Indie producer film budget alert: SAG-AFTRA film and television performer minimum scale goes up July 1.

Independent producers know full well how important it is to keep production value high and film budgets low. Productions using SAG-AFTRA talent should be alert to the pending increase in scale rates under theatrical, television, new media, and other SAG-AFTRA agreements. As of July, 1, 2022, rates for union performers are expected to increase by several percent. Exact figures await final decisions by the union on pension and welfare plan contribution amounts.

SAG-AFTRA rates are the minimum amounts that actors and other performers represented by the guild are required to be paid on a project. Rates are set in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”), which is the entertainment guild contract to which a production company that wants to use union talent needs to agree before the talent can work on the film or show.

What SAG-AFTRA rate applies?

But SAG-AFTRA rates can’t be looked up all that easily. As a result, indie filmmakers working to elevate smaller projects by using more experienced performers may find it challenging to find the numbers. That’s because the CBA that applies to any project signed onto is determined by the primary place of exhibition for which the project is intended and the size of the production budget. Once those two facts are figured out, the next step is preparing a guild signatory application. As SAG-AFTRA’s online production center puts it, “Producers who sign with SAG-AFTRA have access to the world’s most talented and professional performers for their projects, but becoming signatory does require completing some paperwork.”

As an indie producer, you probably have a good idea of where your project is headed assuming all goes according to plan. The bottom line on the budget is where to look next. Theatrical projects may fall under SAG-AFTRA’s Basic Theatrical, Low Budget, Moderate Low Budget, Ultra Low Budget, Micro Budget, or Short Project Agreement. Each budget tier has a different minimum scale rate payable on a daily or weekly basis to the performers. The rate for principal performers is subject to negotiation between the producer and the performer or agent. DeepFocus Law’s flat-fee production legal services are categorized the same way so you can quickly plug entertainment lawyer fees as a budget line item.

The latest rate increases appear relatively modest. But in this current inflationary economic setting, there are a few takeaways for indie producers from the upcoming additional costs: First, it is more important than ever to plan your film budget carefully. Next, your priority during development should be to set your documentary or narrative project up for successful film financing and distribution. Among other things, that means properly organizing the production company or special-purpose business entity, acquiring any literary property rights needed, and documenting all deals with cast and crew. Finally, work with an experienced production accountant and entertainment lawyer focused on film and television law.

Original image of a graffiti wall film set in Los Angeles
by Ricardo Diaz licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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