Whether you’re making a feature or a commercial, one of the first decisions a producer must make is whether or not you’re going to cast SAG actors. While made up with some of the best talent in the world, working with the Screen Actors Guild comes with its own set of rules. And perhaps the most important rule is paying SAG rates.
At its core, SAG rates are the minimum amounts of money talent must make for a given production. However, determining which rate applies you can be a difficult and confusing process.
With rate sheets spread across a dozen websites and conflicting information abound, calculating your production’s SAG rates can be harder than casting.
Luckily, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide, breaking down the SAG rates of 2020 so you can determine what you might owe for a principal performer.
SAG AFTRA rates are the minimum amounts of money the Screen Actors Guild will allow its members to work for on a given project. Offered on both a daily and weekly scale, SAG rates are often determined by the project type, budget constraints, and distribution plan.
Using this information, you can determine which SAG “agreement,” or contract, your production falls under. From there, you find the fees.
Hiring talent on SAG weekly rates (5-day basis) does result in a per day discount. However, that does mean you’ll have to pay for the rest of production on those days too.
It’s important to note that that you’ll have to pay an additional 18 to 18.5% on your SAG payroll for health and benefits, called “fringes.”
Additionally, you’ll need to ensure that you have an insurance policy that’s SAG-friendly. Luckily insurance providers like Wrapbook can spin up a policy that’s SAG compliant, while lowest cost to you.
Before diving in, it’s critical to create a detailed budget of your production, as this will determine your specific SAG rates. Plus, before you can even roll the camera, you’ll have to submit both a budget and copy of your screenplay to SAG.
You can also use software like Wrapbook, that automatically calculates SAG rates and fringes for you. By collecting information from your actors as soon you as you hire them, Wrapbook can spin up SAG rates and pay out your cast & crew all from one, easy to use app.
Plus, it’s free to try out.
Making a feature film with SAG talent? Then your production probably falls under a SAG AFTRA Theatrical Agreement.
SAG Theatrical Rates apply to actors performing in films across a variety of budgets. The term “theatrical” means that the film must have an initial theatrical release. If you’re producing a film directly for streaming, you might fall under a New Media Agreement. although in the age of streaming, the term can carry a different meaning.
We’ve compiled the rates for main talent in a film, although if you’re looking for SAG background rates, or even a stunt performer, please consult our breakdown of all SAG performing categories in film.
SAG’s Basic Theatrical Agreement applies films with budgets greater than $2,500,000. While premium talent is usually paid far above the SAG minimum, this is the rate actors can expect to make on a low budget studio project or a moderate indie film. The SAG day rate is $1,005, and $3,488 for the week.
The SAG Low Budget Agreement applies to films with budgets between $700,000 and $2,500,000, making this the SAG pay scale of most independent films. Under this contract, actors must make a SAG day rate of $630, or $2,190 per week.
If you’re working with some actors who aren’t in the guild, don’t worry. Under this agreement, those actors are allowed to work with a Taft-Hartley agreement, as with most SAG agreements.
The SAG Modified Low Budget Agreement applies to films with budgets between $250,000 to $700,000. The SAG day rate is $335, while the SAG weekly rate is $1166. Non-union actors are allowed, while background actors are not covered.
While this agreement may seem like it perfectly applies to your film, it’s important to note that you need to release your film initially in theaters to qualify. If your film is released directly to a streaming service, like Hulu, your SAG scale rates might fall under New Media.
Despite having three low budget options, the SAG Ultra Low Budget Agreement only applies to films (and short films) that are $250,000 or less. While there is no weekly SAG scale for “ultra low budget” projects, the SAG day rate is $125. It also requires initial theatrical release.
If you’re looking for a SAG short film agreement, this is likely the right place to start.
Short Project Agreements cover films that have total budgets less than $50,000 and a maximum running time of 40 minutes. Unlike other SAG day rates, actor salaries are completely negotiable.
And unlike other SAG AFTRA Theatrical agreements, you don’t need to ensure a theatrical screening under this agreement.
SAG Student Film Agreements cover films with budgets less than $35,000, a maximum running time of 35 minutes, and producers that are currently students at an accredited U.S. university. Like the SAG Short Project Agreement, there isn’t a set SAG weekly scale or even a set day rate – it’s negotiable.
While a theatrical release isn’t require to qualify, there is a fair amount of paperwork needed to fall under this contract.
With streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime entering the scene, there’s more television work for SAG actors than ever. However, calculating your SAG rates for TV is by far the most confusing.
Unlike SAG agreements for film (where everything is determined by budget), in the world of television, rates are determined by the number of episodes you’re going to create, and more often than not, the episode’s length.
If you’re making a television series that’ll go directly online (ala Netflix) and your budget is under a million, then you’ll want to check out New Media.
But if you’ve got a penny more, you’re in the right place. Here are the 2020 SAG rates for performers in television. We should note that these rates are for performers of cable and streaming shows. For network shows, producers should plan to budget an additional 15 percent.
