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New Media and Voice Over : Have The Unions Figured It Out?

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

December 15, 2008

Comments (6)

Back pocket earbudsAbout 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.

Brief, Brief Overview of SAG

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.

You can read more information at the SAG website or research compiled by Voices.com team member Lin Parkin entitled, A History of the Screen Actors Guild.

Check Your Backside?

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.

SAG Says

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."

Analysis

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)."

Do You Have Questions about New Media as it Pertains to SAG?

You can call (323) 549-6777 or email this address: organizingnewmedia@sag.org

Why Is New Media So... Wild?

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.

New Media

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

Bargaining Tables, Passionate Speeches and Picket Lines

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.

What Do You Think of All This (New Media / Strike Motion / Etc.)?

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.

Best wishes,

Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/Stephen Morris

Related Topics: actors, ACTRA, Approved Motion to Strike, Check Your Backside, Hollywood, industry, Rule 1, SAG, Screen Actors Guild, TV, union, United States, videogames, voice acting, voice overs


Comments


    Partnering with any union or talent agency is a "partnership" - it was never meant to be a surrender of the individual responsiblity for procuring stability in long-term success. An entity such as SAG has some nice things to offer its members, but it can never offer a promise or guarantee. The current situation proves this. As much as we'd like to avoid it, individual success as an actor or voiceover talent is a personal decision and effort. Shame on me if I think my income is threatened due to the actions or efforts of someone other than myself. Partner with the Unions if you like! There are excellent advantages and benefits in doing so. But it will never replace the fact that 100% of my success, and the stability or security of my finances, is 100% my responsibility. Always has been, always will be. (Which is why I've never had a bad year, and my income is never negatively affected by the economy.)

    Posted by:

      Voices.com is an interesting venue for this discussion. I've heard Bill Gates credited with describing the internet as "friction-free capitalism." In our case, it means no more spending two hours on a round-trip downtown to a studio to do a one-minute read. Are we reasonable to try to hang onto a rate structure and business model from the old days? Or, do we take advantage of the new tools to be more efficient contractors? At what point do union contracts, limits and reporting requirements become just so much more friction, both for us and our clients?

      I love working in New Media because the little guy can take a new, untried idea and go live with it at very little cost. Many so-called enterprises on the web start with no revenue stream. Do you want to play in this world, or price yourself out of it?

      In my 30 years in radio, in markets as large as Atlanta, AFTRA was a questionable value proposition at best, toothless ballast at its worst. I don't know how SAG works for voice people, but at some point, we all have to decide whether the benefits are worth the extra friction.

      Posted by:

        I'm not ready at this point to join a union and I haven't given a lot of thought to whether or not I should down the road yet. I face that when I'm ready. So, what does all this mean for non-union voiceovers? Is there any impact on us?

        Thanks for the informative read Stephanie!

        Posted by:

          Hi Tim, Paul and Tom,

          Thank you for your comments and interesting feedback!

          Tom, to answer your question, as a non-union voice talent, what SAG is doing will not affect you very much but will however limit the prospects for SAG talent when working on New Media projects as they'll only be able to work with signatories / people who have completed the appropriate paper work.

          From what it looks like, there may be more opportunity for non-union talent as SAG actors who have been working with non-signatory companies in the past will either have to persuade them to become a signatory or lose their business from those clients.

          One might also consider that there are fewer signatories than there were before. I don't have the numbers but that is what I've been hearing from a variety of people. So, with fewer people able to hire SAG / AFTRA talent, and more limitations put on union talent through legislation such that we're seeing here, this memo from SAG could potentially only impact non-union talent in a positive way.

          Anyone else have a thought about that?

          Best wishes,

          Stephanie

          Posted by:

            I've always been intrigued by this statement, ..."and any other technology that may be invented in the future".

            Such a statement evokes broad-brush approach to collective bargaining. Definitely bold. Definitely SAG.

            Bold, like calling for a strike vote when the economy in its worst disposition since the 1930's.

            Posted by:

              Thanks for the great post. I have mixed feelings about this. I've always worked mostly non-union jobs until this year, when I did a SAG job for General Mills and the yogurt YoPlus (which is really good yogurt, BTW). I had a Taft-Hartley exemption so I didn't have to join at that time.
              The commercial was recorded in March and is still playing. I'm getting residuals every time it plays. As you can imagine, I'm now a HUGE fan of the union. It's fair an artist be paid each time their work is used, unless the buy-out up front is very good. The challenge is determining where "very good" is for each project, especially when the work could live forever on the Web.

              Playing in this new world is fun. We're all trying to figure things out and make a living as we go along. However, we're on the first wave of a huge crest that isn't going away, and the decisions we support will affect the industry for years to come. Personally, I hope the unions stay involved, and that artists support the unions whenever possible. And that the spirit of fairness is present in the talks.

              Kitzie Stern

              Posted by:

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