Frequently Asked Questions

Filmmaker Questions

How long does the signatory process take? When should I start? Is there any way to expedite the process?
SAG-AFTRA recommends that you start the signatory process 3-6 weeks before you plan on using the services of SAG-AFTRA actors. You may be able to expedite the process if you’re willing to do some legwork, but that all depends on the workload of your Representative and the specifics of your production.
How do I get started?
See a step-by-step guide on how to begin the SAG-AFTRA Signatory process here.
This all sounds great! Send me the contract right away! I can’t wait to get started!
Whoa, there! We appreciate your enthusiasm, but SAGindie does NOT handle the paperwork. We’re an educational program, kinda like the Peace Corps: we teach you how to fish, but we won’t hold the rod for you. Now, don’t be confused by that convoluted metaphor. Just visit our Contracts page to download a Preliminary Information Sheet, or call the SAG-AFTRA Theatrical Department at 323.549.6828, and they will get the paperwork to you. Again, we don’t handle the paperwork!
I am starting to shoot tomorrow and need to get an agreement today.
That’s funny. Do you know any others?
I can’t get anyone in the theatrical department to call me back and I’m starting production this weekend…
Did you start the process 3-6 weeks ago? If not, we probably can’t help you. If you did start the process but no one is responding, that’s a problem. Please send us an email or call us at 323.549.6064 and we’ll try to resolve it.
I’m a SAG-AFTRA Member and I want to produce my own film. If I’m the only SAG-AFTRA member out of the cast, do I have to get a signatory contract?
Yes.
I have a related question. Is it true that if I am a producer on the film I can act in it without signing a SAG-AFTRA contract?
No.
Can non-union actors and SAG-AFTRA members work in a production together?
Under the terms of the Student and Ultra-Low Budget contracts you can use both SAG-AFTRA and non-SAG-AFTRA actors in the same film and you only have to cover the professionals. The Short Project, Modified, and Low Budget Agreements cover all principal performers. (And under the Modified Low and Low Budget Agreements the so-called Taft-Hartley rules apply.)
What is Taft-Hartley?
The Taft-Hartley Act is a U.S. labor law that allows a signatory producer to hire a non-union performer if they possess a specific quality or skill that is essential to the role. Need a seven-foot-tall redhead who can play banjo and speak Portuguese? If you can’t find a union actor who fits that bill (but how hard are you really looking?) you can “Taft-Hartley” that perfect non-union person. For this, you’ll have to submit a Taft-Hartley report, which you’ll get from your Business Rep. And no, being blonde and pretty isn’t considered a “specific skill.”
Do I have to use union extras?
It depends on which contract you’re using and where you’re shooting. Background actors aren’t covered under the Student, Ultra-Low Budget, and Modified Low Budget Agreements (unless, under the Modified Low Budget, you opt to use the Background Actor Incentive). Background Actors are covered under the Short Project and Low Budget Agreements if you are filming in a Background Zone.
What is a Background Zone?
The New York Zone is within 300 air miles from Columbus Circle, including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. The Western Zones include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Hawaii. For more Background info, you can check out this helpful FAQ sheet from the very kind folks in SAG-AFTRA’s Background Department.
What’s that thing you guys have every second Thursday of the month? Is it free?
It’s a FREE workshop in Los Angeles and New York that will walk you through the signatory process and answer all your questions about signing SAG-AFTRA contracts. It’s FREE and it takes place the second Thursday of every month at the SAG-AFTRA office in Los Angeles and New York. You can sign up for the FREE workshops here. And, yes, they’re FREE.
If I use SAG-AFTRA actors without an agreement will anything really happen to me?
In addition to bad karma, you could be screwing up your chances of distribution. If a potential buyer nixes a distribution deal because you don’t have the correct contracts in place, you’re gonna wish you’d done it right from the beginning.
My film is going straight to video/DVD. What, if any, contract do I need to file?
It depends. Do you already have a video distribution deal? If so, you’ll need to sign the SAG-AFTRA Television Contract. If not, give us a call at 323.549.6064.
I'm a documentary filmmaker and want to use SAG-AFTRA actors for narration or reenactments. Can I hire them under a low-budget contract?
Unfortunately, documentaries are currently only covered under the Basic Theatrical Agreement. Contact the SAG-AFTRA Theatrical Department at 323.549.6828 for information and rates. If you’re just interviewing a SAG-AFTRA performer and they’re appearing in a doc unscripted “as themselves” (and not as a reenactment performer or narrator), you do not need to fill out a signatory contract.
I need to find an audition space/DP/caterer/editing equipment/payroll company/etc. Do you have a list of resources for filmmakers?
Sure do! We have a comprehensive listing of State-by-State Resources, or you could find additional general resources in our Helpful Links.
If I live outside of NY/LA, whom do I call to become a signatory?
See our Local Offices Map and click on your state to find the local SAG-AFTRA office contact info.
What does “No Consecutive Employment” mean?
