How to Budget SAG-AFTRA Payroll

The Wrapbook Team
May 28, 2019

This post is currently being updated

The Screen Actors Guild counts some of the best talent in the world as its members. But running SAG-AFTRA payroll can often require an equally talented accountant.

From day rates to health and pension to penalties, the final amount you’ll end up paying a SAG actor is much higher than the sticker price you find on a rate sheet. Taking into account “fringes” and scheduling hiccups, we’ve compiled a step-by-step guide on how to budget SAG-AFTRA payroll.

How to Budget SAG Payroll - Infographic - Wrapbook

What are SAG fringes?

When most people think about SAG rates, they think about the minimum amount of cash they’ll have to shell out for a day of shooting. However, in addition to the day rates, you’ll have to pay an additional percentage that goes directly to The Screen Actors Guild, covering your talent’s pension and health fund. This, along with other fees (we’ll get into), is called a fringe.

In its simplest terms, a fringe is an additional fee you have to pay on a given price. Expressed as either a percentage or flat rate, think of it as an add-on to a set rate. The most common example of a fringe is sales taxes. Even though a shirt may be listed as $10, you still have to pay an additional 10% sales tax on it, which is considered a fringe. Fringes can also be expressed in flat rates. If you’re sending money through an app and it charges 25 cents per transfer, that flat 25 cent rate is also considered fringe.

In addition to health and pension, you’ll also have to pay other SAG fringes along with regular fringes, such as taxes (state and federal), social security, and workers' compensation for the entire crew, too.

How to Budget SAG-AFTRA Payroll - Fringe TV Show - Wrapbook

The more exciting type of SAG Fringe.

For this and several other reasons, many productions, big and small, turn to entertainment payroll companies. Handling SAG fringes, insurance, and running film payroll for you, these companies keep you compliant so you’re never hit with penalties from SAG.

New film payroll companies, like Wrapbook, offer full-stop film payroll services through intuitive software, saving time and money.

How to Budget SAG Payroll - Product Shot - Wrapbook
Wrapbook calculates SAG Fringes for you, ensuring you're always compliant.

How to budget SAG-AFTRA payroll

Knowing how to budget SAG payroll may be involved, but there is a way through! We broke it down in 12 steps.

1. Find your current SAG Agreement

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SAG-AFTRA Agreement Finder

Finding the correct SAG agreement for your project can be tricky. Take our quick quiz and we’ll point you to the contract that’s yours.

Take the Quiz

SAG commercial actors are paid differently than feature actors who are paid differently than television actors. That’s because, under SAG, each different production type calls for a different type of minimum pay.

But determining your production’s SAG rates can be a maze. It’s why we wrote a comprehensive guide on it. While our guide also lists the most current rates, finding your SAG contract is usually determined by three factors:

  • Your production type
  • Your budget
  • Your distribution

Once you find out what contract type your production will be classified under, you can then look up your actors’ day and week rates. Of course, the actual wages you’ll have as film payroll will be determined by your shooting schedule.

Example: What's my SAG Agreement?

Let’s say you’re producing some branded content for a YouTube Channel with a budget of $60,000. Under the current SAG Agreements, you would be classified as a New Media, which means you’ll have to pay a SAG day rate of $125 per day.

If your shoot will last two days, your initial wages will be $250 per day, without adding on SAG fringes. As with all SAG payroll, the minimum day rates are based on eight-hour work days, or 10-hour work days if your actor is paid on a weekly scale.


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2. Multiply by your shooting schedule

Once you know your SAG rates, you’re ready to calculate your gross wages you’ll have to pay your actors. To determine this, you’ll need a robust shooting schedule and seasoned 1st AD (whose job it is to make it).

How to Budget SAG Payroll - Shooting Schedule - Wrapbook
Without a well-made shooting schedule, you can't budget SAG-AFTRA payroll.

