Any actor who has read for me knows that I specialize in casting films under the SAGIndie Agreements (that’s SAG Low Budget, SAG Modified Low Budget, SAG Ultra Low Budget, and SAG Short Film Agreements). If you’ve not yet heard of the SAG Ultra Low Budget or SAG Short Film Agreements, it’s because these two contracts just rolled out July 1st. They replace the SAG Limited Exhibition and SAG Experimental Agreements.
In a quest to be certain that I understand the ins and outs of the new (and revised) contracts under which I cast, I attended the free SAGIndie Contracts Workshop on Thursday, July 14th. [Note: SAGIndie offers free Contract Workshops every month in Los Angeles and New York. See the awesome SAGIndie website for more information. And, to inform SAG members about the realities of indie film work, there is a special panel discussion planned for August 18th in Los Angeles, sponsored by SAG LifeRaft.] This was my third time at a SAGIndie Contract Workshop (and my partner, Keith Johnson, who helps me keep the producers and directors for whom I cast informed on SAG rules, has been to eight of these workshops) and it rocked! Every Contract Workshop is different, since so much of the event is centered around the demographic makeup of the producers, directors, casting directors, and actors in attendance. A show of hands tells the SAG reps which contract most folks are intending to use. Driven by audience Q&A, each workshop is unique. There is so much relevant information shared at these workshops that I pretty much require that any filmmaker hiring me to cast a project who has not attended a workshop to do so, so that I can spend my time casting, not explaining SAG rules and contract terms at every turn.
Okay, so as an actor, what do you need to know about the new (and revised) SAG contracts for smaller-budget projects? Plenty! Why? Well, these contracts protect your rights as a performer (if you’re a SAG member) and, if you’re not a SAG member, you should probably know under which contracts you could become one. The important thing for all performers, here, is to understand the basic information in these contracts before you’re expected to sign one. The moment at which you’re swept up in the excitement of being a part of a great project is not when your head will be clear enough to get questions answered about when residuals click in, what overtime rights you have, and mileage reimbursement for leaving the studio zone.
Please visit the SAGIndie website for summaries of the new and modified agreements, PDF versions of the producer agreements for each level, and a wonderful SAGIndie blog, primarily maintained by Paul Bales (national director of SAGIndie). Until you visit the site for the best, most current information, here’s my mini-overview.
SAG Short Film Agreement
Films 35 minutes in length or less with a budget under $50,000 that shoot entirely in the US can use the new SAG Short Film Agreement. This agreement allows all salaries to be deferred (this is the well-known copy, credit, meals deal) and also permits the producer to distribute the film at film festivals.
SAG Ultra Low Budget Agreement
Producers with budgets below $200,000 for films shooting entirely in the US can use the new SAG Ultra Low Budget Agreement, which allows for six-day workweeks, reduced overtime, and SAG actors hired at a rate of $100 per day. These films qualify for distribution without producers having to pay “step-up” fees to actors, however there are residuals due to SAG members based on the film’s distribution deals. Basically, if a SAG actor does a film under the ULB Agreement for $100/day and that film is later shown on TV or cable or sold in DVD or VHS format, that actor will receive a percentage of the distributor’s gross receipts based on the number of days he or she worked on the film.
Knee-jerk reaction from angry producer: “I want to shoot a feature-length film for under $50,000 and not pay actors for the work! I want to distribute a feature-length film at festivals! Paying actors will break me!” I certainly understand that there are storytellers out there who want to have SAG actors working for free in their micro-budget feature film, with hopes of selling the film at Sundance. However, I also understand that there are indie filmmakers who have no intention of ever shooting any film for over $50,000 and also never plan to pay an actor for his or her work. Since the intention of the SAG Experimental Agreement was to help producers get first films “out there” as they climbed the ladder to bigger and better films with higher budgets and, therefore, actors who receive pay for their work, you can see how perpetual use (and abuse) of the old contract was simply unfair to actors hungry to work, never getting paid to do films that could potentially go on to be huge indie successes. New deal: tell your story (more quickly) using the SAG Short Film Agreement or pay actors $100 a day using the SAG Ultra Low Budget Agreement.
One of the biggest benefits to the filmmaker, in using the SAG Ultra Low Budget Agreement, is that actors no longer have to sign off to allow the distribution deal to move forward. Because they were paid up front, they haven’t loaned out their performances for an Experimental project, knowing most films won’t get distribution deals. This actually helps filmmakers who may lose a distribution deal on a film starring an actor who “made it big” since the filming of the Experimental project and who blocks the producer from distribution by not permitting use of that performance. One of the biggest benefits to actors working under the ULB Agreement is that they now are paid up front to do the work. Since distribution deals are often not reached, most actors doing Experimental films hoping for back-end money never saw a dime. Now, at least, there will be that $100/day money paid before the film is even finished, regardless of its future beyond that. A further benefit to the actor is that work done in ULB films goes toward P&H! That didn’t happen under the Experimental Agreement.
SAG Modified Low Budget Agreement
This agreement has seen a few changes, but is still much like its previous version (and it rocks). It’s for films with budgets under $625,000 shooting in the US with initial theatrical release. There are also wonderful Diversity in Casting and Background Actor Incentives for the MLB contract which allow for higher total budgets (up to $937,500) if the Incentive terms are met (more info at the SAGIndie website). Daily rate is $268, weekly is $933. Residuals kick in for distribution beyond the initial theatrical market (again, for TV, cable, and DVD/VHS release). This is the smallest-budget level at which a non-union actor must be Taft-Hartleyed to join SAG.
SAG Low Budget Agreement
For films with total budgets under $2,500,000 shot in the US with initial theatrical release, the SAG Low Budget Agreement provides a daily rate of $504 and a weekly rate of $1752. Same backend residual deal as above. Background actors receive $122 per day. Non-SAG actors may be cast in Low Budget films only with a Taft-Hartley Report from production. Again, there is a Diversity in Casting Incentive, which allows for an increase in the budget to a total of $3,750,000.
SAG Basic Codified Agreement
This isn’t a Low Budget agreement, of course, but just to include rate info all in one place, I’ll note that the SAG daily rate is $695, weekly is $2411, and background is $122/day.
Now, the other night, I had a pretty heated debate with a SAG member who is also a filmmaker. He has lined up a cast of friends (also SAG members) to star in a feature film he’s written. He is furious that he now, under the ULB Agreement, must pay each of his friends $100/day to do work they’d agreed to do for free, in planning to shoot this film under the SAG Experimental Agreement. I told him one of the statements that has stuck out in my mind since attending my very first SAGIndie Contracts Workshop a year and a half ago: “One of our jobs here at SAG is to protect you, the SAG actor, from you, the indie producer.” Remember, no one has created these rules in an attempt to keep you from working. Get informed, get your specific questions answered, and get your dues money’s worth by taking advantage of the wonderful free workshops sponsored by SAGIndie, the SAG Foundation, and SAG LifeRaft.
Not yet in SAG? In most cases, you can attend these free workshops too. Just tag along as a guest of a SAG member, when events are open to “SAG members plus one.” Especially on the Short and ULB Agreements, non-SAG members are as likely as SAG members to be working those contracts. You deserve to know exactly what that means!
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Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000260.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.