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