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"SAGging" Contract

Dear Editor:

I shot a standard SAG commercial at scale pay. That's the session fee at $443.25 plus the residual rate. In this case the residual portion allows the producers to show the commercial in movie theatres for the duration of the 21 month contract. And they did. The producers showed it in thirty major cities across the USA, each city having several multi-plex theatres, all of them showing movies for four, five, six times a day. Blockbuster movies assured sellout audiences. This commercial appeared during the previews of each movie. It ran everywhere, everyday for nearly sixteen months. Millions have seen it. Enormous exposure. For $709.20. That's seven hundred and nine dollars and twenty cents minus ten percent for my agent. That's the minimum residual rate payment for in-theatre usage under this SAG commercial contract. And that's pathetic.

In the ten years I've been shooting commercials, I've done them for the money. And I'm grateful. But this one I did for the part! For the exposure! How else could I justify accepting this low fee? I never worked under this usage category before. I was shocked that the union had such an awful rate for its members. Well, you live and learn. Obviously, I looked the other way and went on with the show. The producer had every right to take financial advantage of me because SAG permits it in this contract. This particular part of the SAG commercial contract stinks. And not only that, it was breached.

The commercial was a success. On December 28, 1997, the SAG contract finally expired. My agent had notified the advertising agency between sixty and ninety days prior to the deadline should the client want to renew the contract. He wanted to renew. So the re-negotiation process began in good faith. But this time I insisted to be paid for what an actor deserves. Either he would meet my fee or he would have to kill the commercial. His offer was utterly insulting. His second offer was only a little better and I turned it down. My last bargaining words to my agent were: "Not a dime under my price or don't show it!" This is the one clause in the contract I could exercise that would benefit me. It was my only recourse to salvage any dignity as a professional. He refused to pay my asking fee. So as a result, bound by the contract, this producer cannot legally play the commercial anywhere.

On December 30, 1997, I paid nine dollars to see the movie "L.A. Confidential" at Sony Theatres on 68th street/Broadway. During the previews, my commercial showed in front of a packed house. Here on the big screen, in front of my eyes, was a gigantic breach of contract. I hit the ceiling. My agent tried to resolve the unauthorized showing but the ad agency denied responsibility. My agent confirmed further illegal usage but the agency continued to disclaim any accountability. Since the first noted bootleg showing, it has continued to show in New York and New Jersey theatres in breach of contrast. If it's playing here, you can bet it's playing everywhere. And if you play, you pay. A breach is a breach. My agent has been forced to file a claim with SAG.

It is now under an ongoing investigation by the union. I expect the Screen Actors Guild to back my agent a hundred percent because of this breach. If I don't want the commercial to be shown unless I'm paid what I believe is a reasonable fee, then I expect the Guild to enforce these conditions.

One also hopes that with an inflated ticket price for a movie, the union will realize that the present scale contract for "in-theatre use" makes actors a target for blatant exploitation. More people paid more money at the box office to see moves last year than ever before. Profits and tickets have gone up dramatically. So should this SAGging contract.

William Paulson,

New Yor