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The Screen Actors Guild is a professional union for working actors in the field of film and television, and acts as a collective bargaining force so actor workers can protect themselves against companies that wish to exploit their labor. This important professional function makes the Screen Actors Guild an indispensable feature of the film production world, but their very specific requirements can be difficult to navigate. This is especially true if you are shooting a low or ultra low budget independent film, and they have specific requirements for how the actors must be paid for and treated in these situations.
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Pay Rate and Budget Agreement
The most primary focus of working with SAG actors in general or in a SAG ultra low budget agreement is that there is a standardization for pay that is required. You will find that you have to pay SAG actors a day or weekly rate, and you will find that if a SAG actor is there for more than two days you may want to just hire them for a week because of the compare in rates from the SAG ultra low budget agreement.
The SAG ultra low budget agreement will list a specific wage as long as the budget remains under a specific budget limitation, but if it is determined to be too high then SAG may bump it up to the next pay bracket. The SAG ultra low budget agreement tends to list the budget that must be under $200,000 and the day rate was set at $100, yet this can go up. If the budget breaks the $200,000 mark it will then be in the modified low budget agreement where the max budget will be $625,000 with a day rate of $269 and a weekly rate of $933. This is still significantly lower than scale and will not include your incentives that you may pay to the main actors on top of their SAG wage, which is standard for known actors and actresses.
You will also have to note that different kinds of labor practices, including for underage actors that must also be in line for child labor laws, will be under the banner of SAG. These will then outline things that must be on set, such as safety regulations and the kind of hours you can ask actors to participate in.
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Many of the same requirements are going to remain the same beyond the payment according to union rules, but this does not mean that the rules set by the talent, management company, and talent agency will be the same. Many actors have a quote set as well as things that they want on set, like certain accommodations. An ultra low budget film will have the restrictions set by SAG, as well as the requirements for working conditions, but there may be more set by the talent themselves. With your budget changes you may want to make a request to have certain things removed from their contract if they can not be accommodated for in the contract. This is especially true if certain things will raise the budget above the $200,000 mark set for the SAG ultra low budget agreement.
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Source: Author's own experience.