Hi Bonnie,

I’m an actress from Chicago, contemplating a move to LA, and I’ve been reading your articles for a while now and have found them very helpful. Thanks for writing them! I have a question that I thought you might be able to shed some light on.

Right now, I’m nonunion, and would very much like to be union before moving to LA. However, things are very slow here in Chicago in general in terms of production, so there aren’t a whole lot of union auditions going around. There’s only three active casting offices here so you don’t see a whole lot of nonunion actors being brought in for SAG auditions. Basically, my chances of being Taft-Hartleyed before moving are very slim.

I am also a filmmaker (I have helped produce/direct three shorts) and have some ideas for scripts and so forth. When I move to LA, I was thinking of doing an indie feature. My question is, as a producer, working under the SAG Modified Low Budget agreement, could I produce the film and also have a role in it, and Taft-Hartley myself?

If I was able to Taft-Hartley myself, would I have to write a letter on my behalf to SAG explaining why I chose myself and pay a fine or something? The whole process is very confusing to me, and I’m sure, to most other people. Any clarification you might be able to give me would be great. Thank you and hope to hear from you soon!

Congratulations on doing your homework before making a move to Los Angeles. That is very smart of you! Yes, if you become a SAG Signatory Producer and you are shooting your indie film at the SAG Modified Low Budget level or above, you will be able to Taft-Hartley nonunion performers that you cast in speaking roles (including yourself). (Before I get into the details of this issue, I just want to take a moment to remind you to read my piece on Premature Moves prior to jumping at this “opportunity” to get your SAG card.)

Okay, so let’s assume you’ve decided to become a SAG Signatory Producer. You will need to create a company (at the very least an LLC or DBA, if not a full corporation), hire a payroll company, secure your Workman’s Comp Insurance, and prepare to put up a chunk of your budget as a deposit with SAG. (I won’t get into the many intricacies of producing indie films, as there are plenty of resources available for you, regarding those details.) When it comes time to cast your SAG Modified Low Budget film, yes, you can cast nonunion actors in speaking roles and then fill out a Taft-Hartley Report and submit it along with the rest of your preproduction paperwork. You will not generally know, right away, whether you’ve been assessed a fine or not for having cast someone outside of the union’s membership (but it’s a safe bet, if you’re listed as both a producer and an actor on the Taft-Hartley Report, that fine will indeed be assessed).

Here’s where a little myth-busting comes in. Nonunion actors are commonly told that they won’t be considered for SAG roles due to the enormous fines SAG can levy against production for doing the Taft-Hartley. Yeah, that’s a load of BS. It’s a few hundred bucks, tops. Seriously, on a SAG Modified Low Budget film (budget range of $200,001 to $625,000), an added fee of around $500 for a daily performer or around $800 for a weekly performer is the fine for any Taft-Hartleyed actor not “approved” by SAG. I’ve known desperate-to-join-SAG actors who have volunteered to pay the fine themselves, to entice producers to cast them despite potential fees.

The Taft-Hartley Report is one page (but most producers choose to attach letters of reference from the casting director in support of the actor’s SAG-worthiness, as well as a copy of the actor’s headshot and resumé) and is filed with all other preproduction paperwork to your rep (assigned to you when your production company becomes SAG Signatory). What SAG is looking for in that T-H Report is evidence that the actor being Taft-Hartleyed was well on his or her way to becoming a contributing member of SAG anyway eventually (and not just the cute lover-du-jour of one of the producers, hoping to impress a Hollywood wannabe with the whole, “I’m a big time producer, baby” line). Your existing credits as an actor should be evidence enough, but the fact that there are potentially thousands of actors of your exact age and type already in SAG will make it likely that you (as a producer) will be fined anyway for using you (as an actor) instead of an existing qualified SAG member.

I know you said that you’re in Chicago, but my strongest recommendation for getting information on this and all other contract topics relating to the SAGIndie agreements is that you attend one of the free monthly contract workshops offered in Los Angeles and New York. (Obviously, you’ll put this on your To Do List for when you arrive in LA, right?) Good luck to you! Let me know how it goes.

PS — Shameless plug alert. Just last weekend, I cast what will be the 2007 SAGIndie print ad campaign (celebrating its 10th anniversary). We “recast” famous indie films using ten-year-old kid actors in the roles. Considering I was hired at noon on a Friday and we had this sucker cast by close of business on Monday, I’m pretty dang proud of this gig. What do you think? Pretty good casting, huh? I can’t wait to see these ads in the trades, SAG’s magazine, and film festival programs throughout the 2007 festival season. Congrats on a great campaign, SAGIndie! And keep up the GREAT work for low-budget filmmakers and actors alike!


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000468.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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