The landscape of acting in new media changes as fast as the technology itself. Many of us never dreamed of acting in a web series when we first stepped onto our acting paths, and yet new media projects occupy a bigger part of the actors’ work portfolio at every career level. The New Media Department at the Screen Actors Guild recently sat down with us to fill us in on the evolution of the department and what we can do to make new media a great place to act.
Can you tell us the history of the New Media department? Can you share some recent progress SAG has made in regards to getting new media producers on board as SAG signatories?
Senior leadership at the Guild created the department in 2007 to investigate new technologies and the way those technologies effect the work of our members. Mark Friedlander was its first director and continues to lead the department. Recently, the department has expanded its purview to include a contracts administration function as well. We encourage actors to spend some time perusing SAG’s Digital Media Center to learn more about all the resources and services the department has to offer.
SAG has seen tremendous growth in the volume of signatory productions. Comparing the first half of 2011 to same period a year before, SAG more than doubled its number of covered productions. The department has seen an approximate 9-fold increase in annual signings over the last three years (2007 to 2010) and is on track to beat that again this year.
Sarah and I recently talked to a Seattle actor who had just joined SAG after booking 2 commercials. She wants to continue to build her reel but says that when she auditions for new media projects in Seattle she has been told several times by producers that “we don’t want the hassle of dealing with the union on this” and she’s out of the running. What advice do you have for an actor in her position? How can she advocate for the union with producers who are skeptical of the process of becoming a signatory?
It’s a pretty common occurrence for us to meet reluctant producers. However, it is equally common that once we have a chance to explain really simple and fast our process is that they decide to sign up. Our growth in the space is a pretty good indication of that success.
The process of becoming signatory to the SAG New Media Agreement is very simple. And they can do it fast. We have worked very hard to be responsive to producer feedback in simplifying and streamlining our procedures. Most recently we launched a web app, the Online Signatory Application, which allows producers to quickly and easily complete the process of becoming a signatory on the SAG website. A producer can often complete the process in as little as two days.
Becoming a signatory often leads not only to the production benefiting from the SAG talent pool, but also SAG’s resources can make all aspects of the filmmaking experience more efficient and professional for everyone involved.
Dena Beatty, Executive Director of the Seattle & Portland Branch Office has had great luck recently with helping actors get producers on board working SAG. As is often the case, working with SAG enables a filmmaker to up-level the whole production by taking advantage of SAG’s experience. Dena was able to help a filmmaker attract investors by suggesting he produce a (union!) web series as a predecessor to his feature. Another great initiative leading to more union jobs has been SAG’s efforts to partner with the Oregon Media Production Association to educate producers about the great supply of union talent in the Portland area. (Here you can read about these and other non-union to union stories & a view a step-by-step guide about turning non-union projects : SAG Organizing)
What consequences might an actor face if, as a union member, she knowingly works in a non-union new media project?
All members of SAG must abide by Global Rule One, which prohibits them from working in New Media on a non-union production. A member failing to abide by Rule One may face union discipline.
Members who violate Rule One could be required to appear before a Trial Board conducted by a group of their peers. A Trial Board has the authority to discipline, to impose fines, suspend, or recommend expulsion of a member from the union.
What’s the biggest misconception new media producers have about becoming a SAG signatory?
That it is a difficult, time consuming, and expensive process. None of those are true. It is a very easy and fast process and can be completed online. And our rates in new media entertainment are negotiable.
The rates for both background performers and principal performers are completely and separately negotiable between the producer and performer. If the producer offers a deferred rate, they will also need to negotiate the details of what event will trigger the payment to the performer. Other terms that are negotiable are hours in a work day and overtime rates. In all cases, we advise our producers to abide by all labor laws applicable to the state in which they are filming. The performer rates are not affected by the production budget, and SAG does not disclose budget details to the performers.
What are the goals of the New Media department and how can SAG members help you achieve them?
When David White, SAG’s Interim National Executive Director, assumed his post, he issued an imperative to the staff that SAG “match the level of technology in other media.”
To that end, we’re working on a Digital Production Center 2.0 release. This will offer producers more capability to manage their entire production on-line, and many of the daily forms will be able to be completed remotely. We also expect this to speed up the financial assurance process (e.g., making sure a production has sufficient bonds in place to protect the cast). Currently, the Center streamlines productions by reminding the production when its paperwork is due and by acting as a portal for SAG members to access information about their production in one place.
We want to continue to evolve the department with the growing business needs of the new media space. We want to be a resource for our members and the production community at large. Feedback and open dialogue among all the parties involved in this industry will help us to do just that.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about working SAG in new media?
It’s the new media producers who can say it best. To see what they have to say about working in new media with SAG, take a look at this video.
If you are an actor new media has provided an unprecedented opportunity for you to take charge of the types of roles you play. Go produce the SAG project you have always wanted to be in. And if you’re a producer and have concerns about working with SAG, please give us a call and let us help you. We want to be partners in the growth of this business.