You’re making a short, right? I mean, you wouldn’t try to make a feature for $20 – would you? Because if you’re making a short, the pay is negotiable. If you’re making a feature, I hope you have a Costco card to help you stretch that $20 into meals for an entire crew for the length of your shooting schedule. Grips get grumpy when they’re not fed. Even the tiniest-budget features can still qualify for a SAG-AFTRA agreement – the Micro-Budget Project Agreement, where salaries and most terms are negotiable between the producer and performer. But you still have to follow all local and federal labor laws (which probably adds up to more than $20). Keep in mind, while the Short Project Agreement and Micro-Budget Project Agreement have negotiable rates, they also have specific exhibition platforms that are allowed (film festivals, free-to-consumer new media platforms, public access TV, private screenings, etc.) – if you screen outside of those platforms, you could be bumped over to a higher-threshold (and less forgiving) contract.
Don’t get us wrong: we salute your independent spirit, but we hope you’ll hear us out: At some point you have to ask yourself, “What kind of movie am I making? Something with zero production value and a slim chance of distribution, or something that Sundance is gonna screen at the Egyptian Theater?” If it’s the latter, spending a couple of hundred bucks now is going to pay off in the end.