View Full Version : SAG Contracts

01-11-2005, 08:54 PM
So I have this actress interested in my student short film and she mentioned that she is a SAG member and that for her to stay out of trouble we will need to have an agreement under the Experimental SAG Contract. I've heard of this before, but pretty much all I know about it is that payment is deferred until the film makes money. Does anyone have any experience with these contracts? Will it restrict my work in any way or is the main thing just the deferred payment? She's a good actress and I like her for the part, but I wanted to see if anyone has had any trouble with this kind of thing.

01-11-2005, 10:08 PM
SagIndie.com is the site to go to to read about it.

Yes there are incredible restrictions, but you can also get SAG actors for 100% deferred pay too... you'll have to decide whether the restrictions are worth it. *

01-12-2005, 01:05 AM
thanks barry I'll check that out.

01-12-2005, 05:34 AM
and you're required to be fully insured and pay out workman's comp if I remember correctly. It's a huge hassle...huge....but it can be done. If you're lucky enough to be in NYC, you can go in and sit with them while they walk you through it all.

Also, you need a minimum of a month before your shoot date for sag to prepare everything.

As barry said, SagIndie is the best place to start.

01-12-2005, 01:52 PM
... and don't let a lack of workman's comp stop you, if you decide you really want to do it. http://www.crewstar.com is a really, really simple way to solve that problem. They're a filmmaking payroll service, so they handle ALL the hassle: W-2's, 941's, all payroll taxes, worker's comp, all that nonsense -- they do it for you. Great service, good people, and affordable rates.

01-12-2005, 08:07 PM
Yeah I have pretty much zero budget (only money I have is going to tapes and food) so additional costs related to this are probably gonna cause me problems. Thanks for all the help.

01-13-2005, 07:19 AM
oooh...good link barry. That's going in my bookmarks.

01-13-2005, 08:07 AM
Two good links provided by Barry. *Wish you were my next door neighbor. *;)

01-13-2005, 08:14 AM
I just noticed some wording in the SAG Experimental contract. It states something like you may distribute it to festivals. If you wish to distribute to other than this, you must contact SAG, they will contact each actor and get their approval, and negociate a new rate.

I don't think I like the idea of having distribution locked up like that.. Anyone with real life experience?

01-13-2005, 08:31 AM
Understand that SAG is essentially giving you a pass on paying out salary to your actors. When it comes time to change the venue of your film and persue avenues that can generate revenue, the game changes and you have bills to pay.

You have to think of SAG as an equity investor in your project. Right now, they're not asking for anything back...but when you're about to start generating revenue (profit or not), they're going to take first dollar to pay back the base salary and then begin to collect royalties afterword.

It's no different then if someone gave you $700,000 to invest in your film. They want to get paid back, and they're going to get paid back before you start personally collecting profits.

01-13-2005, 09:35 AM
I certainly agree and understand that part. If you make money, you need to pay your dues.

The way the wording is on the SagIndie website, it sounds like you have permission to submit the film to as many festivals as you want, with limited rights to some award ceremonies. However, i can see several non-money making venues to show the film, that are not specifically festivals. I will try to find a copy of a real contract with the details of any "exceptions".

I guess, it's just the idea that you could be locked up legally from showing your film at a non-festival or other venue, if you haven't gone through the approval process first, which could take who knows how long...


01-13-2005, 09:52 AM
Well, yes. But as equity investors in this theoretical film, they have a say in what you do with it. They can't have you directly dilute the product they've invested in by giving it away where ever you choose, which is why you're required to bring them in on any deal that isn't covered under their explicit list of exceptions.

The bottom line is that SAGIndie is intended for people who want to make a film using SAG actors, but can't afford to pay SAG rates. If you can't find a market for your film at a festival, it's not likely you're going to find a market for it outside of festivals.

You can't show it at a local theater, sell it to a foreign market, put it on airplanes, cable, etc. without paying out the SAG contract and getting approval.

