What are SAG-AFTRA Signatory Agreements and why should you care? Great question!
These are agreements a producer must sign to become a signatory with the union. This is necessary to have access to the worlds most talented actors and performers that are members of SAG-AFTRA.
But there are many types of these agreements! How do you know which is right for your project? I am going to help you understand the ones I believe are most relevant for independent film producers.
If you need affordable agreements I offer my blog readers some great packages based on some of the top deals I’ve done over the years.
In my last post we discussed the SAG-AFTRA Signatory Agreement as it relates to Short Films.
To continue the discussion on this topic there are three variations of low budget film signatory agreements:
- Ultra Low Budget
- Modified Low Budget
- and just plain old Low Budget!
Below I will give you a good overview of Ultra Low Budget and Modified Low Budget agreements.
In next weeks post (part 2) I will bring it all home and compare all of the signatory agreements that are most relevant to indie filmmakers (if you are doing a big budget film you probably have someone on your team that knows the signatory process).
Let’s begin with an overview of the SAG-AFTRA Ultra Low Budget Agreement, and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:
Ultra Low Budget Agreement
The Ultra Low Budget Agreement covers:
- Films with a total budget of less than $200,000
- Shoot entirely in the United States
Before completing the agreement, you should contact your local SAG AFTRA, at least one month before your start date, to review a copy of your script, shooting schedule and budget. To make things a bit easier for you here are a few steps to take at least 3 weeks before your first day of travel, rehearsal, or principal photography, whichever comes first:
A) Complete your Preliminary Information Sheet Low Budget Modified Low Budget Ultra Low Budget 4.22.
B) Email this form to the appropriate SAG-AFTRA office (check their website).
C) The SAG-AFTRA office will then send you a packet which includes the following items:
- Company Authorization Letter Form
- Theatrical Information Sheet
- Screen Actors Guild Agreement for Independent Producers of Theatrical Motion Pictures
- Ultra Low Budget Agreement
- SAG-Producers Pension and Health Adherence Letters
D) Sign and return the remaining two original copies of items 2,3, and 4 to your local SAG-AFTRA representative.
- If your company is a Corporation, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a Partnership you will need to complete the necessary forms indicating the type of entity. This information should be consistent throughout your application. If you are forming an entity specifically for this project you will need to consider the time it takes to complete the formation process to avoid delays (discuss this with your attorney).
You can then work on developing your project so that you can submit the following required production documents:
- A completed Pre-Production Cast List
- A copy of the shooting script
- A complete Day Out Days Form
- Line Item Budget. Be sure to submit a complete and detail budget, include both above-the-line and below-the-line costs.
Once SAG-AFTRA has received all your required documents a representative will contact you to advise you on the amount of your security deposit. The deposit must be in the form of a cashier’s check or wire transfer, and accompanied by a security deposit letter and your W-9 form.
What are some of the benefits in becoming a signatory?
The main benefit of becoming a signatory is your legal relationship with your cast. You are not required to employ talent for a minimum time period. If you do employ talent for 6 work days there is no premium pay required, and you can pay talent significantly less than with bigger budget projects. Current rates are:
- Actors, singers, dancers, Stunt Performers should receive $125 per 8-hour day. However, all rates are negotiable by the performer. Also note there are no Taft-Hartley provisions.
- Stunt Coordinators employed at less than “Flat Deal” minimum will receive $933 per day or $3479 per week.
* Pensions and Health contributions are due in addition to these rates.
Exhibition Under the Ultra Low Budget Agreement
Under the Ultra Low Budget Agreement producers are entitled to theatrical distribution without additional compensation to the performers. Once you have a distribution deal set in place you are required to complete a Distributor’s Assumption Agreement. You can obtain this form at your local SAG-AFTRA office. For distribution beyond the theatrical market, there are no increased fees to be paid by producers, but producers are required to pay principal performers residuals.
Residuals Under the Ultra Low Budget Agreement
Residuals are basically money paid to principal performers when a film is distributed (usually on a quarterly basis). Generally, residuals are based on percentage of the Distributor’s Gross Receipts (DGR). The total percentage is broken down amongst each performer based on the time they worked on the film and their salary. Here is an example of DGR percentages, note the Pension and Health contributions are included in the percentage.
