The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is the union that represents over 165,000 actors and other performers. SAG-AFTRA actors are supposed to work only for producers that are SAG-AFTRA signatories. So that SAG-AFTRA performers can work on films with low production budgets, SAG-AFTRA makes five alternative signatory arrangements available to independent film producers.
Variation of Basic Codified Agreement. The low-budget agreements vary some of the compensation and other terms offered in SAG-AFTRA’s Basic Codified Agreement, the agreement applicable to a full budget feature film intended for theatrical release. While each of the low-budget agreements is about six to twelve pages, the Basic Codified Agreement is over 700 pages. For any terms on which a low-budget agreement is silent, the terms of the Basic Codified Agreement apply.
Production Benefits of Low-Budget Contracts. Most significantly, instead of the $933 daily rate or $3,239 weekly rate under the Basic Codified Agreement, independent film producers qualifying for one of the low budget agreements pay SAG-AFTRA performers deferred and/or reduced rates. The low-budget performer rates effective as of July 1, 2016 are as follows:
- $125/day for the Student Film Agreement and the Short Film Agreement (which payment can be deferred until the film receives distribution)
- $125/day for the Ultra Low Budget Agreement
- $335/day or $1166/week for the Modified Low Budget Agreement
- $630/day or $2190/week for the Low Budget Agreement
Other financial benefits of the low budget agreements include lower overtime rates and no consecutive employment obligation unless the performers are working on an overnight location. Producers working under low-budget agreements must still pay the performer’s pension and health contribution (equal to 17.3% of performer’s compensation).
For U.S. Productions Only. SAG began offering low-budget agreements in part to persuade producers to keep their productions within the United States. As a result, films using low-budget agreements must be completely filmed in the United States. Not even one scene can be filmed outside the United States. Going outside of the United States bumps the production up to the Basic Codified Agreement.
For Theatrical Productions Only. The low-budget agreements are only for productions meant for initial theatrical distribution. If a production goes straight to television, dvd, video-on-demand, Netflix, etc. rather than to theatres, SAG-AFTRA will want the producer to make step-up payments to the performers per the Basic Codified Agreement. There are some circumstances where SAG-AFTRA will waive the step-up payments for initial non-theatrical releases if there has been no theatrical exhibition within three years of shooting the production.
Processing Time. SAG-AFTRA recommends that independent producers give themselves at least six to eight weeks to complete the required paperwork and make arrangements for producing under a low-budget agreement.
For More Information. The Basic Codified Agreement as well as samples of all the low-budget agreements are available online. SAG-AFTRA responds to FAQs online and offers free monthly workshops in Los Angeles and New York that walk you producers through the low budget signatory process.