Under the Basic Agreement producers are required to pay consecutive employment. This means that if an actor works on Monday and Wednesday the producer not only has to pay them for these days, but also for the “consecutive” day of Tuesday. Under all of the low budget agreements there is no consecutive employment, so if an actor only works Monday and Wednesday, the producer only has to pay them (or defer their pay) for Monday and Wednesday. However, if your performer is working on an overnight location, you DO have to pay them the consecutive day.
What's considered an “overnight” location?
A location is considered “overnight” if the performer cannot reasonably drive (or be driven) home at the end of the day. Though there are exceptions, overnights are generally further than 30 miles outside Hollywood or San Francisco (known as the Thirty-Mile-Zone or “TMZ” – like the website, get it?) or 8 miles outside New York City. To find out the overnight rules in a specific city or state, contact the SAG-AFTRA local office where you’re filming.
Do I need to feed my actors?
Yes, even though many actors are skinny, you still have to feed them. If meals aren’t provided on-set by craft services (or Mom’s cooking), the producer must pay covered actors a meal per diem rate of $60/day ($12 for breakfast, $18 for lunch, $30 for dinner).
I don't have to pay overtime, right? Come on, be cool about it, this is an indie film!
Overtime rates are reduced under low budget contracts. After an 8-hour workday, hours 8-12 are paid at time-and-a-half; 12+ hours is double-time. However, under low budget contracts, producers do not have to pay premium overtime rates for an actor’s sixth consecutive day of employment (meaning a workweek can be six days instead of five without a penalty).
What does P&H mean and do I have to pay it?
Pension and Health, and yes. Signatory producers need to include this contribution (currently 18.5% for principals and 18% for background actors) to all covered performers’ pay. Remember, healthy actors = employable actors.
Can I pay my actors as self-employed freelancers with a 1099 tax form?
No. Union actors are not independent contractors; they are employees of the production. Therefore, producers are responsible for appropriate tax withholdings and contributions. You’ll hire a payroll company to tackle all this math for you, which will save you a huge headache and keep the IRS off your back. Look on our Resources page for helpful links regarding production services like payroll companies.
Do I need insurance?
Workers’ Compensation Insurance is required by law for all employers (which, as a producer, you are). Check with your payroll company to see if they provide workers’ comp. You can also shop around for private carriers, and in some states you can get workers’ comp from the state (contact your local Labor Department, which you can look up here). Depending on your production, general or public liability, equipment, and E&O insurance may be necessary.
I already shot my film non-union with several SAG-AFTRA actors in it. Now I have a distribution deal and I don’t want the actors to get in trouble. Can I sign the film after the fact?
No. You can’t sign retroactively. You (or your actors) should’ve called us before filming and we could have helped you avoid all this trouble. Unlike the common saying, in these cases it’s actually better to ask for permission instead of forgiveness. Now go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.
I'm making a short film, but I can't decide if I'll take it to festivals or put it online. Do I have to make a choice?
Depending on your budget, probably not! If your short film is under $50k and under 40 minutes, you likely qualify to sign under the new Short Project Agreement. This agreement allows for both film festival screenings and free-to-consumer new media platforms. If you have specific questions about the Short Project Agreement, call SAG-AFTRA at 323.549.6680. (Keep in mind, if you’re making a new media series, or any new media project with a budget over $50k, you’ll need to sign the New Media Agreement.)
I want to shoot a commercial/industrial/PSA under a Low Budget contract. Can I?
Again, the Low Budget contracts apply only to theatrical projects. Commercials, industrials, and PSA’s all fall under the Commercial Contract. You can reach the friendly folks in the Commercial Department at 323.549.6858. They are very nice people, and would love to talk to you. Tell them we said “Hi”.
I'm outraged by the lack of diversity in movies and want to change things! Can you help me with this noble effort?
Yes! If you’re using the Modified Low Budget or Low Budget agreement, you could qualify for production incentives if at least 20% of production days are cast with People of Color (Black/African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander/South Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Middle Eastern/North African, and Native American); and at least half of your film’s speaking roles and days of employment are cast with members of these 4 protected groups: Women; Senior performers 60 years or older; Performers with Disabilities; People of Color. To see if you qualify for the Diversity in Casting incentive, email diversity@sagaftra.org.
I shot a film under the Experimental Agreement a couple of years ago, but could never afford the upgrade. Now I see that you have the Ultra Low Budget agreement in place – I likes! Please, please, please tell me that I can grandfather my creaky Experimental Agreement into the super-sleek ULB!
There is nothing as satisfactory as giving good news. Yes, you can, with one small proviso: your SAG-AFTRA actors must agree to the change. Provided they do, you can call the Theatrical Department at 323.549.6828 to effect the change. Awesome, huh? Are you as satisfied as we are?
I’m producing a NO budget movie. Really. I’m paying $20 for food. That’s it. I can’t afford to pay actors anything. Can’t I defer the pay? The cast is all my friends and they’re willing to do it for no money. Why is SAG-AFTRA ruining the chance for their members to get work?

