#FemaleFilmmakerFriday Navigating Your Indie Project Through SAG-AFTRA

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How do you get through SAG red tape? – Ben Roethig

Thank you so much to my supporters at patreon.com/katehackettwho help make posts like these possible. If you’d like to join me on Patreon, I’d love to have you: you get BTS, weekly posts about the industry, and way more. If you have questions you want to see answered, please consider tossing in a few bucks to the Patreon.

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 signyourpicture@sagaftra.org. 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

Wait.

wait.

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!

#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – Moving to Los Angeles?

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If a person isn’t in LA but wants to get into the film industry, how necessary is LA?— Meg

Thank you so much to my supporters at patreon.com/katehackettwho help make videos like these possible. If you’d like to join me on patreon, I’d love to have you: you get BTS, weekly posts about the industry, and way more. 

I think being in a hub is important, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be Los Angeles anymore. There are lots of other cities scattered all over the place with a film industry — Atlanta, New York, Vancouver, Northern Ireland… If there’s a television show filming in the state / city, there is enough of a film industry to dip a toe in. You may eventually move to a major city (including Los Angeles) when the jobs dry up, but you can certainly carve out a good little life for yourself without moving to L.A.

The jobs that kind of require an eventual move to LA, in my opinion, are the more creative jobs. Directing, writing, acting – they hire out of LA and fly you wherever, if they have to. Yes, some acting jobs do cast out of the shooting city, but you’re restricting yourself to costar roles for the most part. I think they’re great to get a start in, but eventually you want to level up and that does mean moving. 

You can also start wherever you are, especially if you’re in a college town and especially if that college town has universities with film/tv departments. Take a class, get involved, hook in with people making stuff; you can create your own or you can work on their sets for a little experience. 

#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – Filming Stress!

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What’s the best way you have found to handle the stress that pops up while filming? – Jairo

Thank you so much to my supporters at patreon.com/katehackettwho help make videos like these possible. If you’d like to join me on patreon, I’d love to have you: you get BTS, weekly posts about the industry, and way more. 

Let’s talk about stress and filmmaking! Inevitably, even though you’re playing pretend and surrounded by people (some of whom you even like!), you’re going to get stressed out. Of course you are: there’s a lot of money at stake, things go wrong, and no matter how well you plan your production, you’re going to be surprised by SOMETHING.

I personally tend to get more stressed out BEFORE production; that’s when you have eight hundred balls in the air and every one landing in your hand depends on the one before it making it there first. I have a very Irish-person/East Coast mentality when it comes to stress: suck it up, get it done. It’ll only last X weeks, then you’re filming, so just finish what you have on your plate. I highly recommend delegating — ask for help. Get help. Pay for help. The more you try to do everything alone, the worse everything becomes. 

Once you’re on set, things kind of are what they are, and getting upset about stuff tends to help no one. Can you put out the fire? No? Find a way around the fire. Can you get an extra whatever light to do the hickey with the doo dad? Yes? Okay, go get it. Just keep things very matter of fact, straightforward, and simple: is this fixable? Can I work my way around it instead? 

I am also a HUGE fan of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and keep “thought journal” worksheets (linked) for myself to fill out if I ever feel overwhelmed. By the time I work my way through, I feel much, much better. I also turn my brain off — books are generally my go to for that. 

Knowing how to react under stress is a very personal thing; I encourage you to know yourself, find what works, and embrace it. Maybe you need time alone; maybe you love going to a bar with the cast; maybe you need non-industry friends! Find your happy stuff and make sure you always set aside time to DO THAT too.

#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – Would I get Naked for a role?!

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Today we’re talking about something that’s incredibly personal to actors — your comfort zone — and I answer the age ol’ question: would I get naked for a part. How much do you push, where do you go? And I want to say up front that my answer might not be another artist’s answer…

#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – Is Facebook Killing Comedy?

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Welcome to #FemaleFilmmakerFriday! Today I’m going to talk about how Facebook is killing comedy — this is a big topic and one I may branch into other posts because it does get pretty unwieldy. 