Need an actor for just one episode of your series to say a few lines? Whether you’re producing a half-hour or hour-long episode, if you’re hiring a SAG actor for just one episode, you’re looking at $1,005 a day, $2,545 for three days, or $3,488 for the entire week.
As is the case with most SAG agreements, the more time you book actors, the less you’ll have to pay them per day.
If you’re booking a big name to guest star in one episode, the in the eyes of SAG this is usually classified as a major role performer. Under this SAG contract, producers pay $5,528 per week for major role performers on a half-hour program, and $8,844 per week for hour-long programs.
However, if your major role performer is appearing in an episode within the first season of your show, it’s possible you may only have to pay the regular rate for a performer (above).
Performers under Multiple Programs Agreements is a contract that applies to actors who are shooting multiple episodes of a show within one week. If you’re producing a daily talk show or variety show for streaming or cable, this is your pay bracket.
SAG rates for multiple programs are put in a weekly scale, with $2,585 per week for both 1/2 Hour and 1 Hour Programs, $3,038 per week for 90 minute programs, and $3,580 per week for two hour programs.
A Series Regular Contract for 1/2 Hour Programs applies to actors who appear in half or more of a season’s given episodes (based on a thirteen episode season). SAG actors are paid weekly for their time, with $3,488 / week for appearing in every episode, $3,993 per week for appearing in more than half, and $4,656 per week for appearing in half.
If an actor appears in less than half of a season’s episode order, talent would then be classified as a major role (guest star). Note that the SAG rates increase the less an actor appears, as those actors will be working less weeks and therefore more less net pay.
The SAG pay scale for Series Regulars on 1 hour shows functions exactly like 1/2 hours. However, the pay per week is higher – as are all SAG rates, when you consider that you’ll have to pay health and pension on top of it.
SAG actors are paid weekly for their time, with $4,197 per week for appearing in every episode, $4,682 per week for appearing in more than half, and $5,476 per week for appearing in half.
Whereas Theatrical SAG rates depend on budget, SAG commercial rates depend on where and how many times you’ll be airing the commercial.
Instead of a weekly or day rate, principal actors in SAG commercials earn $89 dollars an hour. However, a producer must pay a fee to air the ad, followed by additional charges each time it airs.
In short: the more times a commercial is aired, the more a SAG actor makes.
However, SAG offers different agreements that allow producers to essentially “buy in bulk,” depending on where the commercial will be airing.
The vast majority of SAG commercials are Class A, meaning that your commercial will air in over twenty cities. This is your bracket if you are shooting a national commercial that will air on four major networks (FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS). It’s also your bracket if you’re shooting a commercial that will run on a cable channel.
It’s likely also your SAG agreement, if you’re shooting a wild spot. Unlike national or cable ads, wild spots are commercials that air in over twenty specific cities.
Wild spots are used for products and services that only exist in certain cities–you wouldn’t air an In-N-Out commercial on the east coast. Instead of airing on a set network, wild spots only air on specific stations and markets.
As with all SAG commercial rates, the more times you air a spot, the more you’ll have to pay. The 1st use SAG commercial rates are:
While not as popular as Class A, the SAG Commercial Agreement Class B applies to commercials that will air in six to twenty cities.
Unlike the SAG rates for Class A, you have to pay slightly more if New York City is one of your cities, which is why most opt for the first agreement. The 1st use rates are:
With New York
Without New York
The least used of all three SAG Commercial Agreements, Class C applies to commercials that will air in less than six cities.
The 1st use rates are:
Amazon, Instagram, YouTube – they’re just some of the destinations the Screen Actors Guild classifies as “new media.” Whether you’re making a film or series, they both fall under this agreement as long as your budget is between $50,000 and $1,000,000.
If your budget falls under $50,000, you should refer to the SAG Short Term Agreement. If your budget is over $1,000,000, it gets a tad more complicated.
For New Media projects less than $250,000 (but greater than $50k), expect to pay performers a minimum rate of $125 per day. Like other low budget agreements, there’s only a SAG day player rate.
New Media productions with budgets between $250,000 and $700,000 should expect to pay major performers either $335 per day, or $1,116 per week.
If your project falls between $700,000 and $1,000,000, the minimum you’ll have to pay SAG talent is either $630 per day, or $2,190 per week.
At the end of the day, you’ll have to register your production with SAG-AFTRA, where you’ll confirm your rates. While this guide is a great place to start, using payroll software can help you estimate not only SAG rates, but also fringes, production insurance, and taxes.
In software, like Wrapbook, estimating payroll is simple. When hiring actors, the app will ask them to input their guild information, tax information, and loan-out company (if applicable.)
When actors submit timecards through the app, Wrapbook will automatically calculate in SAG benefits, following the latest rules. Compliance has never been easier.
Understanding SAG rates can be a tricky endeavor for even the most veteran of producers. As with anything related to SAG, when in doubt, you should always defer to their organization’s website.
What lingering questions about SAG rates do you have? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.
Sign up for the Wrapbook monthly newsletter where we share industry news along with must-know guides for producers.