While one-day shoots are considerably easier to budget for, multi-day and multi-month shoots are where most producers can end up spending tons of unnecessary money in film payroll fringes. When it comes to "gross wages," the word "estimate" is paramount. As with any type of estimation, overestimating is always better.

3. Calculate travel days

While no two shoots are alike, if your SAG performers are working overnight then you may have to budget for travel days. In accordance with SAG travel rules, if an actor is required to shoot overnight away from their home, this is an “overnight location.”

As you budget your SAG-AFTRA payroll, you must pay your actors for a full day for any overnight locations. Additionally, if you’re not transporting your actors yourself to set, you’ll also have to carve out some money to reimburse travel expenses.

As with all fringes in a film budget, budget like you’ll break most of the SAG travel rules. That way you won’t go over.

Pro-tip: Collect expenses ASAP

Once you finally make it into shooting, preliminary budget in hand, you’ll quickly start to see how close your estimate was. But don’t forget to grab expenses from both your cast and crew as soon as possible.

Nothing’s worse than receiving a PA’s Costco run receipt a week before you’re ready to close down the books. With software like Wrapbook, actors can quickly submit receipts from their phones directly to your production.

How to Budget SAG Payroll - Collect Expenses - Wrapbook
Wrapbook allows actors to submit expenses directly from set on their phones.

View expenses and approve them, as Wrapbook logs the expense on your books and pays out the expense immediately.

4. Factor in SAG hold days

If you’re shooting on location, out of drivable distance from your actor’s homes, you may have to pay for hold days.

A hold day is simply a day on a shooting schedule, where an actor is on location, but isn’t needed. Under SAG-AFTRA rules, you have to pay that actor for their time, even if they aren’t performing, as they can’t take other jobs.

Hold days are most common for on-location shoots. Skilled 1st AD’s try to eliminate as much holding as possible in a schedule so you aren’t left paying for actors to bum around all day. However, hold days are often inevitable, as it can be more expensive to transport actors back and forth, rent a location, or hire specialized crew than it is to pay a day rate.

Pop quiz: Game of Thrones

Let’s say you're shooting Game of Thrones on location in Northern Ireland for three days. You transport out Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, and Peter Dinklage, paying for their flights and lodging. While day one and three call for every cast member, day two only calls for Peter Dinklage. Do you have to pay Emilia and Kit?

That look when you're the only actor called to set at 6 AM.

That look when you're the only actor called to set at 6am.

ANSWER: Under SAG rules, you have to pay every actor not working on the hold day.

5. Account for wardrobe allowances

While this SAG fringe primarily applies to low budget shoots, actors who bring their own costumes to set must be compensated accordingly.

The set weekly fee is called a “wardrobe allowance,” starting at $12 per outfit per week (or $18 per formal attire.) While prohibitively cheaper than hiring a costumer and renting costumes, you have to pay that weekly fee per outfit, meaning that if your actor brings three outfit choices, you pay $36 for that week.

Formal attire encompasses tuxedos, dinner gowns, wedding dresses, suits, cocktail dresses, and other clothes of the like.

6. Don’t forget agency fees

Are you using a talent agency to find your actors? Then you might have to pay an agency fee.

While most agents take 10% of their client’s earnings, sometimes the onus is on you to pay that percentage. When negotiating with agents, be sure to have your lawyer check whether you or the talent will be paying the 10%. As with all SAG fringes, if you’re paying the 10%, it counts towards your gross wages – meaning that you’ll have to pay taxes, insurance, and health and pension on it.

7. Avoid SAG forced calls

SAG-AFTRA performers must receive at least 12 hours off-time between the last shot of the day and the next time they show up to work. No exceptions. With proper scheduling, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

But if your shoot goes over its scheduled time, or you have to start early the next day, you have to pay performers an additional day’s pay. For this and many other reasons, it’s crucial to hire great production managers who can schedule efficiently without breaking SAG rules.

How to Budget SAG Payroll - Forced Calls - Wrapbook
Whether you're shooting at night or during the day, actors must have 12 hours off.

