Working with the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG)

As we draw closer to our shoot date, our dealings with SAG have been very good. I’ve heard horror stories, but our rep in Florida has been very helpful and has helped us move things along with great speed and efficiency.

Here are some of my SAG learnings over the course of our production:

1. There’s a lot of SAG paperwork and administrative stuff, but don’t be intimidated by it all. It’s a lot like buying a house. Know what your doing. Make sure you understand what you’re signing. And then get a pen with a lot of ink.

Thankfully, we have a SAG expert as part of our team, and she has been holding our hand all the way through the process. It’s been wonderful!

2. Stunts can be really expensive! There are three variations of the SAG Low Budget Agreement–Normal, Modified, and Ultra Low. As you move down for Normal to Ultra, your pay to SAG actors drops. So, for Ultra Low Budget SAG actors, your minimum is only $100 per day. But, for stunt coordinators, it still remains $722 per day. And, you can’t have a stunt performer without having a stunt coordinator. It adds up quickly, especially if you have multiple days with stunts. Just yesterday, we cut a really cool action sequence because it was too costly. This 10-second action sequence would have cost us thousands of dollars. So, it’s gone. Bummer.

I guess it’s a bit of an oxymoron to say I’m doing a SAG Ultra Low Budget action flick.

3. The bond! In your budgets, don’t forget about the SAG bond. SAG requires you to submit a list of SAG actors in your film, and then you pay a 40% bond (based on SAG actors salaries) to make sure you cover all of the Pension and Health benefits for the SAG actors. The problem is that you don’t see that money until after the shoot is done. So, plan for it!

4. Don’t be afraid of SAG. The contracts and requirements take a bit of time to learn, but it’s not bad. We’ve had some great opportunities to hire some incredible actors by going with SAG. Just yesterday, I spent half an hour on the phone with an actress out of NY that most of you would know. We chatted about the project and she was interested, but we couldn’t find a fit. She was very cordial and I look forward to speaking with her regarding my next film.

That’ll be all for today, students. Your homework will be due on Tuesday.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 8th, 2007 at 8:30 am and is filed under general.
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17 Responses to “Working with the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG)”

  1. Lavinia Says:

    I’ve been trying to get a straight answer about the SAG bond and couldn’t find anywhere until I visited your website. Thanks so much.

  2. Stephanie Says:

    If you dont mind, I am going to refer your website to a few of our 21-day filmmaking competition Teams that have been made offers by SAG actors and are afraid to use them! It’s amazing how scary a few pieces of paper can be 🙂

    Meanwhile, I am not sure if Fissure has distribution yet, but if you are seeking it, you might want to check this out:

    Got Films? Want them distributed?
    Submissions of completed short and feature-length undistributed films to Project Twenty1’s Philadelphia Film-A-Thon are still open until August 9th. The Winner of “Best Film” will receive a screening at the International House Philadelphia Theater, a copy of Toon Boom Storyboard Pro, the Official Philadelphia Film-A-Thon trophy, and an international distribution offer by Polychrome Pictures through Warner Bros Worldwide Home Video/DVD. Visit for more info.

  3. johnt55 Says:

    An interersting article on the SAG Ultra Low Budget Agreement:

  4. sasha Says:


    There are a few things to add from my recent dealings with SAG.

    1) Producers should always go with a payroll company and figure this cost into their budgets. All of a sudden my $100/day actors turned in to $350/day actors when P&W, payroll and OT came into play. If you want to pay a company only to take care of your SAG actors and not all of your payroll, you will have to have workman’s comp in your liability insurance.

    2) An important thing to remember is that if you try to sell your SAG Ultra-Lox Budget movie straight to distribution, bypassing theater showings, you’ll have to pay SAG big. Remember that art house and festival theaters DO NOT COUNT. This is important when considering a selling price.

  5. russ Says:

    Thanks Sasha. I’ve heard about item 2), and I hear it can be rough. Someone gave me some advice, saying, “Four wall it, and keep your ticket stubs.”

  6. eskrigian Says:

    I’m about to shoot the first 10 minutes of my feature screenplay to use as a teaser for raising financing for the full feature. It will be a 4 or 5 day shoot. I want to use two SAG actors who will work for $100 a day. I don’t have enough money to pay pension and all of the other fees/expenses that come with beiing a SAG. I will only be showing this film to a handfull of producers so SAG will never see this teaser and will never know their actors worked non-union.I will do my best to follow SAG guidlines and rules with regard to treating actors well. Am I going to regret this?

