example, "Titanic" was released in theaters first, and then on VHS, DVD, cable TV, network TV, etc. SAG does not give residuals to background actors "unless they are upgraded to principal performers."

Jay claims that Twentieth Century Fox and various other media producers of "Titanic" owe him these residuals for his role. Otherwise, they would be violating Jay's right to publicity -- appropriating his likeness for profit without paying him a dime.

In addition, Jay accuses Twentieth Century Fox of fraud by intentionally concealing the fact that Jay could have been offered SAG membership as the result of his role -- a malicious act which he argues entitles him to punitive damages.

The lawsuit contains no estimation of how much Jay would be owed in back pay and residuals, but with a blockbuster movie like "Titanic" -- which grossed more than $2 billion worldwide -- even a sliver of residuals could mean massive income.

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