How do you get through SAG red tape? – Ben Roethig
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I’m going to answer this both as a tutorial on how to get your film / new media project to be a SAG film and I’m going to answer how to prong SAG into actually finishing your paperwork because they’re two different things.
First of all. GO UNION. Your talent is better, you’re supporting living wages for actors, you’re helping pay into a Pension & Health plan for those actors, you’re promising to adhere to basic safety & wellbeing rights, and most importantly: we do not work without union projects. So support talent and support us by just filing the damn paperwork. Grit your teeth while you do it, SAG’s a whole basket of stupid, but for the small price of your everlasting annoyance, you can have some of the best actors you’ve ever worked with.
(Seriously though: go union. stay union. We can talk all day long about the problems with SAG, of which there are many, but they are what they are so: go union.)
So! Once you’ve decided to make your talent union, that does not mean your crew needs to be union. Crew unions are a whole other beast that operate completely differently and they don’t necessarily have our “Global Rule One”, which states that SAG actors cannot take non-union jobs, so I’m not going to address them. This is just SAG. And honestly, once you SAG successfully everyone else is a piece of damn cake.
The first step in this exciting process is to visit https://www.sagaftra.org/production-center. Do this early. It takes SAG for fucking EVER, so do this at least a month or more before you shoot. SERIOUSLY. DO IT EARLY. DO IT YESTERDYA.
Certain productions can sign online — how easy! — including New Media, which is generally what I’ve used. You can always convert your contract later if you discover that, for example, after filing New Media, you want to play in festivals. SAG now offers a “short project” agreement, which is basically what you want to nab if you’re not sure where your project might live. It is replacing New Media and Short Film agreements
Generally speaking, you want to file the following ways (as of 2018):
Short Project – something that lives online or a short film. max budget 50k, max run time 40 min. RATES: negotiable (must be min. wage to fulfill state law), can defer, no consent required for distribution, 125/day & 18.5% Pension & Handling due before “subsequent use”. That just means that after you distribute your short project once (say, online), you have to fulfill your base rate of pay before airing it elsewhere (ex: a film festival). If you’re here, this is probably where you will want to file.
Student Film – accredited university project, less than 35k, run time less than 35min. RATE: 125/day, can defer (up to 12 hrs/day), Pension & Handling (P&H) 18.5% of gross salary. Stunt coord. cannot be deferred.
Ultra Low – Budget under 250k. RATE: 125/day, 1.5x after 8, 2x after 12. 18.5% P&H, clips available to performers at performer cost
Modified Low – Budget under 700k. RATE: 335/day, 1166/week; 1.5 after 8, 2x after 12 for day performers, 1.5x after 10 and 44hrs in a 5 day work week, 1.5x after 48 for weekly performers. 18.5% gross pay P&H, clips.
Low / Theatrical – Budget over 2.5 mil or shooting outside USA. RATE: 630/day, 2190/week. Save overtime as modified low. 18.5% P&H. Clips.
There are also TV contracts that come into play if you have a project living on television, but that’s generally not something an indie producer can do. There are also sound recording contracts, music videos, interactive (video games), educational, and commercials. All these different contracts really have to do with the rate of pay for your actors and their residual schedules. It’s usually pretty clear if you’re shooting a commercial vs a narrative short, but just so you’re clear: branded videos DO COUNT. The second you say “visit XYZ”, that’s an ad. Be careful.
Let’s also talk insurance: SAG will ask for worker’s comp & proof of insurance because those are state law requirements; you’re technically an employer. Also… you don’t want to be sued for an accident on set! Get a quote & send it to them.
SO! You find your contract (or if you aren’t sure, just do your best and ask your rep, they will help guide you to the right department) and use the SAG website above to find the correct starting place. You’ll initially complete a preliminary sheet for the contract and email it to email@example.com. After that, SAG will send you MORE paperwork to fill out and you’re in God’s hands now. It’s basically just a mountain of paperwork, none of it is hard, you just have to stay very organized. Once you complete their second packet, you
W a I t.
And eventually, probably 10 minutes before your shoot, you might hear back. DO NOT WAIT FOR THIS. EMAIL. CALL. Their phone number is all over the paperwork you signed. You HAVE to (politely) stay on top of them. SAG is comedically understaffed and this is your project — GET IT DONE. Here is a fun form letter I send every single project about a week after I send in the paperwork:
Hi! My name is Kate Hackett and I’m the producer on NAME (Project # XYZ if you have it). I haven’t heard back from SAG and we go into production soon; I’d like to make sure we are all squared away — can I confirm that you have our paperwork?
Odds are, no one will answer. So pick up the phone & give them a call. Say the same thing. It will take at least 3 phone calls.
Why is this like this? I could not tell you. Stick with it.
Once they approve you, you’re all set! Just don’t forget the paperwork (DON’T WORRY THERE IS MORE, THERE IS ALWAYS MORE) on set: you’ll need to sign your cast in & out, give them time sheets, and get usage rights. All normal, easy stuff, honestly, you just have to remember to do it.
After wrap, email SAG again with that final paperwork and you’re done, the nightmare is over.
The only logical conclusion is that SAG hates trees and wants you to murder them one signature at a time, but once you’re done, you’re done, and you’ve worked with stellar actors. Congrats!