First, check out this link —   splitsider.com/2018/02/how-facebook-is-killing-comedy/

The crux of this argument is basically that Facebook has squeezed out other website distribution for (specifically) comedy videos. Here’s why it’s particularly troublesome for women:

Women aren’t brought in to play with the Hollywood Big Boys, so we elbow our way into the industry by finding backdoors and loopholes. We access the jobs we want via creative avenues, and one of those ways is and has been indie digital series. You saw it with me, it’s actually probably how you FOUND me. This very Patreon is exactly that: it’s a backdoor to help someone without the leg up. 

So it concerns me when those avenues are squeezed out. This isn’t specific to Facebook; YouTube has also become a closed door for indie producers. Amazon just fucked us over. Since the Dawn of Digital Series, indie producers have struggled to find a way to even just break even while getting their work distributed and seen. This is the part of this discussion that is a MASSIVE topic for another time.

Pulling it back to Facebook and comedy specifically…

I think this move (Facebook requiring native videos & not paying the producers of those videos AND requiring you to PAY to get those very videos seen) is a (large) drop in a big bucket. Facebook has a lot of power; if you do well there, it CAN transition you to something bigger. But you can’t do well unless you pay them and it seems to be one of the only options. But. It is not the one single thing that has hurt comedy distribution online because if it were, creators would just go elsewhere. Instead, we’re seeing kind of a perfect storm — YouTube is not a viable option, Amazon is not a viable option, Vimeo isn’t really “sketchy comedy” based & doesn’t have the reach… so where the fuck do we upload? What do we DO with things after we make them?

I put Not a Plan on Funny or Die and it did fine. I didn’t make a dime.

I put it on Amazon, where it did fine and I made a few bucks.

Our goals in indie creation are twofold: first, don’t lose money. Big goal. Second, get this nonsense in front of the right peopleso they can, hopefully, start to become fans of our work. Maybe we get a mentor. Maybe we get a traditional job. But if Facebook is the only avenue for that, and we have to pay in order to promote our content, that just became infinitely harder and though I have no actual evidence for this, I wouldn’t be surprised at ALL if it disproportionately hurts women and minorities. 

Sounds hopeless, I guess, and the question becomes: well, what can I do?

First, just by being here on Patreon you’re helping provide an alternative avenue for creation that actually gives people who aren’t riding along in the current system real capital, so thank you. Second, I think voice this concern — voice it ON Facebook, voice it TO Facebook, but know that it isn’t JUST this one single platform. 

And beyond that? Maybe you guys have some ideas because I am fresh out of ways to fight these giant companies who make money off the sweat & labor of underrepresented talent.

#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – BUDGETS!

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Alright! Budgets! How does THIS work when we’re talking about filmmaking?

I like to put everything into an enormous, flexible spreadsheet doc. I think it’s really valuable for you guys to be able to actually see what it looks like, so this is a blank version of what I use:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KHFmOiQlQ46lqyyUNy5poNtE84VYJTR-dvRZNHyPa88/edit?usp=sharing

It’s a lot, right? I like the flexibility of a GDoc/Spreadsheet because as things change, and things will change, I can easily make adjustments and return to backers with updated figures. 

The first thing I do is I take a script and start to break it down. For our example here, let’s use The Long Dig. Our initial thought was that we would make this movie in 1 day (ha) for 5,000 (ha!) and with minimal cast/crew (HA!). I budgeted for that, then, as I looked at where our script was going (it kept getting longer) and what our actual workload was going to be, I made a multi-day budget for Tim, our contact at Electric Purple, and said: hey. I think this is a better idea. He agreed.

No way in hell this would take 5k and one day.

But rewind a little bit. 

First, what’s ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’. As you can see on the spreadsheet, above the line includes writers, talent, directors, and producers. Below the line is pretty much everyone & everything else.

Every script is different. Shooting ten 5 minute episodes in my kitchen with minimal/no camera movement is very different from shooting a monster movie. The former, I could break a budget with enough for sound, a DP (maybe), and some food. The latter, we needed to pay people for the time & work they put into things BEFORE production even began.  

