3 Ways to Navigate SAG-AFTRA in Atlanta

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Do you remember the days when film producers and studios used to keep you locked in lifetime contracts, choose who you marry, and ignore precautions for your safety, keeping you working long hours without overtime or sleep? Neither do we.

Thankfully that’s because since 1933, SAG (now SAG-AFTRA) has wielded the battle axe in terms of protecting actors. On Feb. 17, SAG-AFTRA Atlanta Indie Outreach Committee vice chair Carrie Anne Hunt and founding member Tenaya Cleveland addressed New Mavericks filmmakers about why they should make their projects signatory with SAG-AFTRA—regardless of Georgia state’s “right to work” policies.

Hunt and Cleveland were on hand to de-mystify the process of registering a production with the union. Said Hunt, “If your film is completely nonunion, it limits who you can cast, which is especially problematic when attaching name talent to your project. Obviously filmmakers like to take chances on people they know, but sometimes you want to be able to attach [celebrity talent] that will bring in more money. Those individuals are going to be SAG-AFTRA. Our goal is to help you open the door of possibility in casting, so that the sky is the limit and you can cast whomever you feel is best for the role.”

Looking to be SAG-AFTRA eligible? Learn about the basics of joining here!

“While we aren’t saying there are no talented nonunion actors, SAG-AFTRA signifies a certain level of commitment. Percentage-wise, if an actor is union, there’s a higher chance that they are a seasoned professional,” added Cleveland, who also wears both producer and actor hats, having most recently appeared on The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries.” Hunt also works as an actor and producer, seen last year in “Magic Mike XXL” and currently producing “Otherworld,” a fantasy film in the vein of Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth.”

For Atlanta artists considering whether or not it’s a good idea to join SAG-AFTRA, Hunt and Cleveland’s endorsement should be taken into account; from a producer’s money-saving perspective, it’s better to have a seasoned actor for the benefit of the production.

Cleveland and Hunt spoke about the union’s diversity incentives for producers of modified low budget and low budget features, which provide financial leniency for productions that cast at least 50 percent of women, seniors aged 60 and over, people of color, and actors with disabilities. (Note: This incentive is for productions in the $700,000–$3.75 million range.) They also emphasized that the process is not as daunting and paperwork-heavy as many producers may believe it to be.

“Depending on what kind of project—if it’s a student film, short film, low budget—you either start by submitting a form online, or contacting your local rep. For some projects, you can do everything online,” Cleveland said.

For more information on SAG Indie, the branch of SAG-AFTRA dealing with short films, ultra low budget agreements, and low budget agreements, visit sagindie.org. Here’s a breakdown of three contracts SAG Indie supports:

This is the SAG-AFTRA agreement that may be applicable when you are shooting a low budget short film simply for the experience of doing so. The agreement is intended for workshop or training settings and for exhibitions in film festivals. The total budget must be less than $50,000 and have a maximum running time of 35 minutes, being shot entirely in the United States. Salaries are deferred for principal performers.

Applicable when you are shooting a very low budget film for the experience of doing so, this SAG-AFTRA agreement is for budgets less than $250,000. Production benefits include significantly lower rates covering only professional performers, reduced overtime rates, and a six-day work week with no premium.

This SAG-AFTRA agreement may be applicable when shooting a low budget feature for initial theatrical release. The budget must be less than $700,000 and, as with the other agreements, shot entirely in the U.S. In addition, Taft-Hartley waivers are permitted.

Check out Backstage’s Atlanta audition listings!

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Veronika Claghorn
Veronika Claghorn has been a part of the Backstage team for over five years. Prior to working with us, she worked in extras casting for large budget film and TV projects like Paramount’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (alongside fellow Backstage staffer, Eli Cornell) and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” She got her start in Philadelphia casting for M. Night Shyamalan and producing for A&E. She is now based in Atlanta and continues to freelance cast principal roles in commercials and independent films.
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