SAG-AFTRA? There’s (Gonna be) an App for That

SAG-AFTRA panel at Produced By Conference H 2012

The union touts its software at the Produced By conference, but shows a few hard edges too – and wants improvements in its new media agreement.

Declaring that his union’s motto was “easy to work with but hard to fight,” national executive director David White and a panel of other SAG-AFTRA leaders focused on the “easy” side, as befit the environment – a Sunday afternoon on the Sony lot at the Produced By conference – even as they let slip a few glimpses of the “hard to fight” profile.

The session, attended by about 100 producers and other attendees of the sold-out conference, began with a video focusing on the union’s online production center, designed to provide information and to evict paper forms from the process of becoming a union signatory to five of the organization’s contracts, with more to come.

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White promised that apps would become available “in the next couple of months” to supplement the Internet-based center.

The union’s co-chief of contracts, Ray Rodriguez, highlighted another Internet area, where the horizon is measured in years, not months. Alluding to projects such as Netflix’s House of Cards, he said “We want to see the new media agreement evolve to deal with the growing number of high budget new media projects, which (the current new media language) isn’t really designed for.”

With the current contract in place through mid-2014, Rodriguez acknowledged that any change to the new media provisions wouldn’t happen until the next round of negotiations “or thereafter.”

In another electronic area, Rodriguez’s counterpart, contracts co-chief Joan Halpern Weise, said “we’ll see what the future brings” with respect to changes in the contract for video game work. AFTRA ratified an agreement for the field – referred to as interactive media in union parlance – but SAG did not. The AFTRA contract remains in effect for the merged union.

Union co-president Roberta Reardon offered some thoughts on the process that resulted in that merger (“it took a lot of talking (and) outreach,” she said), but the focus of the panel was more a nuts and bolts sell to producers: “Your pet project deserves nothing less that the most professional actors you can get,” said SAGIndie national director Darrien Michele Gipson.

Board member Jason George told the audience that he chooses parts based on the role, the people he’d be working with, the billing and, lastly, the money. Apropos of the second factor, George mentioned that Shonda Rhimes – for whom he’s been doing MD duties on Grey’s Anatomy – has “a ‘no douche’ policy,” adding by way of explanation, “you can’t be a jerk” if you want to work with her.

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The union itself has a policy when it comes to rules and regulations: they’re there for a reason, said George. When a union member in the audience who also produces asked whether SAG-AFTRA was always “a stickler” for the rules, Gipson in essence said yes, calling the issue in question – so-called distributor’s assumption agreements – “cut and dried.”

Indie producers often complain that it’s difficult to convince a distributor to sign such agreements, which make distributors liable for residuals. Gipson was unmoved.

“There is such a thing as a bad deal,” she said, advising that producers walk away rather than signing a contract without an assumption agreement.

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Twitter: @jhandel