As an actor, increasingly at auditions and jobs I am required to sign an “NDA”, a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
I probably sign about three or four NDAs per month, depending on how often I book work on TV shows, commercials or video games.
I can see it makes good sense, because intellectual property like characters, ideas and concepts are so easily stolen, and the desired impact of surprise or proprietary advantage can be negated in a flash, costing companies millions.
Loose lips sink not only ships, but also episodes of Stranger Things or a new Tarantino film project.
But the result is, after signing forty or fifty such pacts of secrecy, one adopts a kind of policy of forgetfulness. It’s safer to blot out one’s memory as a matter of procedure than to risk violating the trust of one’s many-lawyered employer.
Often, when my agent calls to book me on a job for which I had to sign an NDA at audition, it goes like this:
AGENT: Congratulations, Jim! You booked the part of Bleezbo!
ME: Bleezbo? What was that again?
AGENT: Bleezbo! The half chipmunk, half weed-whacker that fights crime. You don’t remember reading for it?
ME: (lying) Oh! THAT Bleezbo! Right!
Forgetfulness, as a workable approach soon becomes habit. After a while, amnesia becomes a character trait that’s harder to shake than smoking or eating that second piece of garlic bread.
I also find that non-disclosure can spread to other areas of one’s life, to one’s own application of everyday honesty, for example; why be truthful when there is so much constructive commercial advantage to being vague? Even mendacious?
We don’t walk around handing each other NDA’s in our daily, non-industrial lives, but there is a kind of unspoken social contract that seems to fulfill the same function. It’s safer to not say or know too much.
All this of course, does not lead to greater openness and integrity, but walls us all in to compartments of our own making, which may seem safe, but in effect serve to artificially separate us from each other.
Trust has eroded in our culture. The devolution has been from a sworn oath, to a handshake and, eventually, the threat of legal action inferred by the current NDA.
Who knows but some distant day a typical marriage ceremony might include, not just a pre-nup (unheard of in my youth) but also an NDA regarding details of a future ex-spouse’s married life?
What is one to do?
I am afraid, as usual, it’s up to the individual. One must continue to be trustworthy, and one must also be vigilant in consciously observing one’s agreements and promises. Yuck!
And of course, one shouldn’t sign or agree to certain NDA’s that might be a cover for the unethical or the illegal. (Not that that’s ever happened…)
For my part, I’ll continue to be a good scout and sign those pesky agreements to voice the next Marvel/Disney/Fox character, but more importantly, I’m going to be mindful of the next time I “bury” some of my own knowingness about something that might wind up to be even more pertinent to my survival.