Wednesday, July 25, 2012

SAG New Media Woes - an "Internet Epic"


Hey gang, so here's the latest update in our saga to get this film made, and why the title of our project has been officially updated from "Feature Film" to "Internet Epic".

In the past few months, Jess has assumed the role as our producer and has done an amazing job breaking down the script, organizing schedules, and finding some amazing locations.  It's an extremely tough job when you consider that we're dealing with a professional working cast, and we can't afford to keep them from taking awesome gigs like Monique Ganderton being recruited to work on Iron Man 3 next week!

On top of everything else, we had decided months ago to make this a SAG New Media project.  In the past, I would have never considered SAG for this budget.  However, the New Media contracts are extremely simple and I've heard some great feedback from our affiliates who have shot Hunted episodes using the agreements.  What's more, New Media has made it possible for filmmakers such as Ed Burns (Brothers McMullen) to shoot a feature for under $10K (Newlyweds) and show it at film festivals like Tribeca.  So it seemed like a perfect fit for us - especially since we've been "New Media" for so many years and the film is tied directly into the internet series.

The only real downside to a New Media contract is that your initial release must be on the internet, which is fine by us.  Most folks are watching feature films online these days, especially indie films, through services like Netflix and iTunes.

Unfortunately, four days before we were to begin principal photography, SAG announced that we were not a New Media project and redesignated us as "Theatrical" - a completely different contract with different pay rates, fees and rules.  When asked why we no longer qualified for New Media, our new theatrical SAG rep told us it was because of running length of our project, which made no sense since we knew there was a precedent for feature films shot under the New Media agreement.

And unfortunately, the more we questioned the decision, the more our rep began using other excuses and employing strongarm techniques by telling us that if we didn't sign the new contract, she would make sure our project would never get approved.  And even though we notified our cast that we would be holding off production until we figured things out, she still didn't trust us and called each of our actors (our friends) telling them not to work on our show.  This apparently backfired when several of our actors took the opportunity to blast SAG for giving us a hard time.

Frustrated and overwhelmed, we once again turned to crowdsourcing our friends and fans for support, who responded with a outpouring of helpful suggestions - and lawyers!  We heard a wealth of other horror stories and eventually learned that one of the hidden red flags for SAG New Media involved using the words "Feature Film", which appears in various places throughout our website.  Thusly, we have since updated our website and designation or the project from "Feature Film" to "Internet Epic".

We have also learned that for SAG New Media status, they want to see a plan for online distribution.  As it is, we had already been seen on, FunnyorDie, iTunes, Vimeo and of course Youtube, so we're not exactly sure what this means.  If they're referring to a paying distributor, I'm not aware of anyone who will pay you money before they see a completed product.  My plan is to follow the model set by Ed Burns, who used the aggreagtor to distribute his films to iTunes and VOD.

Just to be clear, our problem hasn't been with SAG New Media.  Everyone we've talked to in that department has been extremely chill and helpful.  Our problem has been one person in the theatrical department who has probably spent too many years dealing with sleazy producers trying to cheat actors out of their due, and doesn't quite realize that we're just trying to make a movie with our friends.

Regardless of what happens, we're still moving forward.  Our goal is to work with SAG to resolve these issues as soon as possible.  But if all else fails, nothing is keeping us from shooting this as a non-union project and letting the press know that SAG is not as indie-friendly as they would have you believe.

Let loose the Chickens of War!

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