A SAG Primer For Indie Producers


When the Screen Actors Guild said recently that its contract would cover the upcoming online series quarterlife, it got me thinking about how a SAG contract would affect online productions in general. The Guild’s contracts are notoriously specific and extensive, and someone working on a small budget is more likely to skip the process than comply with all the requirements.

Why should a producer care if their production SAG or not? Because SAG actors are not allowed to work in non-SAG productions. Working with SAG gives producers access to the Guild’s pool of talent, which will ideally improve the quality of a web show because SAG actors have experience working on other professional productions.

I spoke with SAG to get more information about their foray into the online world. The union has created a “Special Internet/Online Agreement” for independent producers that’s stripped down (it’s only five pages), flexible, and should make the process of getting talented actors into your web show easier.

Let’s start off with a definition. What makes someone “independent”? According to Ray Rodriguez, SAG’s deputy national director of contracts, “There is one distinction, whether you are a member of the Alliance of Motion Picture Televisions Producers. If you’re not a member, then you are truly indie.” So FOX and Warners Bros. aren’t, but most online producers probably are. The distinction is important because being independent qualifies you for the streamlined contract.

The major difference between the Internet production contract and theatrical contract, Rodriguez explained, is that “actual compensation between actor and producer is negotiable.” So producers are not locked into the Byzantine pay chart the Guild requires on major motion pictures. Plus, working conditions outlined in the contract “are not as detailed or restrictive as in the main agreement,” according to Rodriguez.

Some of the elements of the Internet productions contract include:

  • Mandatory rest periods before an actor can be called back to the set
  • Some “fences” around how material can be used, e.g. if the property moves to TV, those rates must be paid
  • Use of images from the property, e.g. if a still image from the production is used in an ad, you have to get the actor’s consent

Now, producers do need to pay in a percentage of the performers’ fee to SAG, but this goes towards member benefits such as pension and health insurance. And the bad news for aspiring actors is that starring in your friend’s online production won’t automatically get you a SAG card and membership into the Guild. But the same is true for productions using SAG’s low-budget theatrical agreements.

If you’re producing a show for the Web or mobile phone and have questions, SAG suggested you contact:

Bob Jensen
SAG Business Representative

Any other general New Media/SAG related questions should go to:

Mark Friedlander
Director of New Media



you wrote:
“Why should a producer care if their production SAG or not? Because SAG actors are not allowed to work in non-SAG productions. Working with SAG gives producers access to the Guild’s pool of talent, which will ideally improve the quality of a web show because SAG actors have experience working on other professional productions.”
Are there any other reasons? cause I have to disagree with that one; there are many talented actors that have never become SAG eligible because of the rigorous rules of SAG, and the lack of an good agent that gets them auditions. I have used some excellent, professional, non SAG actors in my films. Being from a ‘right to work’ state (you don’t have to be in a union to work), I think it is fiendish that SAG is trying to get their fingers into the internet. Keep them in Hollywood, and keep them out of the creativity of the indies and the internet.

Dave LIndsay

We used SAG actors in Bus Pirates and the internet contract was pretty easy. When/if any revenue from the project is generated, we just need to tell SAG and ‘figure things out from there’

Chris Albrecht

Hi Justin,

Those are good questions for SAG. You should call them up. They gave me the phone numbers to share with people who have questions.

They did specifically say when I talked with them that having one SAG actor is not an immediate qualification for all actors in the production to become SAG.

Justin Kownacki

Hmm… So, an AFTRA or SAG actor working on a web production doesn’t automatically mean that all talent associated with the production automatically becomes SAG / AFTRA-eligible — and, therefore, that the production isn’t required to pay all talent the AFTRA / SAG rates?

At what point DOES an “independent” production become a union-qualifying production? (Or, at what point does it NEED to?)

John Hinrichs

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists also covers professional performers in online productions – and has been working since 2000 with large and small producers. Last year, AFTRA created an Electronic Media Agreement tailored to new and independent producers.

With AFTRA members in cities around the country, producers for web, cell phone, and other new media productions have access to top-notch professional talent. Joan Halpern Weise, Assistant National Executive Director, can answer questions and help producers employ union performers – email her at JWeise@aftra.com or call 323-634-8174.

Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo

The West Side, which NewTeeVee covered here, is produced under the SAG Special Internet/Online Agreement. About half of our cast is SAG talent; so far the union’s been very helpful and we couldn’t have gotten actors of such caliber without a union agreement.

Chris Albrecht

Hi Tim,

I’ll check into the Fi-Core. SAG is extraordinarily complex. There’s also SAGIndie, and a host of different contracts. I’ll see what I can find out and follow up.

Tim Street

Hey Chris, Would love it if you could follow up with more info about SAG and Financial Core.

It’s my understanding that “Financial Core” or “fi-core” was handed down by the Supreme Court and the National Labor Relations Board allowing any worker, not just an actors to “NOT join the union”, and still work union jobs. With Fi-core Actors become “dues paying non-members” and are allowed to work both union and non-union jobs. As a non-member you don’t get to vote.

I have hired Fi-core actors in the past and they were working actors that worked all the time. That may not mean much to you but there are a lot of SAG actors that never work. I’m not sure on the percentage of working SAG actors but my guess would be that it’s pretty low.

I’ve also heard that there are big name actors who are Fi-core.

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