Filmmaking / Directing : Union or non-union What do I do and how? by Laura LaMonaco

Laura LaMonaco

Union or non-union What do I do and how?

Hi I am in the developing process of a feautre film. The project is getting way bigger then I initially intended so my question is, Union vs non-union as a project-which is better and what is the "behind the scenes difference? I tried looking on the SAG/AFTRA site but too much info for now. I just want to know if I should make this a union project or not and if I do what do I need to do for that to happen?

Regina Lee

Try to first answer these questions for yourself, and hopefully, they will guide your decision:

David Trotti

One issue that you should also bear in mind is residuals and your responsibility to pay them under the SAG/AFTRA agreement. On a recent film, we faced the same decision, to go SAG/AFTRA or Non-Union. Ultimately, we decided to go SAG/AFTRA because the best actors we were reading for the key roles were in the union. The payroll cost for the actors under the Ultra Low budget agreement was very low ($100/day type of low). But what we found when we were going out to distributors who handle ultra low budget films like ours, is that they generally leave the responsibility for residuals with the Production company (ie: us). SAG/AFTRA starts counting residuals from dollar one of gross, but you might not see any money from your distributor till you hit $25,000 to $100,000 in receipts, depending on your deal. So, in addition to your production costs, you could be liable for $2,000 to $3,000 in residuals before your even see a dime back on your investment. In our case we did the math and decided it was worth the added liability, but we went in knowing we might have to weather a quarter with additional negative cash flow. Ultimately, you should make your decision based on what is best for your project. The upfront cost of a Union project under the Low Budget agreement is very reasonable. But there are added responsibilities. A few things not to skimp on in either case though are an umbrella LLC or corporation, Workers Comp, adequate insurance and proper payroll. A film may seem like a fun project that you can just slap together, but all it takes is one slip-fall on set and you can lose your house.

Laura LaMonaco

David, thank you so much I didn't even think about residuals!! I will add that as part of the budget

Rick Mowat

I wouldn't worry about residuals. That will only happen if you get distribution and it actually makes any money. I would base my union vs non decision on only two things - your overall budget (if you're over 200k then probably you won't be able to get away without sag) and how many actors in the cast are union and of those, who's willing to work non union. Also, if you do get distribution they will want it to be sag and likely you'll have to go back and negotiate with sag.

Nicholas Jordan

Steven Harris Anzelowitz I will give you a little but where my work is to proceed we have to rely on the capability of union to provide stable crew whom can be utilized by professionals, and the thing works best for all. The thing is when a project gets away from an individual, stepping back to agreement with union is about implausible. One has to know what they are doing on the front-end. Union can do that.

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