Productions usually plan for 3-4 pages per day; more than that starts to get crunchy. Knowing how many days you need severely impacts the budget — every extra day is another X amount of dollars. But you need to know roughly how much money you have in order to figure out how many days you can shoot. Budgeting for films is kind of like having to put the cart before the horse & hoping the horse catches up to it. 

I always fill out an “estimate” and an “actual” spreadsheet, so we can track what went over, what came under, and where we can (or can’t) spend extra dough.

As I go, I fill out costs of things I know — actors are 168/12 hour days. Our writers get 200 bucks for the script. Producers get 400. Stuff like that. Usually these are my paychecks, which I don’t have to really negotiate about. I then start to fill in what we can pay crew members — I start by expecting a higher bid and, of course, try to negotiate them down. Once I match crew to $, I fill out the finalized spreadsheet. At this point, I SHOULD be under budget.

A note about salary — legally speaking, if you are employing people, you do have to pay minimum wage. Whatever that is where you are. SAG sets our actors’ minimums and we can’t pay them less than that — SORT OF. If they are deferred, we can. SAG’s a whole other thing. Other unions probably set wages too, but I haven’t dealt with them. 

Big rule of thumb, always tell people there’s less budget than there is — with salaries, I hate doing this, but with stuff like rentals? your DP will ALWAYS want the biggest best tech… and he probably won’t need it. 

Important line items we all like to forget:

  • Publicity
  • Contingency
  • Festivals

Don’t forget those. 

Finally… ballpark numbers vary way too wildly to ask people for general ideas about how much things cost. Best thing you can do is talk to people you want to hire, get quotes, and budget from there.

#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – Producing While Acting

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Do you have any tips/tricks for producing yourself as an actor? 

Huge thank you to all my Patreon supporters who make posts like this possible! If you like what you read here, please consider joining us at patreon.com/katehackett 

In in ideal world, the solution to this is simply: delegate, delegate, delegate. You want to surround yourself with crew members who all know their jobs inside and out so you aren’t forced to answer produer-hat-questions while you’re trying to wear your actor hat.

I have never existed in an ideal world.

Classic Alice’s set came really damn close — I had a team of producers who put fires out and bent over backwards to make sure that I didn’t even HEAR about problems. I delegated production duties, especially on the day, to these wonderful women who tackled everything for me AND we had ourselves surrounded by some top notch crew. 

But, of course, I’m still the end stop decision maker and there were some things that eventually made it to my plate. And at that point, you do your best. If at all possible, separate yourself from one role to do the other — literally get up and change rooms, put your jacket on over your costume, something to make yourself feel like you are taking one hat off and putting on another. Do not take off literal hats, hair will kill you.

Another thing that really helps is checking in with yourself and with other crew members — often times I would simply tell people who needed me “This is a So-N-So question, X department can answer that.” And more often than not, they did!

It’s not fun to keep track of time for shots and meal hours while you’re trying to have emotional scenes, so a great 1st AD is absolutely key. If you’re in both shoes, producer and actor, you 100% need someone who can tag in and tell the director that no, we don’t have time, we need to move on. Because if you the actor are trying to fight for a take, you might be running counter to your own needs. 

Balance. Balance and delegate. Know when to flip the producer on and when the actor needs to come out. Find space for each or either — producer only lives in crafty, for example, and be clear about that with your crew. If they have a producer question, they can ask X DESIGNATED PERSON and if they need ME, grab me on a break at crafty. That kind of thing. 

#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – Commercial vs Theatrical Auditions part 2

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Is there a difference in process/ prep between screen and commercial acting?

Huge thank you to all my Patreon supporters who make posts like this possible! If you like what you read here, please consider joining us at patreon.com/katehackett 

Yes and no — acting is acting, after all! But generally speaking, you get less time with commercials and they move a LOT faster. So, I’ll present to you a Typical Commercial Audition & a Typical Theatrical Audition! This will be a two parter because it got LONG! Make sure you check out last week’s post about commercials!

Theatrical

I receive an email from my agent at 1pm. I have an audition! It’s for VERY HILARIOUS COMEDY SHOW and their offices are ALL OVER TOWN but I lucked out, I’m going to Burbank! My agent has included the breakdown, sides, and all pertinent information. 10am, Warner Brothers, I have a “walk on” (which means I have to park and …walk on). I print the sides and read them over. 