Note also that if your film finds a market and does get bought, you need to essentially renegotiate a new contract with all your actors (from what I understand). They WILL get paid back in full and begin collecting royalties before you get any profit.

From what I understand about the SAG experimental contract, this is the reason it's nearly impossible to make money from a SAGIndie short. Even if you get prize money, it goes directly to the dayrate. Once the day rate is paid back, all monies afterward go directly towards the royalties each time the film is shown.

blah blah blah, it's complicated and I know far less about it then SAG does...so they're the ones to consult.

01-13-2005, 10:08 AM
Some of this is starting to make sense now. I would use a SAG Experimental contract if I want to attract Top Acting Talent with no upfront cash. The talent knows that if any money is made on the film at all, they get first dibs on it, before its used to pay back other expenses. Therefore, the actors are more willing to work under this arrangement.

The other option, would be to just pay your actors up front and avoid SAG, and retain the right to screening and any potential monies that are made...

01-13-2005, 11:48 AM
I think you're right on the money. (again think, SAG would know for sure)

Even if the actors didn't want a dime from you before or after the movie, SAG forces them to take it. It's not about getting money for the big actors, but it is about protecting the small time actor's ability to earn.

01-13-2005, 06:04 PM
Yeah, but... there's more to it than that.

Let's say you did a "dumb 'n' dumber" style film under the SAG experimental contract, and you got some actor to do it. You shipped it around to festivals, nothing much happened, you put it on the shelf.

Next thing you know, your lead actor lands the role of "Superman". So all of a sudden, people start calling you, wanting to buy your film, because now that actor is a hot property.

So you call SAG to figure out what you need to do -- after all, Miramax is writing out a $2,000,000 check, and you just need permission to turn it over. So SAG calls Mr. Actor and says "remember that dumb 'n' dumber film, where you did the toilet scene? Mickeloaf needs permission to release it." And our friend the actor, who is now Superman, doesn't exactly like the idea of being seen on the toilet.

So he says no.

And that's that. You're done. It's over. You lose. Good-bye, Miramax.

At least, that's the way I understand it.

Or, let's say you make a feature-length film under the SAG Experimental or Limited Exhibition contract. You spend $50,000 to make it, and your SAG actors all agree to work for low wages and all that. Everyone works on deferrals. You finish the film, and you shop it around, and - miracle of miracles, a distributor wants to buy it. And not only that, he's willing to give you cash down. Of course, it's only $5,000 down, but it's the best offer you've gotten, and at least you'll get some of your money back, right?

So you say "great, give me the check, all you have to do is sign this SAG Distribution Assumption Agreement." And the distributor says "you can have the check, and I get all the rights, but I'm *not* signing that SAG agreement." So what does that mean?

It means that you, the producer, are liable for paying all the SAG back wages which get automatically triggered when the film is "bought" -- so everyone who worked for $75 a day gets boosted up to $600/day right then and there. Oops... that just cost you like $100,000, right? Plus, you now owe royalties to them, at double the normal rate (because you chose the low-wage contract). AND, you owe them royalties based on the DISTRIBUTOR'S GROSS REVENUES for the picture! So even though you may never see a dime, because the distributor will never show "net profits" (somehow some expenses will always arise that eat up any "profits"), YOU still owe payments to SAG based on the distributor's gross revenues. So if SAG figures that the distributor sold 10,000 copies to video stores, at $10 each, you owe 12.3% or whatever it is on $100,000 worth of revenues, or $12,300. EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVEN'T RECEIVED A DIME.

Of course, you can't take that deal, you need the distributor to sign that distribution assumption agreement so that you're not liable. But he won't want to sign it, because he doesn't want to be liable. So there's $5,000 being dangled in front of you, and you have to say... no.

You better be really sure before you sign up with SAG, that you understand exactly what the restrictions and limitations are. If you can live with 'em, go ahead, but if you can't, you'd better know that before signing the paperwork and committing to it!

(this is the way I understand that the SAG contracts work... if I'm wrong, and any SagIndie rep wants to correct any of this, please do!)

