Thursday, April 7, 2011

SAG - I Love Your Members But You're Killing Me

I am pro-union. I used to be in the IATSE Local 181 in NY when I was an assistant production coordinator. I am all for taking care of people who work hard. And all of the actors I have worked with to date, work hard! And in return, I take care of them. I put them up well and make sure they have every need addressed and rightly so. I do the same for the crew. I am all about a happy, healthy, well-fed, well-hugged set.

The problem I'm having right now though is with SAG. I have worked with SAG for years. I've been signatory many times and followed all the rules and have worked with their wonderful actors. I really have no issue with SAG as a union.

What I have a problem with is their contract terms for foreign TV sales. On one of our movies, we are being told that we owe the actors residuals on the gross amount of foreign TV sales despite the fact that we have received $0 from foreign to date.

The issue is that we have hired a foreign sales agent to sell foreign. If we had sold direct to the foreign distributors then we wouldn't owe residuals until we received revenue. But since we hired a foreign sales agent, we owe as soon as the foreign sales agent earns money. The problem is that the foreign sales agent will not give an advance and needs to recoup their fee and expenses before we see any revenue. And how are we to sell foreign direct when we don't have the relationships with foreign buyers and we should be producing movies and not spending time running from foreign market to foreign market?

This situation leaves us in a position to owe SAG residuals on sales from which we have seen no money. Now, SAG says, get the foreign sales agent to sign an assumption agreement in which they assume paying the residuals. Unfortunately, no foreign sales agent I have run into will sign one. So that leaves the producer on the hook to pay all the residuals based on gross even when the producer earns net revenue. Why would I enter a deal like this? Well, I need to keep making movies and trying to sell them. What choice to do I have?

The worst part is owing residuals when we have seen no money from the sales. I am fine paying residuals. I'm happy to pay them. But please wait until I have earned the money in order to pay them. Don't ask me to go to my family (who does not work in the business) and say, hey, give me money to pay the actors residuals. Anyone would say, that's crazy.

SAG's response is, well, that's the contract you signed. Yes, I signed it and so have countless other producers because we have no other way of making a movie with SAG actors. I have to sign it. And it's a contract that is negotiated by people who make studio films that make tons of money. The movie I am discussing here is not a studio film. I'm happy it's getting out to the world but I'm not wanting or willing to be robbed along the way.

Change needs to happen. Indie film producers are going bankrupt and being raked over the coals by ill-conceived contracts that do not protect their rights. I'm in this business to survive and have it work for everyone. I want to take care of the actors. I love them and want to protect them. In turn, they should be protecting me so I can set up more movies that they can star in.

Let's all work together and find a win-win solution. Don't bankrupt us SAG. We want to keep making movies so we can hire your members. Help us to do that.


Phantom of Pulp said...

Great post, Jane.

For the most part, today's unions are no-account thugs who demand everything and give nothing back.

Because of their standard blackmailing and extortion practices, nobody will stand up to them.

Look at what the unions have done to the construction business in New York and Chicago. They are a legalized mafia.

My biggest beef with unions is their constant choosing to ignore reality. The reality for you is that most foreign sales agents these days don't advance revenue to indies. That's the truth.

Unfortunately, the unions won't accept that truth because they operate in a one-sided world. They take. You give.

Stupidly, they choose to ignore the reality that the hard work of producers like yourself is what makes employment possible for their members. They don't care. They don't care because their modus operandi is Mafia-like: "F___ you, pay me!"

At least the mafia don't pretend they're anything but.

There is a huge disparity between what the studios can do and what indies can do. Unions don't care about that.

But it is the dominance of big business in America that is killing "indies" in all areas, and that's what big business wants. These contracts, which only big studios can honor, should not be used for smaller films.

More and more, Americans are losing their "freedoms" to work and live as they choose because big business has become the new Big Brother.

In theory, unions can represent the interests of workers with less power than the employer. Nobody is going to oppose the provision of a fair day's wage and conditions for a fair day's work. But the unions have moved way beyond this original mission and now engage in warfare with the gift horse.

Producers take all the risks.

The unions take none.

Is that "fair"?

In this situation, perhaps SAG should go directly to the foreign sales agents themselves and demand the dollars they're seeking. Then they'd know that sometimes it sucks to be us.

Natasha said...

I am working on an Ultra-low Budget SAG film and finding little hidden fees or rules that I never knew about. It can be frustrating especially when it wasn't discussed at the beginning of the project.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to hear this and that SAG is being so utterly unreasonable.

I am a working SAG actor (in the category of members who've earned over $100,000/yearly) and although I am grateful for having made a living as an actor my frustration far outweighs my gratitude in SAG's unrealistic relationship with independent film producers, bankrupting them or driving them to use non-SAG actors.

At the crux of a massive recession and the digital revolution when wonderful independent films are being made for well under half a million that look like studio blockbusters (2010 Monsters) SAG contracts seem completely out of touch with the realities of independent film making today to the point where even SAG actors, hundreds of established actors, are furtively working in, and even making themselves, fly-by-night micro budget films under SAG's radar, films that get accepted into festivals, win awards and secure modest to world wide theatrical distribution, all of which is unrealistic and often impossible under current SAG contracts. Try telling SAG you want to make a movie using SAG actors for under $40,000, and that SAG actors want to be in it and work for points, and they laugh at you.

Love SAG but lets work this stuff out already.

Anonymous said...

Some wise attorney is going to sue the pants of SAG eventually.

The SAGIndie thing is fraudulent and deceptive. They 'sell' their ultra-low budget without telling the producers that you're also signing the Basic Agreement.

I made an ultra-low film NEVER realizing we still owed residual payments! I mean of all the evil, devious things that are surrounding our society, SAG has to stick the shyster knife again into us.

SAG knows if all the indie producers found out this clever little trick, NO ONE would sign with SAG - ultra-low or not.

TMCD said...

This is a fantastic post. I've run into the exact same thing. Part of the issue, though, is the foreign distributors, themselves, who likely had you sign an agreement requiring you to pay THEIR residuals, on top of what you would owe for the money accrues to your company. It's absurd, and a loophole by which many foreign distros hang onto the money that they owe you. If they pay you nothing, and you owe for both your, and their residuals, because SAG gets their cut at every step down the ladder, then SAG will go after the distributor. They will pay the residuals that THEY owe, and then say that you, the producer, owe them, the distributor, for residuals on my money that you have never touched, or seen. Then, the distributors take their cut, out of your end. It's the way that distributors force filmmakers to cover that cost, to SAG. Not much SAG can do about that, and until their is a sea-change in the producing community, low budget filmmakers will continue to get raked by unscrupulous foreign distributors. But that change is our responsibility.