SAG-AFTRA Votes To Raise Low Budget Rates By 25%

New rates effective July 1, 2015

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

SAG-AFTRA‘s national board of directors wants a raise for members that work on low budget films, and has voted to effectively raise the budget limits on Ultra Low Budget, Modified Low Budget, and Low Budget Theatrical by 25%. The good news, though, is that the board has decided to keep in place its $3,000 initiation fee, which was due to be raised automatically as part of the 2012 SAG-AFTRA merger agreement. Good news for actors, bad news for independent producers.

The national board unanimously voted to increase the rates provided in the Ultra Low Budget, Modified Low Budget, and the Low Budget Theatrical Agreements. Rates for these contracts have not increased in a decade. New rates will reflect a catch-up adjustment of 25 percent effective July 1, 2015, and may be adjusted periodically as needed with a one-year notice of any such increase.

The new rates look like this:

  • For Ultra Low Budget features of under $200,000, the day rate will now be $125 (up from $100 a day)
  • For Modified Low Budget features with budgets of under under $625,000, the Day Rate becomes $335, and the weekly rate translates to $1,166 (up from $268 and $933 respectively).
  • Low Budget features under $2.5 million will be expected to pay SAG-AFTRA members a minimum of $630 day rate, and nearly $2200 a week (up from $504 and $1,752 respectively).

Also note that these rates are purely salary in nature, and do not include contributions to the SAG-AFTRA pension and health fund. The contracts also require projects to shoot within the United States with eight-hour work days before overtime kicks in. In addition, because SAG-AFTRA requires a bond be posted that is based on a calculation of days worked multiplied by the aggregate day rate, filmmakers will expect to see an increase in bond rates as well.

As a director, I’m glad they’re bumping up the rates. The race to the bottom mentality on top of inflation is brutal. If you want to earn a living, you should be paid for the work you do. – Jeff Barry, director to NFS

Nice work if you can get it. The idea behind the rate increase is a kind of cost of living adjustment for actors working in the low budget feature realm, since they’ve been working under the current wage rates for ten years. The increase also garnered the usual back-and-forth from independents, with some saying the new rates will cause features to be shot in states like Texas that allow for making non-union features, or make features that will involve smaller casts to keep costs down.

“When we decided that we wanted to go SAG,” writes Steven DeGennaro over at Deadline, “we re-wrote the script and eliminated/combined 3 major characters in order to be able to afford it. I’m not saying that actors don’t necessarily deserve more money. But there are financial realities on the producer’s side that make paying actors better unfeasible financially.”

Others though, seemed to either welcome the long overdue increase (since the rates have remained stagnant for nearly a decade, that this increase is long overdue), or stated that it would have minimal effect on the films that they make.

“More award-nominated films were shot on SAG/AFTRA Low Budget Contracts this past year than ever before,” replied Tom Lignon. “Actors’ salaries DO NOT happen to be the budget-breakers on these movies.” Some point out that the ULB does allow for the use of both union and non-union actors, so while they may use fewer SAG actors, producers could make up for it with those who are non-union.

Then, there’s the camp that believes that raising wage rates, without a raising budget limits, doesn’t equal a balanced approach to the issue. No matter what side you’re on in the debate, the fact is, the increase will mean that if you’re planning to shoot a project in 2015 under a SAG-AFTRA umbrella, that you need to do so before July 1, 2015 or rework your budget to accommodate the 25% overall increase.

For more information, visit the SAG-AFTRA Contracts website or call Theatrical Motion Pictures Contracts at (323) 549-6828.

Hat Tip – Deadline

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Doddlenews is the news division of the Digital Production Buzz, a leading online resource for filmmakers, covering news, reviews and tutorials for the video and film industry, along with movie and TV news, and podcasting.

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