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Secret Agent Man

The (Financial) Perks of 3 Union Rules

The (Financial) Perks of 3 Union Rules
Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

Last week, I took a well-deserved shot at your lovely union, but in the spirit of fairness, I must admit there are certain rules at SAG-AFTRA that I quite admire. What kind of rules? Well, I’m an agent, so naturally they all concern money and the way actors get paid.

I’ve been a 10-percenter for almost 10 years now, and during that time, I’ve seen certain union rules kick in and put quite a bit of scratch in my clients’ pockets. (And in mine!) This week, I’d like to discuss some of those rules because hey, you never know. When you least expect it, you might find yourself in the same position.

Let’s start with the standard drop/pick-up deal used on feature films.

I once had a client book a meaty role in a tentpole movie, the kind that takes forever to get done. They hired him for two days of work in January and two more weeks in February. This sort of spread happens all the time, and the union rule allowed the studio to drop my client after those first two days and then pick him up a month later without having to pay for the time in between. But here’s the catch. The union only allows one drop/pick-up, and after they finished his scenes, the director realized he needed my client for one additional sequence that was scheduled for the last week of production—nine weeks later. So they had to pay him his weekly rate ($5,000) to sit at home for nine whole weeks. (Go ahead. Do the math. Pretty sweet, right?)

My client Richie Rich spent that time catching up on movies, exploring museums, working on his house, and going out to eat with yours truly. That’s the perfect example of the union creating a rule that protects both parties, and in this case, it served my client really well.

Here’s another great example. Everyone gets sick, even celebrities. So let’s say you’ve been hired to perform a top-of-show, guest star role on a half-hour comedy that airs on a major network. That’s five days of work for $4,983. But when you show up, the star of the show sounds like he’s coughing up a lung. Sure enough, the dude calls in sick the next day and production is forced to shut down. This is bad news for them but great news for you because force majeure just kicked in.

Force majeure is a French term that means “greater force.” According to the union, if a film or television series is postponed or suspended by reason of fire, accident, strike, riot, act of God, or illness of any member of the cast, one-half salary shall be paid to the performer for the first five weeks of the suspension. So that’s about $500 a day for you to sit tight till the star feels better. I had this happen to one of my clients once and he got paid for eight additional days.

And, last but not least, I love that SAG-AFTRA is actively working to introduce legislation that would allow agents to take more than 10 percent of their clients’ earnings. When that change finally goes through, I will be one happy cat.

(All right, I made that last one up—but a boy can dream, right?)

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