Media Percentage of DGR
Free Television, Basic Cable, Pay Cable 3.6%
Videocassettes/Discs 4.5% of 1st million, 5.4% thereafter
Free/Ad Supported Streaming 3.6%
Paid Subscription/Internet Rental 3.6%
Download-to-Own/Electronic Sell Thru 5.4% of 20% of 1st 50,000 units, 9.75% of 20% thereafter
Lets move on to a project that has a little bigger budget, the Modified Low Budget Signatory Agreement.
Modified Low Budget Agreement
The Modified Low Budget Agreement cover films that are low budget feature films for initial theatrical release (four walling counts; film festivals don’t count). To qualify your total budget must be less than $700,000 and the film has to be shot entirely in the United States. Taft-Hartley is allowed under this type of agreement, if you are hiring a principal performer or background actor who is not yet a SAG-AFTRA member.
You should contact your SAG-AFTRA office at least one month before your start date. Start by completing a Preliminary Information Sheet. You can download this from the SAG-AFTRA website. You will need copy of your script, shooting schedule and budget. The SAG-AFTRA Business Representative will review your documents and explain your next steps to becoming a SAG-AFTRA Signatory Producer. After the SAG-AFTRA representative has reviewed your preliminary information sheet, a packet of documents will be sent out to you.
What to expect in your packet
- Company Authorization Form
- Theatrical Information Sheet
- Theatrical Distribution checklist
- Screen Actors Guild Agreement for Independent Producers of Theatrical Motion Pictures (return two signed originals)
- Modified Low Budget Agreement
- SAG-Producers Pension and Health Adherence Letters (return two signed originals)
- Television/ theatrical Production Checklist
If you are a corporation, limited liability company (LLC), or a partnership or joint venture you will need to provide the following for your respective entity:
- Corporation- you will need to provide your Articles of Incorporation and completed Corporation Resolution.
- Limited Liability Company- you will need to provide your Articles of Incorporation, LLC Operating Agreement, and completed LLC Resolution.
- Partnership or Joint Venture- you will need to provide your Fictitious Business Name Statement and Partnership Agreement (if applicable)
To encourage certain initiatives, SAG-AFRA has developed the following incentives for this level project. If a film meets these criteria, the maximum budget allowance is increased!
Diversity In Casting Incentive – the maximum budget allowance is increased from $700,000 to $1,050,000 if the following criteria are met:
- A minimum of 50% of total speaking roles and 50 % of the total days of employment are cast with Performers who are members of the following protected groups:
- Senior Performers (60 years or older – known as a “silver fox”)
- Performers with Disabilities
- People of Color (African-American, Asian-Pacific Islander, and South Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Native American Indian). People of Color Performers must be employed a minimum of 20% of the total days of employment.
- Background Actor Incentive – the maximum budget allowance is increased from $700,000 to $812,000 if the following criteria are met:
- Producer employs a minimum average of three SAG-AFTRA covered Background Actors for each day of principal photography.
- Producer must notify SAG-AFTRA in writing of their intent to utilize this incentive prior to start of production.
What are some of the benefits in becoming a signatory?
- No consecutive employment (except overnight location)
- Lower rates
- Reduced overtime rates
- Six day work week with no premium
With regards to rates paid to performers, the minimums are lower than the minimums in the Standard Theatrical Agreement; however, this does not limit performers right to negotiate higher rates or terms of employment.
Principal Performer Rates
Day Performer $335
Weekly Performer (5 day) $1166
Daily Stunt Performer $335
Weekly Stunt Perfomer $1251
Solo/Duo Singer on a Daily Contract $361
Solo/Duo Dancer on a Daily Contract $335
Pension and Health contributions are due in addition to these rates.
In addition, residuals are the same rates as under Ultra Low Budget Agreements.
Exhibition Under the Modified Low Budget Agreement
Featuring the film at a film festival will not count under this agreement. If after three (3) years there has not been a theatrical release, the Producer may distribute the film to supplemental markets without incurring step-up payments to the Standard Theatrical Agreement rate.
I hope you found this information useful. If you are using SAG-AFTRA actors you really want to be careful that you are following the proper procedures so you don’t jeopardize all your hard work!
Next week I will break down all of the signatory agreements that apply to indie filmmakers and discuss some strategies that may be helpful when your budget is unclear at the early stages.
For more information visit the SAG/AFTRA website.
I hope this article has given you the information you need to take advantage of these types of agreements for your project. Join me next week for part 2 of this part 2 series.
If you are an independent filmmaker or producer you may want to check out my Independent Film Agreements Package. These are general legal agreements you will likely need for your film based on the similar documents I have drafted for some major film projects.
See you next week!