  7. russ Says:

    If you are not going to use any of the footage except to raise money, then there is no official “distribution” of the film. Maybe your actors would be willing to sign a non-SAG agreement that states the footage will not be used for any public form of distribution. Now, if you plan to use that same footage in your movie, then it may get more complicated. 🙂

  8. eskrigian Says:

    thanks Russ. I just might use the footage in the feature, if we’re happy enough with how it looks. But all of that is moot unless we are lucky enough to raise financing. if we do at that point I will definately become a SAG signatory. Question is if they find out about my shooting the first bit of footage non-union, what will happen? a penalty?

  9. eskrigian Says:

    I’m having trouble finding a company that will sell me Workman’s comp only. my crew will be comprised of film students from a university. they will recieve credit for working on the film. the university will provide liability but not workman’s comp. any suggestions? Film Emporium only sells the package – liability AND workmans comp.

  10. russ Says:

    I would create a simple but binding agreement that says you will not use any of the footage you shoot initially for any public distribution, that it’ll be used only for fund raising. Then, if you secure financing, a standard SAG signatory agreement will be used. That way, there’s nothing for SAG to penalize. I would avoid becoming a SAG signatory until after you get your funding.

  11. russ Says:

    A lot of it depends on your state. Here in Texas, it’s easy to have liability but no wokmans comp. Liability is required for locations, equipment, etc. so you need that. But workmans comp is more about protecting in case of an accident, but is not required by some states. Some local indie films here don’t get it.

  12. eskrigian Says:

    one last question… seriously. well, at least not today. I plan to uploade the footage to Kickstarter to raise financing for the feature. Does Kickstarter count as public distribution? Thanks!

  13. russ Says:

    I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. You’re not making money from the footage.

    Also, remember that SAG cannot really do anything to you (the production company), especially if you’re in a right to work state. And, if you haven’t signed any contracts with SAG, they can’t do anything to you. They can, however, go after the actors and penalize them, but that’s getting harder to do. I’ve done short films non-union here in Texas with Fi-Core SAG actors, which basically allows them to do non-union projects and still keep their SAG status.

  14. eskrigian Says:

    I’m looking for a short, simple, free (or cheap) on-line budget for a short film. Any suggestions?

  15. russ Says:

    For all my short films, I’ve just put together a few key items in a spreadsheet and use it as a reference. Mostly, I use volunteers, but I like to pay for the DP, coordinator/scheduler, gaffer, sound person, and the key actors and then also for equipment rentals (camera, lighting, dolly, etc.). That’s about the extent of my short film budgets. 🙂

  16. Rich Says:

    3. The bond! In your budgets, don’t forget about the SAG bond. SAG requires you to submit a list of SAG actors in your film, and then you pay a 40% bond (based on SAG actors salaries) to make sure you cover all of the Pension and Health benefits for the SAG actors. The problem is that you don’t see that money until after the shoot is done. So, plan for it!
    This is wrong.

    We are trying to work with SAG on the Ultra Low Budget contract as I write this. I used this post and other peoples post on other sites stating that there’s a 40% bond for SAG Salaries, and to make sure I budgeted for it. We did budget for it, but that was not the correct amount. We tried to contact SAG about the BOND during the time we were writing the budget to make sure this was right, but nobody at SAG would answer this question. That left us no choice, we had to figure out the bond from other sources. So we went with the 40%. That was wrong! It’s actually the entire amount you are paying your SAG actor’s plus 10% — plus 15.3% of entire cast Salary for pension and health.

    So say you total budgeted salary is $5,000.

    You would pay the $5,000
    Plus 10% additioanl $500
    Then pension and health $765

    The total bond would be $6265 plus your actors Salaries which 5,000 so your total budget should be $11,265 for actors.

    We budgeted 40% which is 5000×40% = $2000, before SAG will let our SAG actors come on our set we have to come up with another $4,265. Which we don’t have, and we are scrambling to get it some how.
    We asked SAG why it was so much and they said because our $35,000 budget was so low, and it might be tight for us to pay our actors. SO DO NOT USE THIS 40% when figuring your budget.

    SAG hit us with this two days before we were suppose to start shooting.

  17. russ Says:

    We did have to include P&H, but our bond was 40% of the total actors salaries + P&H. Maybe your actor budgets are so low that SAG wants it all up front.