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Screen Actors Guild (SAG) & Actors

January 5, 2000 - SAGging spirits

I found a guy who I really liked for the role of Rob. His name was Todd Brendan Poudrier. He's the rub: he JUST became a SAG actor. (A union actor.) He had done a bunch of independent films and he was very enthuisatic about this project. I told him I wasn't sure I could use a SAG actor. Called the local SAG office and explained what I wanted to do. They asked what my budget was and when I'd be shooting. I told them my budget is basically ten grand and I wouldn't be paying ANYONE, just that I would be giving a percentage back to the people who participated IF I did managed to sell it. I was told I fit under the "experimental" category. (Anything under $70,000) Here's what I've learned and would need as an experimental producer:

1.) Script has got to be copywritten and proof in their hands that it is at least in the process of being copywritten. (costs like $90 for someone in Washington to personally deliver the script and get a receipt

2.) I need to have workers comp for the SAG actors in the production. They gave me a number of an insurance company that has dealt with this in the past. Not sure what this would cost...I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have a problem with that.

3.) One stipulation was that I HAD to feed my actors, pay for travel expenses and if I went over 12 hours in one day, I HAD to pay them something.

4.) They also needed $1000 (from me) put into an escrow account until the end of shooting to basically assure that I will complete all paperwork that is required by SAG.

I had explained that even though my budget was $10,000, I had already spent most of it on the necessary equipment and film. The remaining money I had at the time (about $2,000) WAS for food and travel expenses. I then pointed out that it was very ironic that if I gave SAG their money (a TENTH of my budget), I'd had LESS cash to FEED MY ACTORS and pay TRAVEL EXPENSES! They didn't want to hear that. I HAD to come up with their money or no dice.

I then inquired, what if I were shooting something on video in my backyard with a SAG actor on an experimental basis, and my entire budget was $1,000? (basically food and video costs for a weekend.) Would I have to give my entire budget to SAG, then find SOME MORE MONEY? Yes. Of course they'd give it back (unless I violated some SAG terms), but what good is food money AFTER you've finished shooting?

So take a guess what my view is of SAG at this point.

So...NO SAG actors. (Unless they WANT to violate their terms with the union.) I felt bad telling Todd Brendan Poudrier that I couldn't use him. The guy even offered to come up with $500 of his OWN CASH to be put into the escrow account to be held by SAG. I even mentioned this to SAG. So what. I had to come up with the money.

Now, I have to agree with SAG that there ARE asshole producers out there and would use their actors and never send the checks. I suppose it had to lead up to this. When I mentioned that I was going to give points back to my actors (i.e. investors), SAG didn't care about that. I was told that a SAG actor should be considered an employee, and they should be paid BEFORE the investors.

Christ, thank God I'm not dealing with the Teamsters and who knows what other palms that extend to you (looking for money) when you announce you're making a "real" movie. You wonder how come movies are so expensive to make, but after dealing with this one aspect of production, I can see why.

January 20, 2000 - Version 4.0 (final version) of script is complete.

Phil suggests the name "Chip" for his character. I really liked who I found for Amanda (Juliet Bowler) and Irene (Lauren Verge.) I thought these two characters would play off of each other really well, and felt that I could see more of them onscreen. Added a whole sequence where Irene pushes a bunch of demands on Amanda, while she shows her disdain for Irene. Later, Irene critizes the gift Amanda bought for the big final meeting with Mr. Williamson. This leads up to the big switch.)

February 2, 2000 - Bought Sennheiser MKH-50 mic

OK, this was a splurge. (Sort of.) I have a bunch of shot gun microphones at my disposal for video work and I could've used them on this project. I had previously owned one good studio mic, and AKG C414 which I had used to voice over work, but I had sold it to Productive Media for $500.

Within the film world, there is basically ONE microphone you use on location if you want the best audio. It's called a Schoeps microphone and it costs about two grand. Since I wanted to own only one good mic, I was hoping I could find a deal on the Schoeps. (Boy, my film buddies would be impressed if I only had one of THESE microphones.)

I had done some research through on the rec.movies.sound.production newsgroup. This is a place where a lot of film industry pros chat amoungst themselves and ask questions to one another. The OTHER super-duper mic in the audio film world is the Sennheiser MKH-50. B&H Photo and Video in New York sells these for about a grand. Well, I scrapped up another $500, added it to my $500 I got for my old mic and went nuts! Got it, plugged it into my DAT, tried it out. Damn does it sound really clear and nice! Everyone says that low budget movies usually suffer from poor sound. Not if I can help it! Since I can use it for my video biz, it's another tax write-off.

(Note: I should put a rant here about starting your own biz just to have the advantage of writing all of your equipment off. If you suffer from technolust like I do, it's a must.)

February 6, 2000 - Full cast rehearsal.

Indie film actorGot most of the cast together today for a full-blown read through of the script. This was the first day I got everyone together, and they seemed to hit it off really well! Took a round of pictures with the new digital Nikon Coolpix camera. I'm hoping this puppy comes in handy for production and continuity stills. (Technically I'm saving money over the long haul by taking quick, digital stills vs. Polaroids. What's more, I can post everything on the website the next day.)

Indie film actorFinally got Dan Bridges to participate in the production. I met him back in my Norwood cable days. (Circa 1984.) Dan is the perfect producer for a project like this. He is outgoing to the point of annoyance, fanatical about details and scheduling, and basically won't take no for an answer if he's trying to "sell" something to you. It's taken me about a year to get a fire under his ass, but once he saw who I have participating in this project, he got completely worked up. I'm hoping after we finish post-production and are in pursuit of distribution, I can insert him into that network of buyers like a virus and have him do his magic.

The script got a bunch of laughs in some spots where I wasn't expecting such a strong reaction. Some of the subtle things the performers were adding were just great. I was genuinely blown away by the enthusiasm that everyone had for the project. Dick Dahl, a freelance writer for the Boston Globe was there also. He was trying to pitch a story idea to the Globe Magazine on the ins and outs of an indie production. He mentioned that he liked the film "Living in Oblivion," an indie film about the film-making process where EVERYTHING goes wrong. Funny as hell movie...God I hope he's not waiting for an catastrophe.

This was such a good idea to do this reading, because once we start shooting, most scenes will be done out of sequence, and it will be harder for anyone to get a sense of what this thing is about. It felt good seeing everyone's reaction. Maybe I have something here. Then again...maybe not.

Some images from the full cast rehearsal. Click to see larger image.

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