What is that little empty box at the bottom line of the Screen Actors Guild's day-player TV contracts?
This is known as the trailer permission option for reuse of photography or soundtrack on the SAG television day-performer contract. When signing your contract for a one-day appearance, you are asked if you want to give the producer authorization "to use portions of said television motion picture as a trailer to promote another episode or the series as a whole." In other words, you are being asked to allow the producer to use excerpts of your work on the show in a promotional trailer for a pre-negotiated minimum fee. Other than agreeing to your salary and billing, it is the only option you are given on the contract.
How has the trailer reuse option changed?
In the past, productions were allowed to use your work only in a promotional trailer to advertise the one episode you were hired to shoot. Doing so did not incur any extra compensation from the show's producer. However, new language was added to the contract in July 2005 that allows a producer to use a clip of the performer's work for free for six consecutive weeks, even if the actor's character does not appear in the subsequent five episodes.
Are guest stars, recurring characters, and series regulars given the same option?
No. Actors playing recurring characters under a term contract or actors who are series regulars get no extra compensation for having clips of their work shown in any of the show's trailers. In addition, if you are hired for two shows or more, a TV production may freely use a performance from one episode as part of another as long as your terms of engagement on the second show are not less than those of the first. However, the day-player rules regarding six episodes and bargaining do apply to the "one-day" guest star who does not receive full guest star weekly salary.
What are the reasons not to sign?
The primary reason is future bargaining leverage. Practically speaking, there's not much likelihood a show will need a clip to promote a story line after the six-week grace period. However, should that happen, and with the production having your initialed approval, you have given up your right to negotiate a better fee than the SAG day-performer minimum for the reuse of your performance. By the way, that fee covers only the 13 weeks following the negotiation. Should that time span expire, the payment must be re-bargained. Moreover, your performance contains your likeness, and the courts have ruled that every performer has the right to have control of his or her image. By not initialing the box, you retain a modicum of control over the future use of your image.
What if the assistant director insists that you have to initial?
He or she is wrong. The mere presence of a box to be initialed indicates you have a choice. Some assistant directors have been told by their bosses they must get the actor to initial, and they may be adamant about your complying. Re-educate them or call the guild for immediate advice. The phone number is on your SAG card.
What happens if you haven't initialed and your work gets used anyway?
Notify the guild. If you can, provide SAG with visual evidence. As a penalty for the producers as well as compensation for you, you are entitled to the equivalent of three times the salary originally paid to you for the number of days of work covered by the material used. But if the producer tried to reach you to get your permission and you were incommunicado, then the producer may use the clip without punishment.
What if your performance from a TV show or film is used in part of something that is other than its original intent?
The contract language is very clear for instances other than those trailer usages described above. "No part of the photography or soundtrack of a performer shall be used in any picture, or other programs, whether filmed, taped, live, or any other medium, other than the one for which he was employed, without separately bargaining with the performer and reaching an agreement regarding such use, prior to the time reuse is made." In other words, if there is no prior negotiation, then there is no permission for the reuse. It's as simple as that. However, if your clip is to be used for public service (such as the Emmy Awards), education (news programs), or the like, SAG in its discretion may grant a waiver and disallow your right to additional compensation.