Sunday, February 19, 2006

SAG Experience

Sujewa noticed I used SAG in my latest film "Killing Down" and ask me to comment on the experience...

This was my first time to "officially" work with SAG. I had SAG actors in both my previous features, however, we worked around making it a "SAG film" through various means (such as giving them a producer credit, etc.). Also, my first two films were micro budget. My new film is low budget, but not micro, so I had some money for acting talent.

This was the primary reason I was a SAG signatory on this film - because the principle actors I wanted to cast were all in SAG and couldn't (or wouldn't) work on a non-union film. So, I took the leap and learned a lot in the process.

SAG used to be a mammoth to deal with. Sujewa mentioned he got a "600 page" document from them when he was considering working with the union. It's not like that any more. That's not to say it's not still a lot of paper work - it is - but it's not near what it was. And, it's even better now than it was when I did my contract (back in December 2004).

Our contract was the Limited Exhibition Agreement. All the SAG contracts are based on the budget of your film (and to a lesser degree what you want to do with it in the end). This contract has since been replaced by the Ultra Low Budget Agreement, which is a good thing, because the LEA was an "okay" contract - but not the best for the producer. SAG will always make their deals much better for the actors than the producers (obviously of course, but you can work around this some).

Basically the LEA contract let me make "scale" only $75/day plus per diem and travel costs (if any). Of course the actor doesn't have to agree to this amount. That's just the lowest amount you can pay them. But, when and if the film gets distribution, their pay jumps to roughly $460/day - so in actuality you're deferring just shy of $400/day (the amount is different if you don't screen your film in a theater for at least one day per the LEA).

This can be the bad part for the producer.

Obviously you want your film to get distribution - but when it does sell you might have to pay all your advance money to SAG to cover actor costs - leaving nothing for you (I've heard of filmmakers owing SAG money because they sold their film, but didn't get enough to cover the costs!). As I mentioned earlier, the LEA contract is not around any longer (as of November '05). The Ultra Low Budget Agreement is basically the same contract only now scale is $100/day, but now there is no deferred amount owed. Only the normal SAG residuals that you pay on any contract.

Quite honestly, I'm not a fan of unions. I think they are good in some cases (or were at one point in history), but now I'm not so sure. Think about SAG for a moment. They are a powerful union and 96% of their members are unemployed. That's hard to fathom but true. In Texas we are a "right to work" state, so there are very few unions here. I've never even worked with a union film crew in Texas. Of course they exist, but mainly when the Hollywood productions come through town or the several million dollar indies are shot here.

In the end going with SAG is the right decision though. Mainly because SAG actors are (typically speaking) the best and most professional talent to work with. And if you're working with any "name" talent at all you'll definitely have to use a SAG contract. Also, now, none of the contracts (even the "experimental" ones) have SAG owning your film or any distribution rights. This is very important for the low budget indie filmmakers out there (for short films too).

At the American Film Market in November I went to a panel discussing all the new SAG Indie contracts. It was very informative. Check it out for yourself at their website. There you can see a lot of the details I left out here - like the fact that you have to put up bond money, you have to pay pension payments (currently 14.8%), and other incredibly fun stuff for the film producer. ;)

As an indie filmmaker SAG can be challenging to work with (and expensive), but the end results (on screen) are often worth it.

-Blake

4 comments:

Sujewa [Blog Admin] said...

Very useful info. Blake. Glad to hear that SAG has gotten easier to work with. I am going to point to this article from my other blog.

Sujewa
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Sujewa [Blog Admin] said...

I posted a blog entry re: this entry @:
http://filmmakingforthepoor.blogspot.com/2006/02/blake-calhouns-killing-down-sag.html

Thanks!

Sujewa
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Blake Calhoun said...

Cool deal... I'm happy to share my filmmaking experiences (good and bad). :)

-Blake

NorcrossMedia said...

I own a production company in New York and just sent the paperwork out to be a signatory with SAG. I basically have no choice as all my friends that I like working with are now with this union.

If my experience with the next project goes well, I'll leave it alone and consider this typical business. If I turn out to be a part of the constant SAG horror stories, it's war with the union.

But until then, things seem fine with them.