2 pages, 4 lines, nothing crazy. I start just by saying them to get the feel of it. Great. Cool. Got them memorized. I start building the character by asking myself some questions — who am I? who is the person in the scene with me? what do I want? what’s my obstacle? who does that person remind me of in real life? And this can take as long or as short as I want – this is just creative work. Play. I play with the lines with different circumstances and see what works well.

I call my acting coach and ask to schedule a quick coaching. We meet that evening at 8 at his house and keep playing. I get to choose my movement for this one, unlike commercials where I’m told what to do.

I go home and chill – time to put it down. I know it. I live it. I’m ready.

The next morning, I’m up and out the door by 9. I don’t need an hour to get to WB but you never know if there is a delay getting on the lot or what. I beat casting to their offices and just wander around for a little — hey, it’s the Gilmore Girls set! I text a friend who has a gig on the lot but he’s not in yet. Too early.

At 9:45 I roll back over and wait outside for casting to bring me in. They call me in and the entire thing is a more intimate experience than a commercial audition. They know me here, they called maybe five girls in for this part. I’ve decided to do the audition standing so I can move around and keep my energy up so they adjust the camera for me, I read with the reader, and off we go! 

When I’m done, I head out knowing I did all the work and I was good — and I had fun. 

#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – Commercial vs Theatrical Auditions

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Is there a difference in process/ prep between theatrical and commercial acting?

Huge thank you to all my Patreon supporters who make posts like this possible! If you like what you read here, please consider joining us at patreon.com/katehackett 

Yes and no — acting is acting, after all! But generally speaking, you get less time with commercials and they move a LOT faster. So, I’ll present to you a Typical Commercial Audition & a Typical Theatrical Audition! This will be a two parter because it got LONG!

Commercial

I receive an email at 6pm — it’s a message from my agent! I have an audition tomorrow with Name & Name, a casting director who has brought me in a whole lot lately. Yay! They’re in Santa Monica and the audition is at 4pm. Boo. 

Sometimes I ask for a window to see casting, but it’s just easier to move my students 99% of the time, so I send an email to my family and tell them we need to reschedule because this audition is in the middle of the afternoon & across town. I’m going to be in traffic for 2 hours. Each way. I confirm with my agent and…

Back to the break down — I read it over. They’re asking for “casual”, so like, jeans and a T-shirt or something. The role is “girlfriend”, so young. And it’s described as “UCB/Groundlings, FUNNY FUNNY FUNNY, quirky real people” which means “not hot girl”. This role is right up my alley. “MUST BE GOOD WITH DIALOGUE”. Okay, great, no problem. Presumedly there are sides.

There are no sides. 

There is also no shot list, storyboard, or anything else. Well! Nothing to prepare. I’ll figure out what I am wearing tomorrow and just roll on in, I guess. 

I do leave a little early and get to my audition around 3:30pm so I have time to review any boards or notes — sometimes they’re there, sometimes there’s NOTHING. The casting associate will bring everyone in for a group explanation where he tells us the action (and dialogue) of the shot. Some auditions are a LOT of movement and really specific moments, others are like “just make it your own” which is code for “improv” (they can’t ask us to do that, a whole guild thing). The camera is almost always far back – they’re getting full body shots for these, so you have lots of room to move.

The audition lasts maybe 30 seconds to 5 minutes and then you’re out the door. I have no idea what just happened in there. I hope it was good. Callbacks happen within a week and the shoot is usually within 2.

Come back next week (early for Patrons!) to read the next half — where I talk THEATRICAL!

#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – $5 Exclusive, the Q&A

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Our #FFF is the Q&A! If you missed it, hop on over and check it out. If you saw it… congrats! I HAVE ANSWERED EVERYTHING (jk I have not). 

Stay tuned — I’m on vacation the next couple weeks and really embracing it, but I’ll be back the week of the 7th for sure. Hit me with your questions at kateonset@gmail.comso I can have a nice big nest to dig through. <3 HAPPY HOLIDAYS.