So now it is time to discuss this little issue I have moving forward with our NEW UNION. The SAG-AFTRA merger is predicated on “more strength” “consolidation of wasted Admin monies and effort” along with of course “more bargaining power.” Well, by God, if this is going to be the case then we better do something about “Modified Agreements.”I mean after all folks at what point does the ability to create signatory projects become an overt way to simply rape the system. I am 100% behind SAG, way back in the day, having created what used to be called Limited Exhibition, and SAG Experimental etc. etc. Today we have a New Media contract, and we also have (4) Modified Film Agreements: The Short, Ultra-Low Budget, Modified Low Budget and Low Budget.
The purpose behind these has always been to give “small time” producers/directors/actors an opportunity to CREATE art and save money without having to have a huge budget or a distribution deal to make the film. That is terrific, but at what point, like many other limitations is the system simply being abused. The reality is what percentage for the last 15 years of these “types of contracts” have rendered a movie that has gone on to fiscal success? Additionally, and more importantly as it pertains to this blog, what percentage of these films have ended up in controversy when the producers make some type of “Commercial Distribution” deal and then don’t make good on bringing the actors contracts/fees UP TO the SAG minimum that the contract requires.
You see people like to use the “Deferred” phrase in the modified agreements like it is a permanent term as it relates to the project, but it isn’t. It is only “deferred” and less than our SAG-AFTRA negotiated minimums for the temporary purpose of allowing the filmmakers to use UNION talent and pay them less “up front” but NOT in perpetuity IF the project eventually is purchased, creates some type of licensing agreement to a distribution platform or any other form of commercial sale. At that moment, the Producers are required to pay all of their performers to the MINIMUM of what their SAG contracts would have been IF it had been a “scale minimum” project from the outset.
It is simply my strong opinion that as we continue to move into the digital age when it comes to how we create/distribute content, much like the list of “Unfair Producers” that SAG-AFTRA has on file…we need to start LIMITING the number of “Modified Projects” an individual or a production company can do. Will there be ways to work around this? Sure, but not if the limitation is specifically done by name. Then, regardless of the name of the current company producing the project if your name appears it counts as one of yours. If you make 1 Short, 2 Ultra-Low Budgets and 1 Modified Low Budget at what point are you going to prove that you can create a project “good enough” to sell?
Truly talented Writers/Filmmakers/Directors don’t have to make 20 projects to have the “legit” Hollywood community stand up and take note of someone’s skill set. And the belief you have to have a “big name” in your “Modified Project” to sell it is absolute bullshit. Please see Paranormal Activity and the Blair Witch Project. So I’m strongly recommending to you and to our leadership that we begin to stand up and demand that a producer have a limitation on how many times they can continue to access and use actors to continue to defer their pay…while making yet another project that goes nowhere and can only potentially lead to another “tiny distribution” agreement which then triggers the contractual demand for bringing up the minimum monies to be paid to the SAG minimum only to have the producers fail to do so, because ultimately they don’t make enough of off the “tiny distribution” contract to do so. All it leaves the actors involved with is a frustration, and filing another claim with SAG-AFTRA for which we do not have enough staff to truly pursue to some fiscal remuneration for the actor.
We have speed limits, hunting catch/release limits, we have all sorts of industries and circumstances in which “usage or gain” is limited in some way. It is time to begin to LIMIT the number of times the same person or persons can be a “Modified” signatory producer without creating any results for both the actors and the union…on the back end.
My very best to you always…Kevin E.