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 100% 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.

Don’t get us wrong: we salute your independent spirit. But there are two responses to the second part of your question (and we hope you’ll hear us out).

1) The union made a tradeoff with super low budget filmmakers like you. Instead of deferring pay, and then hitting you with a brutal backend balloon payment that would prevent you from distributing your film (just ask your friends about their Experimental Contract horror stories), they decided to institute a flat rate of around $100. That’s cheap. Very cheap. And, there are NO upgrades. None. It’s a good deal.

2) 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.

What is the bond thing I heard about? How much is it, and what if I can’t pay it because it will exceed my budget?
As is often the case in life, a few bad apples ruin the batch for everyone. Some unscrupulous/inept producers were not paying their actors, forcing SAG-AFTRA to take a bond (security deposit). There is a formula for this, which your SAG-AFTRA representative will explain to you. It is based on the performers’ salaries and work time. Unlike your apartment security deposit, this is returned to you at the completion of principal photography.
Do actors get residuals for low budget films?
If your signatory film gets distributed beyond the theatrical market, residuals will be due to principal performers. SAG-AFTRA’s Financial Assurances Department works with producers and distributors on getting residuals paid. Check out their new, improved, very informative website for details and options.
Hey, what’s this “union bug” thing I have to put in my credit roll? I never heard of this before!

You didn’t sign the SAG-AFTRA signatory agreement without reading the whole thing, did you? Did you? No matter. This is one of the easiest fulfilled contractual requirements you’ll ever run across. The contract simply states that somewhere in your end credit roll you must place the SAG-AFTRA logo, along with a statement acknowledging the cooperation of the union in making your film. That’s it.

Now, we’re going to go ahead and answer your inevitable follow-up question: Where do I get the SAG-AFTRA logo? Why, just contact the SAG-AFTRA Theatrical Department at 323.549.6828, and they will email it to you.

We’ll close with one free piece of unsolicited advice. ALWAYS read the WHOLE contract before you sign!

Actor Questions

How do I get into SAG-AFTRA?
You can learn all about becoming a SAG-AFTRA actor on the SAG-AFTRA membership website.
If I do a SAG-AFTRA student film, can I get into SAG-AFTRA/get a voucher?
No. Under the terms of the Student and Ultra-Low Budget Agreement(s), producers can use both professional and non-professional actors in the same film. Non-SAG-AFTRA actors can’t get into the union by doing one of these films.
I’m a member of SAG-AFTRA but I’ve been cast in a non-union film. How do I get a waiver?
You can’t. But there’s no reason to do a non-union film. Tell the producer to sign one of SAG-AFTRA’s low budget contracts and ask them to call us (323.549.6064).
I want to sign up for the actor’s workshop SAG-AFTRA offers to its members. Can I do that through you guys/is that the same thing as your workshops?
Our workshops are specifically geared to low budget filmmakers. SAG-AFTRA members are welcome to attend (and we encourage it), but they aren’t about developing your acting career. Contact your nearest SAG-AFTRA Local to learn about their events and programs for actors.
I really want to be an actor. How do I do that?
The first step is admitting you have a problem. But seriously, folks, visit the SAG-AFTRA website and read all their great articles about being a member.
What’s the deal with the casting breakdown service? Where did it go?
We used to host a casting breakdown service on our website, but since there are plenty of professional casting services out there, we’ll leave that to the pros. Ask peers and colleagues for recommendations, try Googling, or check out the Helpful Links on our Resources page.

General Questions

I need to find so-and-so’s agent.
If you need to reach out to an actor for a professional casting reason, you can check out SAG-AFTRA’s website for casting professionals. IMDb Pro and WhoRepresents are also good resources for finding an actor’s representative. Just don’t be a stalker.
I want to sign up for Conversations/Casting Access/Business events.
These events are handled by our friends at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. They can be reached at 323.549.6708.
I like the cut of SAGindie's jib. Can we hang out? Can I see you? Let's be friends!
You’re coming on a little strong, but thanks. You can always follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. You can also check out our indieBlog and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on where we are and what we’re doing (within reason). We also do a ton of traveling to film festivals and events, so we’re bound to cross paths with you one day. Don’t be scared to say hi!
Wait... so SAGindie's NOT a department of SAG-AFTRA?
Nope. We work alongside SAG-AFTRA to educate filmmakers and explain the low-budget contracts and the opportunities that come with them. We are separately managed, and funded by a grant. We are (what’s the word?)… independent.

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