Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Independent New Media Productions

There are casting notices out there for SAG new media productions under the “SAG New Media Contract.” A few notes may help clarify what these are, and help performers enforce a few of their rights.

First, this is not the new media sideletter recently negotiated with the AMPTP (major studios) as part of the theatrical contract. Rather, it’s a new media contract (the SAG New Media Agreement) that’s been available to independent producers for a number of years—that is, producers who are not signatories to the theatrical and/or TV agreements. So, disagreements that a performer may have with this agreement simply don’t relate to the compromises in the new TV/theatrical deal.

Second, under sec. 3 of the SAG New Media Agreement, wages are freely bargained by the employer and the performer.

Third, performers should recognize that independent producers are unlikely to make much, if any, money on these productions. Even the studios are shutting down their new media production entities (Stage 9, 60 Frames). And CPMs (advertising rates) for new media are at about $10 rather than $40-$50 (TV) or more, and with viewership on new media much less as well. These two factors, as well as the difficulty of finding any new media distribution at all, mean that independent producers will generally receive very little income from their new media efforts.

Fourth, it’s reasonable for performers to negotiate for back end (a piece of the producer’s gross or net revenues), so that if the producer does make money, so will the performer.

Fifth, when the producer offers to compensate you only in the form of “credit and meals,” or “credit, meals and tape,” that’s illegal. They have to pay you the greater of California minimum wage (if the production is in California) and federal minimum wage. California’s is higher—$8/hr.

Overtime requirements are more complicated. See complex discussion of exemptions and exceptions (also here) regarding overtime for actors. Also, for workers with less than 160 hours of “employment in occupations in which they have no previous similar or related experience,” the producer can pay 85% of minimum wage. (I don’t know if acting classes count toward the 160 hours, since they’re not employment.)

In any case, if the producer doesn’t pay you the required minimum, you can file a wage claim with the state. You can also call SAG. Although they don’t enforce the minimum wage laws, they may call the producer and suggest that he follow the law.

Sixth, SAG does enforce terms of an agreement between the performer and the producer. So, rather than relying simply on the minimum wage law, it would be a good idea for the performer to include an explicit wage in the SAG new media deal memo with the producer (or a rider), even if the wage is just $8 per hour. SAG would then enforce the agreed wages, meaning that the performer wouldn’t have to rely on the vagaries of the state.

Original made for new media productions are still experimental, and the difficult reality for performers and other talent and workers, above and below the line, as well as their representatives, is that compensation is dramatically lower than in TV and theatrical, just as the revenue for producers is. However, that doesn’t mean that performers shouldn’t insist on some minimums, and hopefully the above suggestions are helpful.

Note: This blog post is intended as general information, not specific legal advice. Check with a lawyer about your particular situation if you want definitive advice.


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  1. This is a great post. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Can you clarify re payment: can one also defer the cost of paying minimum wage in return for compensation out of any back end revenue? Would that arrangement make "credit, meals, tape" legal? Or does the producer need to pay upfront?