By Stephanie Ciccarelli
December 15, 2008
About a month ago, the Screen Actors Guild issued a rather bold memorandum to their members with regard to New Media (wireless, internet, DVDs, etc.) called "Check Your Backside" communicating that Rule 1 in New Media will be enforced starting January 1, 2009.
What's the "Backside" and what's "Rule 1"?
If you are a card carrying SAG member, you need to know.
Find out now.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Screen Actors Guild, or its acronym SAG as it is more commonly referred to, it is one of the two major performers unions in the United States that represents nearly all film actors and many other people who fall into a variety of categories, including voice over artists.
Members of SAG are only allowed to work for signatories of the union, in other words, producers who have signed an agreement with SAG to only work with union talent.
Now that we've briefly covered what SAG is, who is in it and who may work with SAG talent, it is important to share this message.
Effective January 1, 2009, all members of SAG must work only with union signatories on New Media projects.
The "Backside" SAG is referring to is the backside of the SAG membership card all members carry with them that clearly outlines "Rule 1". Rule 1 in essence means that SAG members can only work for signatories who have signed the appropriate SAG agreements.
Pamela Greenwalt, a SAG representative, was kind to provide me with the following relating to my request for information about SAG's New Media Rule 1 campaign:
"I am responding to your request for information on our New Media Rule 1 campaign. Regarding rates, please see the following:
For linear entertainment programming made for initial distribution in new media (the Internet and cell phones, only) SAG has promulgated a New Media Agreement for independent productions whereby signatory producers are free to individually bargain with members over compensation, including voice-over compensation. For interactive entertainment programming (video games), the terms and conditions of the SAG Interactive Media Agreement apply under which the day rate for voice-over performers is $759.00 for up to three voices in a four-hour work day."
According to what Pamela says above, SAG has no set rates for linear entertainment programming made for initial distribution in new media. This means that as a member of SAG you can set your own rates and negotiate with producers in this area of work.
Unless it's a video game or the like where there are set session fees, you're in the clear to set your own prices.
I was also in touch with Todd Amorde, National Director Organizing, Screen Actors Guild, and he graciously shared:
"Generally, speaking the rates for scripted entertainment product under our promulgated agreement are freely negotiable. This agreement would be applicable and the rates negotiable only if the production is truly independent (no funding or distribution from a network or studio)."
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You might be wondering why some of this (enforcement of Rule 1) isn't happening already, and I hope to be able to give you my thoughts on this. Please keep in mind that this is merely my opinion based upon research - I am not an expert on New Media or unions.
Let me preface the rest of this article by saying that New Media is Production's equivalent of the Wild Wild West where contracts for work are concerned.
Right now New Media has no set, recognized or standardly enforced parameters for pay scale.
There is no rate card on the subject and this area of work has been the final frontier if you like for a number of years ever since DVD technology came about.
SAG has had a New Media contract for about 10 years and it has now been updated to reflect changes to the technological landscape.
All things digital, cellular, wireless, online, you name it... these devices are not only a massive part of our culture, however residual payment for artists is currently unregulated, unlike traditional broadcast commercials, promos, tags, and so on that garner performers royalties and a standard base fee for the original performance.
To quote the SAG website:
"New media means the Internet, cell phones, PDA's and any other technology that may be invented in the future. That means that every time you work on a project intended for new media, you need to be covered by a union contract. Being covered by a SAG contract right from the start is a good thing because in new media, you never know where you'll find an audience or how successful a project may become."
Source: SAG Act As One
Unions including Canada's performers union ACTRA, and also the Writers Guild of America (WGA), have gone on strike (ACTRA in 2007 and WGA in 2007 into 2008) partially due to the pursuit of bargaining at the table for New Media agreements with producers (AMPTP is the producers union in the US).
If you remember that painfully dull stretch of television last November through mid-winter of this year, it was because of the WGA strike. When the writers stopped writing, everything else was held up including the production of new episodes for shows such as LOST, Heroes, and more. Many shows had to end their seasons prematurely due to the strike.
This strike affected Hollywood on a massive scale, losing millions upon millions of dollars each day.
The strike saw people turning to sites like Hulu.com to watch premium content that was lacking on television. Reality TV shows and day time talk shows weren't quite cutting the mustard with everyone as you could imagine.
Since I last worked on this article (first draft was started on November 11th, 2008), SAG has approved a motion to strike which means that we may be facing a work stoppage in the entertainment industry, particularly regarding actors in the Screen Actors Guild.
I'm looking forward to hearing what you think and will certainly clear the floor so that all voices can be heard on both sides of these issues.
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