Web Video Stays Above SAG Fray

Oct 26, 2008  •  Post A Comment

While the prospect of an actors strike looms over Hollywood, most Web producers say their businesses will run as usual even if the Screen Actors Guild calls for a work stoppage.
Most Web shows don’t rely on SAG labor, and those that do haven’t crossed a financial threshold where they must pay SAG actors on an ongoing basis. In addition, top-tier Web shows such as“The Guild,” which do employ SAG actors, have been able to strike talent deals with them via agreements with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, which reached a contract agreement with the producers in July.
Most experts agree that a strike is unlikely; actors are wary of picketing in the midst of an economic downturn. But digital media revenue is at the heart of the SAG negotiations, raising questions about how on-camera talent will or won’t participate in Web video in the future.
So far, Web producers have pursued different strategies when they cast their shows, some for financial reasons, some for future-proofing. Many producers have leaned on AFTRA’s guidelines and the stipulations SAG has made for Internet productions to date.
On its Web site, SAG states that actors working under the “Screen Actors Guild Special Internet/On-Line Agreement” are free to negotiate pay scale and SAG minimums do not apply.
In its deal inked this summer, AFTRA agreed that Web productions costing less than $15,000 a minute would be exempt from union jurisdiction. That covers virtually all Web shows. However, AFTRA said Web shows under $15,000 a minute are covered if they employ at least one covered AFTRA performer.
But for the time being, Web production is likely to remain on track.
In a letter to SAG members posted on its Web site, the union said any work stoppage would affect TV and theatrical work only, while commercials, TV animation, basic cable live-action and animation, industrial and interactive/video game work could continue.
Other Web producers also have opted to work with the unions on their shows. Felicia Day, producer of the hit Web show “The Guild,” is making her show an AFTRA production because she is a union actor herself in both SAG and AFTRA.
“I want to set an example that unions don’t necessarily have to be the bane of Web producers,” she said.
When Stephanie Scott launched her Web show “The Retributioners,” she decided to employ both SAG and non-SAG actors. “It legitimized my show and gives it a better stature,” she said.
There are more administrative burdens for a producer, such as filling out time sheets, she said. But Ms. Scott said she struck a “deferred pay” agreement with her talent until the show makes money, so the extra paperwork hasn’t become too complicated yet.
Other producers of Web programming have shied away from using SAG actors because the paperwork and the price could be onerous for small-budget shows.
“We are not yet getting the advertising dollars that cable TV shows are and can’t afford SAG actors,” said Tim Street, executive producer of the popular Web series “FrenchMaidTV.”
Web TV network Revision3 doesn’t employ SAG talent either. The golden opportunity in this new medium is to be able to share revenue with stars, said Damon Berger, senior director of creative and business development at Revision3.
“Imagine advertisers being able to integrate intimately with huge stars,” he said. “Just like little start-up companies, they can own a meaningful piece of the revenue potential. That’s where the next big step is to be made, and it’s a union and studio killer.”

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