✏️ The Animated Kids Show: Part Three
Dealing With SAG
Disclaimer: To quote Ned Flanders I get pretty "negative Nelly" here. I'm a human just like anyone else and SAG makes me grumpy. Haha...
Before we dive into my first time experience with SAG I want to recap a little bit. In the world of film and television they typically revolve around unions. To go into the history of unions is a tad boring in my opinion however I'll glaze over some important details. What a union does is they provide a sort of advocating services for their clients. Meaning they make sure certain standards are met on set and people are paid correctly, including royalties. This all sounds good right? Well yes and no. On paper having a union being involved gives there a since of official practices that this project has done all it needs to be a legit production. But here's the thing none of the paper work in the world unless it's a script is going to improve your project. Just because you've decided to hire SAG actors doesn't inherently make them more hardworking, organized or committed to your project. SAG is just apart of the Hollywood beauracy. Lots of red tape that is in itself boring and expensive stuff. SAG takes a large bite out of your profits too! Last I checked 17.5% of a bite and that's before taxes. So SAG tells you how much you're paying everyone and they get a substantial cut of your project. Which is a redundant organization when you already have to sign a laundry list of contracts when you start a project anyways. This gets more complicated if you're in animation when outside the voice actors and maybe the writers everyone isn't union. So it's very much like getting an extra tax. Additionally if you're a small business like my studio you're paying approximately 40% of your income on taxes. In a future post I'll breakdown budgets and what to expect via costs. My point I want to make is SAG isn't your partner as a studio they're there to serve themselves and their clients (sorta haha). SAG is just something that you have to learn to work with or around. I need to address this because there's a lot of gaslighting in Hollywood - people that might try and make you feel bad for not agreeing with them, especially if you're not a fan of unions. Here's the thing if you pay your people industry standards and perhaps a bit more if you're unable to offer certain benefits (if you're a small studio your profits are honestly razor thin) you're more than ethical in my opinion. But here's the rub when you join SAG you're technically not allowed to take on work that isn't registered with SAG. That means if you did a commercial for a non union project you can lose all your benefits from SAG. Because SAG is supposed to provide you with healthcare benefits (which to my knowledge you have limited say on the provider though I could be wrong). Furthermore if you're working and SAG tells you to strike you have to stop working and go on strike no matter what your financial situation. If people in Hollywood have ever been criticized for an interest in politics they're clearly unaware of how political Hollywood is by nature. This is why I said SAG is there to serve themselves first. Don't get me wrong I'm sure many writers and actors enjoy the benefits of SAG I just find it another gatekeeper that prohibits productions and a bit old hat. I'm all for paying people well and giving everyone a fair share, I'm actually very transparent about money. As you'll see SAG is just something that's currently apart of the process. Nonetheless my first time dealing with SAG went like this...
An actor I wanted for this animated kids show, John Dimaggio specifically asked if the project after reading the script and being interested was a SAG project? Well having zero experience this side of production dealing with SAG it was time for me to educate myself. Much of the resources are available on their SAG website. You'll need to complete a registration for your project and sign lots and lots of contracts. However if your project falls outside of SAG/ is a low budget or non union project you'll have to be sure to sign a new media contract. The reps I spoke to bounced me around for a good week before I was finally assigned an official rep on my project. These people work slow in my opinion, like people that run on bank hours slow. Don't expect to hear back from them quickly and do expect to have to be on top of them. If you're sensing my frustration you're correct! It's hard enough to run a smooth project, wrangle talent, keep track of artists, animators, budgets and clear lines of communications with agents that this extra layer of administrative babysitting is just draining. Granted I'm sure there's veterans out there that would love to say otherwise and praise SAG but from my experience SAG is like a behemoth DMV, except not always necessary. Ok so you've filled out your SAG paperwork, including giving them insurance and business license info for the project - As I mentioned earlier I'll eventually break down all this financial stuff in a future post so you're better prepared than I was. So now you've filled out your SAG paperwork which involves submitting your actors/actresses SAG numbers once they've agreed to your project. Looking back this sounds so simple as it slips off the tongue but now you're ready, right? Maybe? Because after you've negotiated a rate with your actors/actresses agent and signed them you're going to need to cement a production date. Without a proper production date your SAG paperwork will expire and if it expires there's a large chance you'll have to pay higher fees to the actors and SAG. See what I mean by paperwork. In the normal commercial and marketing world if a project goes long and a start date changes it's a simple change order but with SAG it's three times the paperwork, emails and phone calls. This is why personally I recommend you try and keep your productions as absolutely small as possible. And if you're paying for it, which most likely you are go non union if possible. At least for the pilot. Honestly looking back if I had the resources to pay a third party to handle the SAG stuff I would of jumped on it. Also and this is obviously very personal I see this layer of administrative junk as counter to my creative nature. SAG from my opinion is a very corporate and stuffy structure that just makes it more difficult. Hollywood loves their gatekeepers and they like to make things feel elusive and inaccessible. Not me! I believe this path should be clear and easy to follow. We should know the standard and what we need to be prepared. I truly believe if Hollywood was more forthright about the processes in developing your projects monsters like Weinstein wouldn't have thrived in shadows constantly killing dreams and harming people. I know that might seem like a far cry from SAG but understand this Hollywood loves holding people back and making the path to success political and difficult to understand. Luckily Hollywood has been taken a real blow from Netflix & Hulu that the game has begun to change!
In my next post I'll talk about how to create a compelling pitch and creating the very important "Two-Sheet" for your project.
Thanks so much following my ranting until next time. Take care!