Photo ©2008 Mattbr. Used under Attribution 2.0 Generic license, via Wikimedia Commons


Insight + analysis on indie film legal issues

The SAG-AFTRA strike and independent films: What indie producers need to know and what they can do.

SAG-AFTRA announced yesterday that a strike of the Producers-SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical Contracts of 2014, as amended by the 2017 and 2020 memoranda of agreement, will begin at 12:01 a.m. on July 14. The work stoppage will impact 160,000 union members whose contracts have now expired. While work for studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (“AMPTP”) will stop, however, members may be able to work on indie productions under an interim agreement. Here is what indie producers need to know.

Indie productions using SAG-AFTRA talent are likely under contracts affected by the current strike

As most independent producers are probably aware, SAG-AFTRA signatory agreements are the contracts that control working with guild actors on independent feature films. All incorporate the terms of the Theatrical Basic Agreement, with certain differences regarding pay and other terms depending on the project’s budget.

Other than the lowest budget level agreements (the Short Project Agreement, which is designed for projects with a maximum budget of $50,000 and a maximum total run time of 40 minutes, the Micro Budget Agreement, which is designed for projects budgeted at $20,000 or less per picture or per episode, and the Student Film Agreement), all of the theatrical contracts are now subject to the strike. This includes the Ultra Low Budget, Moderate Low Budget, and Low Budget Theatrical Agreements, as well as the Special New Media Agreement, which is limited to projects with an initial new media release.

This means that if you hope to use SAG-AFTRA actors in a typical indie feature project, budgeted somewhere between $100,000 and perhaps $2-3 million, you will need to take certain steps to avoid the need to put the project largely on hold until the guild and AMPTP reach agreement on a new contract. Since the unresolved issues in the dispute (primarily threats to human actors from unrestricted and uncompensated use of generative AI) appear extremely contentious, that is unlikely to occur for quite some time.

Fortunately, producers of independent content under one of the above struck contracts may qualify for an “Interim Agreement” that would allow production to continue using guild talent during the strike. So long as they are not represented or financed by the AMPTP and don’t have a distribution deal with an AMPTP-represented company in any territory, SAG-AFTRA actors may work in their pictures and shows without any fear that doing so means crossing picket lines or otherwise demonstrating any lack of solidarity with the union.

Most indie productions are non-AMPTP productions

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is a trade association that represents over 350 American television and film production companies in collective bargaining negotiations with entertainment industry trade unions including SAG-AFTRA. AMPTP member companies include the major motion picture studios (Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros.), broadcast television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox), and major streaming services (Netflix, Apple TV+, and Amazon). Certain independent producers are also members. But unless you’re one of them, you’re eligible to continue production under the Interim Agreement.

Contract terms of the SAG-AFTRA Interim Agreement

According to current SAG-AFTRA strike information for independent producers, terms of the Interim Agreement will be posted once approved by the guild. This will likely occur within the next several weeks and probably reflect most of the deal points put forward by the guild during negotiations preceding the current strike. The terms are intended to later be conformed to a new TV/Theatrical Contract (whenever SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP agree to those terms).

While this complicates the work of preparing detailed film budgets and schedules, producers can at least approximate actual figures and required timetables with a fairly high degree of certainty. Sources say that most wage and streaming issues have already been negotiated, and that the main sticking point is AI. Thus, it is not anticipated that compensation-related terms in the new contract will differ significantly from those in the Interim Agreement.

Next steps for indie producers

If your production is currently a signatory to one of the above struck contracts and intends to continue working through the strike under the Interim Agreement, contact your assigned SAG-AFTRA business representative. Productions that are not yet signatory companies will likely be able to enter directly into an Interim Agreement at their particular budget level when the terms are released. Contact the guild representative assigned to you during the signatory process. If you have questions about contract terms or other aspects of independent film business and legal affairs, contact DeepFocus Entertainment Law.

More Posts: