Showbizreporting's Blog

June 17, 2009

Digital Media Law: Independent New Media Productions

Independent New Media Productions

There are casting notices out there for SAG new media productions under the “SAG New Media Contract.” A few notes may help clarify what these are, and help performers enforce a few of their rights.

First, this is not the new media sideletter recently negotiated with the AMPTP (major studios) as part of the theatrical contract. Rather, it’s a new media contract (the SAG New Media Agreement) that’s been available to independent producers for a number of years—that is, producers who are not signatories to the theatrical and/or agreements. So, disagreements that a performer may have with this agreement simply don’t relate to the compromises in the new TV/theatrical deal.

Second, under sec. 3 of the SAG New Media Agreement, wages are freely bargained by the employer and the performer.

Third, performers should recognize that independent producers are unlikely to make much, if any, money on these productions. Even the studios are shutting down their new media production entities (Stage 9, 60 Frames). And CPMs (advertising rates) for new media are at about $10 rather than $40-$50 (TV) or more, and with viewership on new media much less as well. These two factors, as well as the difficulty of finding any new media distribution at all, mean that independent producers will generally receive very little income from their new media efforts.

Fourth, it’s reasonable for performers to negotiate for back end (a piece of the producer’s gross or net revenues), so that if the producer does make money, so will the performer.

Fifth, when the producer offers to compensate you only in the form of “credit and meals,” or “credit, meals and tape,” that’s illegal. They have to pay you the greater of California minimum wage and federal minimum wage. California’s is higher—$8/hr.

Overtime requirements are more complicated. See complex discussion of exemptions and exceptions (also here) regarding overtime for actors. Also, for workers with less than 160 hours of “employment in occupations in which they have no previous similar or related experience,” the producer can pay 85% of minimum wage. (I don’t know if acting classes count toward the 160 hours, since they’re not employment.)

In any case, if the producer doesn’t pay you the required minimum, you can file a wage claim with the state. You can also call SAG. Although they don’t enforce the minimum wage laws, they may call the producer and suggest that he follow the law.

Sixth, SAG does enforce terms of an agreement between the performer and the producer. So, rather than relying simply on the minimum wage law, it would be a good idea for the performer to include an explicit wage in the SAG new media deal memo with the producer (or a rider), even if the wage is just $8 per hour. SAG would then enforce the agreed wages, meaning that the performer wouldn’t have to rely on the vagaries of the state.

Original made for new media productions are still experimental, and the difficult reality for performers and other talent and workers, above and below the line, as well as their representatives, is that compensation is dramatically lower than in TV and theatrical, just as the revenue for producers is. However, that doesn’t mean that performers shouldn’t insist on some minimums, and hopefully the above suggestions are helpful.


June 3, 2009


Message from SAG’s New York Division President Sam Freed

Dear New York Guild Member,

There were two significant events this past weekend that will affect the
lives of New York actors and Guild members across the country.

On Saturday at a meeting of the joint board of SAG and AFTRA, there was a vote to send a proposed Commercials contract to our joint membership for ratification. This marks the conclusion of a successful effort of both our unions to negotiate together for the benefit of all of us. The proposal will come to you with a unanimous approval of the joint negotiating committee and a recommendation to vote “YES” from both institutions. Details of the contract will be provided with your ballot that you will receive in a few weeks.

On Sunday at a meeting of the SAG National Board, there was a vote to send a proposed TV/Theatrical contract to SAG members for ratification. This marks the end of an extended negotiation that has left us working without a contract since July 1 of last year. This contract will come to you with a recommendation to vote “YES” from both the Board and the recently constituted Negotiating Task Force that helped bring these negotiations to a conclusion.

You will receive detailed information about this contract along with your ballot. But in short the gains achieved go directly to the needs of the middle class actor. Raises in minimums, increases in major role performer premiums and the increases in residuals for primetime series reruns represent real dollars in member’s pockets. There is a .5% increase in pension and health contributions bringing the total contribution to 15%, a gain made even more significant given the state of our economy and the hits our funds have taken. Jurisdiction is awarded in New Media with the establishment of a residual structure. A residual formula is created for movie and television downloadsthat represents an increase over the DVD formula.

Because of the prolonged period of these negotiations this contract has a term of only two years. This was a hard fought concession that will allow our contract to expire with our sister unions and permit the option of joint negotiations in the future.

Lead Negotiator and Guild Senior Advisor John McGuire deserves much credit for getting these negotiations back on track and making improvements from the deal that was presented back in June of last year. David White, our new Interim NED, was instrumental in getting the AMPTP to move off their position of the term of the contract. The membership owes them much for their efforts.

Ballots for this contract will be sent20out in early May. You will have opportunities to learn more about the contract in consideration of your vote. Ratification will not only guarantee increases in terms and conditions but it will end the uncertainty that working without a contract has caused. Production can gear up once again and we can get back to work.

The recent changes that your Board has made are bearing fruit. We continue to move forward.


Sam Freed
New York Division President


SAG handing out pink slips

35 employees affected as part of ‘expense reductions’

By Jay A. Fernandez

April 20, 2009, 09:43 PM ET

One day after its national board approved a new TV-theatrical contract, SAG said it plans to lay off about 35 employees, or about 8% of the staff.

“To close a gap between the guild’s expected revenue and costs in the upcoming fiscal year budget, SAG is undertaking a number of expense reductions, including the elimination of some staff positions,” SAG spokesperson Pamela Greenwalt said Monday. “This is a difficult but necessary step that must be taken to responsibly address the fiscal realities confronting our organization.”

On Saturday, the national board approved a $60 million annual budget even as it contends with a $6.5 million operating deficit for fiscal 2009.

The pink slips come at a tumultuous time for the union, which has suffered from a year of destructive internal political struggles, declining revenue from dues and investments, a slowdown in film work for actors as guild leadership negotiated the TV-theatrical contract and a flood of TV pilots that moved to AFTRA coverage.

“I have asked all employees nationwide to convene tomorrow morning so that I, and our executive team, can speak directly to you about this situation and its consequences,” interim national executive director David White said Monday in a staff memo.

Under the leadership of SAG president Alan Rosenberg and ousted NED Doug Allen, the union’s staff grew to about 440 employees. According to, which dug up the union’s recent financial reports filed with the Department of Labor, SAG spent slightly less than $81 million in 2005-06, about $94 million in 2006-07 and cleared $100 million in 2007-08.

As the blog points out, that’s an increase in spending of 26% that is unmatched by a parallel increase in revenue.

Meanwhile, the union missed out on $60-plus million in pay increases as a result of rejecting the TV-theatrical offer that had been sitting on the table since June.

SAG national organizing director Todd Amorde left his post last week, though that appears unrelated to this downsizing.


Link –


Digital Media Law
Monday, April 20, 2009
SAG Board Approves Studio Deal

Voting on party lines, a sharply divided SAG board approved the tentative deal with the studios yesterday by a vote of about 53% to 47%. The deal now goes to the membership for ratification, with a bruising fight promised by the hardline MembershipFirst faction. Ratification is nonetheless expected, and will mark an end to an almost ten month Hollywood stalemate.

Ballots will go out to the members in early May and will be due back three weeks later. The balloting material will be accompanied by both pro and con statements, and the fight over the deal will be a prelude to SAG’s presidential and board elections, which will commence in July and run through September. Current SAG president Alan Rosenberg has come out in opposition to the deal, while Ned Vaughn, leader of the moderate Unite for Strength group, told Variety that he favored a yes vote.

Although the deal is expected to be ratified, it won’t achieve the over 90% thumbs-up that the Writers Guild deal did last year. An approval in the 60%-70% range seems more likely, given that the AFTRA deal last year achieved only 62%, as a result of an ultimately futile anti-ratification campaign conducted by SAG.

Details and analysis of the deal are available here, and below are press releases from SAG, AFTRA (a rival actors union) and the AMPTP (the alliance representing the studios).

On a personal note, I had a surreal experience outside yesterday’s board meeting. As I talked to a board member who discussed his/her vehement opposition to product integration (a form of product placement, and an issue on which the new contract gives nothing to actors), another board member walked up and handed me a can of energy drink. I looked over and saw a marketing truck painted to look like a can of the drink and blaring rock music. In other words—product placement at SAG’s own board meeting! A bit of a surprise.



Los Angeles (April 19, 2009) – The Screen Actors Guild National Board of Directors today voted 53.38 percent to 46.62 percent to approve and recommend to members, new, two-year successor agreements to the 2005 Producer-Screen Actors Guild Codified Basic Agreement and 2005 Screen Actors Guild Television Agreement.

The proposed agreement, covering actors in motion pictures and television delivers 3.5% effective annual increases comprised of a 3% wage increase and a .5% pension and health contribution increase upon ratification, and a 3.5% wage increase in year two.

The board passed the below motion shortly after 4:00 p.m. today:

It was moved and seconded that the National Board directs the Interim National Executive Director to send the tentative agreement between the Producers represented by the AMPTP and the Screen Actors Guild for successor agreements to the 2005 Producer–Screen Actors Guild Codified Basic Agreement and the 2005 Screen Actors Guild Television Agreement to the membership for ratification, with a recommendation from the Board to vote ‘Yes.’
Approved: 53.38% –46.62%

“I urge members to carefully review both the pros and cons in the referendum materials, and exercise their right to vote,” said Screen Actors Guild National President Alan Rosenberg.

Interim National Executive Director David White said: “We are pleased that Screen Actors Guild members will soon be voting on a deal for television and motion pictures. We’re eager to get our members back to work and to focus now on the challenges ahead, particularly on initiating a comprehensive effort to thoughtfully plan for the future.

Our negotiating committee, task force and professional staff have worked countless hours on this agreement over the last year. On behalf of the National Board, I thank them for their time, commitment and expertise.”

Chief Negotiator John McGuire stated: “This tentative agreement delivers increased contributions to the SAG pension plan, increased minimums, a significant gain in background actor numbers from 50 to 55 over the term of the contract, and it tracks the new media provisions achieved by other entertainment industry unions. The term of the agreement puts SAG in sync with the other unions, and does not include the extended term recently proposed by the AMPTP.”

Provisions of the proposed deal include:
• A two-year term of agreement concluding June 30, 2011.
• Effective annual increases comprised of 3.0% in wage increases and .5% in pension contributions upon ratification, and a 3.5% wage increase one year following ratification.
• A new media structure that tracks those achieved by other industry unions, resulting in gains for actors including:
o Jurisdiction on all derivative, made-for new media productions; automatic jurisdiction on all high-budget, original, made-for new media productions; plus jurisdiction on low budget original, new media productions that employee at least 1 covered performer.
o Residuals for exhibition of TV and Theatrical motion pictures on consumer pay platforms (Electronic Sell Through) at a greater percentage than those paid for DVD distribution.
o Residuals for ad-supported streaming of feature films and television programs.
o Residuals for derivative new media programs.
• Additional 5 covered background actors in feature films. From 50 to 53 covered background positions upon ratification of the contract, and from 53 to 55 covered background positions in year 2. Adds 1 covered background position in TV, from 19 to 20, upon ratification.
• Increased compensation for guest star premium from 7.5% to 10%.
• Increased trailer money break from $2,500 to $3,000, or more per week.
• Increased overtime money break for three-day performers from $2,700 to $3,000.
Ratification ballots will be mailed to eligible SAG members in early May, with an expected return date at the end of the month. Tabulation will occur immediately upon the conclusion of balloting.
Bargaining for a successor agreement to the 2005 SAG TV/Theatrical Contract began on April 15, 2008.


AFTRA Statement Regarding New Screen Actors Guild Film and Television


The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists issued the following statement by President Roberta Reardon regarding the announcement that the Screen Actors Guild National Board has approved a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on a new SAG film and television contract.

“AFTRA congratulates our sister union, Screen Actors Guild, on its new tentative agreement with the AMPTP. I applaud the SAG Negotiating Task Force for bringing a strong contract to the SAG National Board for approval, and I commend the SAG National Board for its leadership in approving and recommending this contract for ratification by their membership.”


Statement by the AMPTP

The new AMPTP-SAG agreement is the eighth major labor agreement reached by AMPTP since the start of 2008 and the 312th such agreement in AMPTP’s 27-year history. Because both sides were willing to compromise we now have an agreement that will provide SAG members with meaningful wage boosts, pension increases, first-class health benefits, and a complete set of new media rights and residuals. With this agreement in place, our entire industry can work together to overcome the enormous economic challenges before us.


Digital Media Law  
SAG Stalemate Update

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 08:43 AM PDT

The Screen Actors Guild stalemate grinds on. Variety says there are back-channel talks with studio heads, but it’s hard to know whether talks are actually in progress or, if any, how substantive they are. These rumors have persisted off and on for almost two months at least.

Causing the stalemate is the issue of contract expiration date rather than new media; there’s talk of a trade-off between this issue and the (unrelated) SAG demand for force majeure payments per the previous SAG agreement. Meanwhile, the passage of time itself threatens to generate new roadblocks.

The SAG Board is meeting this weekend, and Variety suggests a proposed TV/theatrical deal might be presented to the Board then. I’m skeptical, but you never know. The SAG story has had a surprise around every corner, although for the last year, stalemate has unfortunately been the one constant.

What is known is that the SAG and AFTRA boards will spend part of the weekend meeting jointly to review the proposed commercials contract, a deal reached earlier this month between the two unions and the ad industry. That deal, a good one for labor, has garnered little opposition and is expected to be approved overwhelmingly, first by the two boards, then by the two unions’ membership, a process that will take several weeks.

In contrast, the TV/theatrical deal—even though there isn’t one—has garnered opposition. The MembershipFirst hardliners have pledged to oppose any deal endorsed by the current leadership, in part because of new media issues. A small band of MF-ers, in groups of 50-100, have been protesting the nonexistent deal in small weekly rallies around town for the past 6-8 weeks. That group is led by Scott Wilson, and has included, from time to time, SAG President Alan Rosenberg, 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson, former national board alternate David Jolliffe, and even twice-ousted National Executive Director Doug Allen.

Speaking of Johnson and Jolliffe, they are two of the several dozen candidates in the upcoming AFTRA national and LA board elections. MF, which bitterly opposes merger between SAG and AFTRA and burns with hatred for AFTRA, has adopted a strategy of attempting to attack merger from within AFTRA itself—not that AFTRA is likely to be keen to merge with SAG at this point anyway, given the turmoil the Guild has endured at the hands of MF for over a year.

Thus, as Variety points out, MF-ers Bonnie Bartlett, Frances Fisher and Sumi Haru currently sit on both the SAG and AFTRA national boards. MF candidates in the upcoming AFTRA elections, in addition to Johnson and Jolliffe, include Steven Barr and David Clennon. Ballots will be mailed May 8 and due back June 3.

The AFTRA press release is below.


AFTRA press release:
American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO
Los Angeles , California (April 16, 2009)—The Los Angeles Local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—the people who entertain and inform America—announced the complete list of candidates for its 2009 election of Los Angeles Officers and Board members, Los Angeles-based National Board members, and delegates to the 2009 AFTRA National Convention.
All seven incumbent AFTRA Los Angeles Officers were named candidates for re-election by the AFTRA Los Angeles Nominating Committee and will run unopposed for additional two-year terms. They include Los Angeles President Ron Morgan; First Vice President Susan Boyd Joyce; Second Vice President Gabrielle Carteris; Third Vice President Bobbie Bates; Fourth Vice President Jason George; Recording Secretary Patrika Darbo; and Treasurer Jay Gerber.
A total of 22 AFTRA Los Angeles Board seats are up for election with candidates either having been selected by the Los Angeles Nominating Committee or qualifying for the ballot by Nominating Petition. Actors named by the Nominating Committee to fill 11openings include incumbents David Bowe, Raza Burgee, Andrew Caple-Shaw, Gabrielle Carteris, Bob Joles, and Kate Linder, along with David Andriole, Mimi Cozzens, Sandra de Bruin, James Schneider, and Marcia Strassman. Qualifying for the ballot by Nominating Petition are incumbent actors Nancy Daly and Paul Napier, joined by actor David Jolliffe.
Incumbent announcer Mike Sakellarides and announcer Chuck Southcott were named by the Nominating Committee as candidates to fill two vacancies representing that category. Dancer Galen Hooks, also an incumbent Board member, was named as a candidate by the Nominating Committee to fill one vacancy in that category.
Candidates to fill two singer vacancies are incumbents Susan Boyd Joyce and Dick Wells, both also selected by the Nominating Committee. Incumbent broadcaster Pepe Barreto was named by the Nominating Committee as a candidate for re-election representing the newsperson category with two additional newsperson seats remaining to be filled. There are also three vacancies representing the sportscaster category to be filled.
Thirteen seats representing Los Angeles on AFTRA’s National Board are up for election, with one seat guaranteed for Los Angeles Announcers and one for Los Angeles Newspersons. The remaining 11 seats will be filled based on the plurality of votes received. All National Board candidates qualified for the ballot by Nominating Petition. Candidates include incumbents Bobbie Bates, Susan Boyd Joyce, Gabrielle Carteris, Jay Gerber, Ron Morgan, Paul Petersen, and Sally Stevens. Also running are members Granville Ames, Steven Barr, L. Scott Caldwell, David Clennon, Milo Edwards, Carole Elliott, Anne-Marie Johnson, D. W. Moffett, Jason Priestley, Elizabeth Reynolds, and Alan Ruck.
Officer and Board Candidates will have the opportunity to address the membership at the AFTRA Los Angeles annual “Meet the Candidates” forum on Wednesday evening, April 29, at the union’s headquarters.
Los Angeles members will also elect 198 delegates to represent their performing categories at the 2009 AFTRA National Convention scheduled for August 6-8 in Chicago , Illinois .
Ballots will be mailed on May 8 with a voting deadline of June 3. Elected Los Angeles Officers and Board members will begin their terms July 1. National Board members begin their four-year terms at the conclusion of this summer’s National Convention.


Saturday, April 18, 2009
SAG & Studios Agree to Tentative Deal

The Screen Actors Guild and the AMPTP (alliance representing studios and producers) reached tentative agreement on a two-year TV/theatrical contract, potentially ending a ten-month stalemate that halted production of most studio movies and put thousands of people out of work.

The deal will probably be approved by the SAG board today or tomorrow and ratified by the membership by mid-May, but the hardline MembershipFirst faction has vowed to fight the deal, so ratification, although likely, is not assured. Assuming the deal is in fact ratified (which takes a 50% majority), the stalemate would be over by mid-May. Some production might resume before then, in anticipation of ratification, but this is unknown.

In separate news today, the SAG and AFTRA boards meeting jointly approved the commercials contract reached April 1 with the advertising industry. Ratification ballots will go out to the members of both unions next week, with a return date in mid-May. The deal has wide support among the leadership and is expected to pass easily.

Back to the tentative TV/theatrical deal: Critically, this deal would expire on June 30, 2011, effectively synchronizing it with the Writers Guild, Directors Guild and AFTRA (smaller actors union) deals. That means all four unions will be able to coordinate negotiations and strategy, even to the point of threatening a joint strike by two (WGA and SAG) or three (WGA, SAG and AFTRA) of the unions. (The DGA has essentially never gone on strike, and AFTRA seldom does.)

This synchronicity should give the unions significant leverage, which raises the question of why the studios agreed to it. Probably they needed to restart theatrical film production soon in order to have movies for 2010. That would seem to be the only pressure point SAG had, since the union was widely understood to be unable to strike (a strike authorization would have taken a 75% affirmative vote of those voting, and the union didn’t even seek such a vote for fear of failing).

The gain—synchronicity—came at a price to SAG, however. The new deal compromises the force majeure claims SAG has pending from the 2007-2008 WGA strike. These are claims by actors for lost wages due to the strike, and amount to tens of millions of dollars. It’s unknown as yet how much will be foregone. Also, since the claims were the subject of a pending arbitration process, it’s unknowable how much SAG would have gotten if it had continued to pursue the claims. Thus, it’s hard to calculate the dollar cost of the compromise. The new deal also modifies the force majeure language in the union contract, but the details are unknown.

The deal includes no changes in new media from the AMPTP’s February offer, according to sources. That offer, in turn, is essentially the same as the new media provisions that the DGA, WGA, and AFTRA (in two separate deals) agreed to. (IATSE’s new media provisions are similar in several respects as well.) No change was expected by anyone, yet, ironically, new media was the reason the hardliners stalemated for ten months in a futile attempt to improve on the template accepted in the other five union deals.

The deal will take effect upon ratification, and includes an immediate 3.0% increase in minimum pay rates plus a 0.5% increase in pension and health contributions. A year later, there will be an additional 3.5% increase in minimums, which will run through contract expiration.

In contrast, AFTRA members have been enjoying a 3.5% increase for the last ten months (when AFTRA did its deal), and will receive their 3.0% + 0.5% bump on June 30 of this year. That means that for virtually the entire contract period, AFTRA rates will be about 3.5% higher than SAG’s. In other words, the new deal does not give SAG a double increase in order to catch up with AFTRA.

If SAG wants to ever catch up, they’ll have to seek a double increase in 2011, but that will involve giving up some other issue that SAG would otherwise have negotiated for, and in any case a double increase in 2011 would not be retroactive to the 2009-2011 period. This is part of the damage that the hardliners inflicted on the union.

Speaking of retroactivity, that’s an element that, not surprisingly, this deal doesn’t include either. That means that SAG actors who worked in TV over the last ten months will not receive makeup payments to bring them up to higher minimum pay levels that they would have received if the deal had been done promptly. This also is a result of the delay that MembershipFirst caused by not making a deal almost a year ago. And, of course, the whole issue of expiration date was caused by the hardliners’ delaying tactics.

The deal next goes to the SAG national board tomorrow for approval and then to the members for ratification over a several week period. SAG hardliners will fight the deal—SAG president Alan Rosenberg, 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson, and former Hollywood board member David Jolliffe are among those who have already spoken in opposition—but I expect it to pass, although not with the over-90% margin the Writer Guild deal did a year ago. The deal will almost certainly go out to the members with a minority statement in opposition. Nonetheless, people are sick of not working and will probably agree that the deal was the best obtainable in a bad economy and with SAG weakened in large part by the hardliners themselves.

One thing that’s clear is that this is a time of enormous change for the Hollywood actors unions. Most immediately, actors have a lot to vote on over the next several months: the commercials contract, the TV/theatrical contract, the AFTRA Board elections, and then the SAG presidential and Board elections, the latter of which are expected to run from July through September.

In addition, several of the Hollywood unions’ pension and/or health plans have made cutbacks (AFTRA, AFM, and IATSE), due to the stock market collapse and to the continued increases in health care costs. Also, SAGWatch reports today that SAG itself is in difficult financial straits, due to MembershipFirst’s mismanagement: loss of union dues due to the production slowdown over the last 10 months, departure of television work to AFTRA due in large part to SAG’s internal strife, the expenses of futile battles with AFTRA and internally, and, most significantly, alleged bloated hiring practices that added 100 staff members to the union payroll. Layoffs are apparently expected, and the LA Times is reporting today that the union has a deficit exceeding $6 million.

SAG’s new leaders have difficult work to do on various other contracts that expired or were ignored on MembershipFirst’s watch, including the franchise agreement between SAG and the town’s talent agents, which expired seven years ago. Then there’s the perennial question of SAG-AFTRA merger, which will probably be a factor in the upcoming SAG elections, as will vituperative arguments about the new TV/theatrical deal and the responsibility for the large-scale decline in SAG’s power and prestige.

Change isn’t limited to the labor side. The AMPTP’s longtime head, Nick Counter, retired several weeks ago. Also, interestingly, the new TV/theatrical deal was negotiated primarily on an informal basis by key SAG leaders and studio heads, not by formal bargaining between the union and the AMPTP. Although AMPTP acting head Carol Lombardini played a part late in the discussions, this process raises questions as to the future role and effectiveness of that organization.

Hanging over all of this are the twin factors of the economy and new media. The troubled economy will continue to harm the entertainment industry for some time to come. New media will continue to evolve, and will probably roil the unions, and the industry as a whole, for a decade or more.

And, of course, with mid-2011 expiration dates set for the WGA, DGA, AFTRA (two deals) and new SAG deals, negotiations will start again in the towards the end of next year. No rest for the weary, or sleep for the sinful, it seems.


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