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Re: using sag talent for a non union film

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Todd at Fantastic PlasticRe: using sag talent for a non union film
by on Feb 7, 2008 at 6:27:08 pm

Hi Matthew...

Sure, we use union and non-union talent on both union and non-union gigs all the time... mix-n-match.

I'm not sure what exactly you mean by "planning on listing the sag talent as producers and having the them use pen names"... but if you are asking "Can I use SAG talent even though it's not a SAG project?" the answer is yes.

Basically, as a producer, you can hire whomever you wish. They will tell you that you can't hire their actors, but in reality you are not beholden to SAG in any way, they have no authority over you and cannot dictate who you hire and who you don't.

Now, the talent is another matter... the union does have some jurisdiction over the actors themselves. You can hire SAG talent for a non-union gig, but the actors have to be willing to do it, and "break the rules." Any wrath or penalty from SAG will be on their heads, not yours.

That being said, a lot of SAG actors are willing to do it, and work "on the sly." But conversely, many will not... and if you are dead-set on using a certain actor but they insist on going through SAG, then you will either have to find someone else or become union signatory for that particular project. For example we occasionally use SAG/AFTRA voice talent (Don LaFontaine, etc.) and they and their agents insist on the projects being union gigs, or they simply will not do it. In those instances, we comply.

While SAG can't really do anything to you for what they would consider illegally hiring their talent, they can if they choose make things more difficult down the road. By the way, what they would call "illegal" is not illegal at all... the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 (the "Taft-Hartley" Act) ensures that both union and non-union talent are eligible for both union and non-union employment. But, if you "buck their system," the unions can create problems down the line... for example such as denying your application for "low budget SAG status" on a future feature down the road. However their sanctions only apply to a particular production company, not the people themselves. If you are doing a feature, that's a good reason (one of many) to form a specific company just for that production... i.e., "My Feature Film" produced by My Feature Film LLC, or whatever. After that one film is done, you won't be producing the next one under that company name, and SAG can't touch the future production.

If it sounds like I'm not a fan of SAG, you're right. In reality, something like 3% of the members actually make 90% of the money... and they offer very little in the way of help and support to the "regular Joe" day-to-day working actors. In my experience they have done little more for them other than collect exorbitant dues and make it more difficult to hire their people, not easier. For that reason, I don't usually deal with them unless I have to. It's not a money thing, I generally pay my actors substantially more than scale anyway, but they bog you down with so much red tape and such an unhelpful attitude that much of the time they are simply not worth it.

And for what it's worth I'm speaking as a bit of an insider. Not only as a producer who must deal with the unions... but before I became a wanna-be director I went through an ill-advised period where I was a wanna-be actor.

Ergo... I'm an AFTRA/SAG member myself.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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