01-14-2005, 01:00 PM
sounds generally correct from my (semi-limited) understanding. Generally this is pointless for the average indie filmmaker because the kinds of contacts that can lead to quality SAG talent tend to also be contacts that can lead to quality production investment.

ie- if you can somehow sign Natalie Portman to star in your film, you can probably also get some dough to make it above the SAG experimental threshold (there's a budget cap for eligibility under SAG Experimental).

as you can see from the potential horror story above, going after a SAG experimental contract is really only worth it if you've got an amazing script and some amazing union talent signed on and excited about it.

There are plenty of great actors out there that haven't earned their union cards yet, and thus they won't handcuff your entire production by complicating things.

01-14-2005, 01:58 PM
Thanks for all the input folks. There is a student film contract that is different from the experimental contract. From my contact with the SAG rep it seems to be pretty reasonable, but I will let you guys know more when I see the actual paperwork.

01-14-2005, 07:14 PM
My head is still spinning... :o

01-20-2005, 08:38 PM
Just a little update. Got the paperwork and the student film contract is a pretty good deal. You're allowed to exhibit at student film festivals and regular festivals with some restrictions and of course there is the deferred payment upon distribution deal. The thing that killed me was that workers comp. is required (apparently some schools provide this for student productions, mine does not). Oh well, the search continues.

01-20-2005, 10:37 PM
You can get worker's comp through crewstar, they'll handle ALL that employee paperwork for a very modest 8% fee. Whether they work with student productions or such, well, heck, give 'em a call and see. http://www.crewstar.com, the guy I worked with was Joe Maiella (I think that's the right spelling). Good company.

01-30-2005, 05:39 PM
Remember if you are shooting under any of the SAG contracts, all your talent, including background actors, are going to receive the same protections. You can't have a single guild actor working under a SAG Experimental contract and the rest of the cast working under other agreements. I am currently in the process of becoming a SAG Signatory producer and I can tell you there are a lot of things to consider. For me, the SAG Experimental contract wouldn't work as it caps your total budget to $75,000. Call your local SAG office and ask to speak with someone in contracts, they can get you all the reading material (a good 10" high stack) you will need to determine which contract makes sense for your project.

01-30-2005, 10:19 PM
Well my project is way below 75,000; way below 7500; hell, below 750. It's a student project, which brings about a different contract. It didn't end up working out for me, but if the school will pay the workman's comp and the student doesn't mind the distribution/exhibition restrictions then it may work. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole union idea in general, but that is a different topic.

01-31-2005, 06:35 AM
Dear jhvid,

Itís actually not even possible to do a project with a budget under $750 in this case as your deferrals (both cast and crew) would count towards your budget. If you had a single guild actor for just one day, their salary deferral would be $691 plus the contribution to their health and pension fund. The $75,000 limit is easy to bump into with a production of any length with a cast and crew of any real size and a number of shooting days.

My daughter (she is 15) is currently working on her second AFI thesis film, which is admittedly a very unusual "student" type film. They have 6 principal shooting days, she is a lead character (one of 5) and they have a nearly $200,000 budget (35mm, special effects, stunt coordinators, studio locations, large crews, etc...). Her salary is $2411 a week and with rehearsals (paid at working rates) they will owe her nearly $5000 alone. Thats $25,000 for the principals, plus a number of extras (unknown number and unknown number of days).

It can be expensive and restrictive to shoot with guild members but itís a great talent pool to draw upon here in Southern California. What is important to remember is that deferrals count towards your budget. $75,000 can be eaten up rather quickly.

01-31-2005, 10:08 AM
yeah deferred pay would count towards the budget, my mistake. *I still say it would be no where near 7500 though (I only needed the actress for two days). Of course when you add in the workman's comp. and what not, you may be right. This is being shot on DVX so I don't have film stock or processing fees (I use "film" as a general term). Either way, I'm using other people in the dept. for crew and finding actors that aren't guild members, so in this case my budget is well below $750 (~500).