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Documentary Narrator - SAG contract?

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Documentary Narrator - SAG contract?
on Sep 14, 2006 at 10:34:43 pm

Do documentary films have to sign a contract with SAG if it has an off-camera narrator who is a SAG member?

I spoke to some other film producers (none with experience in documentaries), and they thought SAG rules shouldn't apply to off-camera narrators for documentary films.

I made an anonymous call to SAG, but the rep was't sure, but just to be "sure", wanted to send me a contract package. I figured they would always want a contract, because it's in SAG's interest to do so.

Do I need a contract at all? Or am I required to get a SAG Indie Low Budget contract? Obviously, I prefer not to. I can definitely pay more than basic SAG rates for just half-day's recording, but the paperwork and the accounting oversight seems quite daunting.

Does anybody know, or have first-hand experience in dealing with SAG as a documentaries producer? Google searches didn't turn up anything that mentioned SAG on documentary filmmaking.

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Michael D. Brown
Re: Documentary Narrator - SAG contract?
on Sep 15, 2006 at 12:23:53 pm

Ask the narrator if s/he is willing to work outside of SAG. If so, have the actor sign your release and you can just pay the bill.
If the actor is not willing to work non-union, then you can sign a "one production only" agreement and go from there. Or, go through a signator paymaster.
The main money issues are:
1. SAG (or AFTRA) contracts are for a specific use for a specific length of time, and would have to be renewed (re-use fees).
2. Pension & health fees.
You are still liable for payroll taxes and workers' comp. Unless they have their own company (known as "FSO" - for service only) that can send you an invoice, actors are always considered employees by the IRS. That's why it's still a good idea to go through a paymaster, union or not.
So, it's up to the actor to decide. The union has strict rules about its members working non-union projects, so don't be surprised with the answer.
I hope this is helpful.

Mike Brown
Video/Film Producer
American Heart Association

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Re: Documentary Narrator - SAG contract?
on Sep 17, 2006 at 9:07:17 am

Your response is right on the money! Thank you very much for the insight.

The actor did mention having a company, so he may be able to work for us non-union the way you described. Prior to reading your message, I didn't know what exactly his personal corporation was for. Will see if he's actually willing to go non-union.

Many thanks!


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