The Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, is a union made up of actors for the benefit of members' working conditions. The guild's rules can sometimes be strict and generally would disallow free work on a student project. The SAG Student Film Agreement, however, sets forth less strict rules for student projects that allow SAG actors to work for free.
What Qualifies as a Student Film
In order for the project to qualify as a student film, first and foremost, the principal filmmaker must be a student enrolled in a filmmaking class at an accredited university. The filmmaker must own all rights to the project, meaning it must be an original project. The project's budget must not exceed $35,000, the runtime of the edited movie shall not exceed 35 minutes, and shoot days must not exceed 20 days. Finally, the finished project is limited to being shown in class for a grade, at student film festivals, and as a visual reel for the filmmakers involved.
Getting SAG approval for a student project can be a very lengthy process. It is recommended that you fill out and submit the proper paperwork at least four to six weeks prior to the start of production. SAG will not make special arrangements if you are shooting the next day and any SAG actors are prohibited to work until the paperwork is processed. Furthermore, you cannot submit the paperwork after production in hopes of retroactively getting permission.
Certain steps must be taken while a SAG actor is on set. The producer must fill out daily time sheets indicating actor arrival time, meal time and exit. Time sheets track actors' hours and ensure they are not working overtime. Also, each SAG actor must submit a signed performer’s contract to the guild. Actors are also prohibited from performing stunts or other hazardous work and they must sign separate paperwork if nudity is to be performed.
Actors may only work a maximum of 10 hours per day, which starts from the time they step on set to the time that they are dismissed. Any time over that is substitute to overtime pay at double the hourly rate. Actors must also be provided a meal of at least 30 minutes in length, but not exceed 60 minutes, every six hours. A 12-hour turnaround time is required for shooting consecutive days, meaning it must be at least 12 hours from the time the actor is dismissed one day to their call time the next day.
While actors usually work for a fee paid upfront, the SAG student film agreement allows them to work for free under the terms of a deferred payment. What this means is that if the film were sold for distribution, the SAG actors would have to be given a slice of the profits. During production, other expenses besides salary may be required. Meals or monetary reimbursement must be provided for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gas reimbursements must be provided at 30 cents per mile. Any overtime or meal penalties must also be reimbursed at the predetermined SAG rate.
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