Pro-tip: Don't forget weekends

While actors require 12 hours between shooting, they also require a full 56 hours of rest between work weeks. With two exceptions from SAG: 

• A 56-hour rest period may be reduced to a 54-hour rest period provided the call time for the first day of the new workweek is 6am or later. 

• A 36-hour rest period is allowable on a six-day location workweek.

While entertainers often work bizarre hours, when it comes to SAG, treating work like any other 9 to 5 often leads to less penalties.

8. Schedule time for SAG meal breaks

Along with forced calls, another SAG penalty you can avoid with proper scheduling is the meal penalty. Just as actors need at least 12 hours between shooting, they also need to be given a meal break within six hours of showing up to set.

If your performer misses this meal, or it’s not long enough (at least 30 minutes), you’ll have to pay at least $25 to start with more penalties incurred the longer the actor goes without the meal break. The amount a meal break infraction can cost depends ultimately on your production budget and how many times you didn’t break.

Meal penalties are very common on almost any type of shoot. The shoot goes a little longer than expected, and before you know it, everyone’s a half hour late to lunch. While you could, in theory, avoid them, it’s good to estimate a quarter percent of your actor’s gross wages for this SAG fringe.

9. Add it all up

Having found your SAG Agreement, multiplied your day and week rates by your shooting schedule, accounted for travel days, hold days, agency fees, and finally budgeted for some penalties, you now have a rough estimate of your gross SAG wages, plus some fringes, for your film payroll.

But not all fringes.

There’s still one more fringe you have to add on top of the number you have now.

10. Calculate health and pension

Any walkthrough on how to budget SAG-AFTRA payroll is not complete without adding on health and pension. And there’s a reason why we waited until the end to explain it.

When working with SAG talent, depending on their roles, you likely have to pay an additional 18.5% of your gross wages to the Screen Actors Guild for health and pension.

And by “gross wages,” we mean the day rates, penalties, and other regulations combined.

That means, if you miss lunch by a half hour, you aren’t actually paying 25 dollars more. You’re actually paying $25 plus 18.5% (aka $29.62) more. Actors have to seek health insurance through their guild. This SAG fringe is how they pay for it.

11. Add tax and workers' comp insurance

In addition to unique SAG fringes, you also have to budget for "regular" fringes that you’d pay any employee. Depending on where you’re shooting, this can include workers' compensation insurance, social security tax, local taxes, medicare, federal unemployment tax, and MTA taxes.

While most entertainment payroll companies will calculate these fringes for you, you can also estimate your film payroll fringes with this free, nifty calculator. Just enter your gross wages and the state you’re shooting in.

Wrapbook's payroll estimator is a great place to start estimating fringes.
Wrapbook's payroll estimator is a great place to start estimating film payroll fringes.

12. Enlist a SAG-AFTRA film payroll company

Once you’ve estimated your preliminary budget, some penalties, health and pension, and taxes, you should have a pretty robust budget for your SAG-AFTRA payroll.

However, you’re not finished yet. Per the Screen Actors Guild, you have to process your payment through a compliant SAG payroll company.

While there are many film payroll companies out there, Wrapbook is the most affordable and intuitive payroll solution on the market. Bringing entertainment payroll into the 21st century, paying actors has never been easier thanks to its sleek, easy-to-use software.

How to Budget SAG Payroll - Timecard Product Shot - Wrapbook
Wrapbook is the most affordable SAG-AFTRA payroll company.

Only charging .5% of your gross wages, it’s SAG-compliant and free to demo.

Case study: a SAG ultra low budget production

It can often feel like a guessing game to budget SAG-AFTRA payroll. That’s why we put together this example of how film payroll would work on a SAG indie film with a budget less than $250,000, three actors, and shot over the course of 20 shoot days (four working weeks). Going into the shoot, we can create a rough estimate:

  • SAG Agreement: Using the most current SAG contracts, we find that this production is classified as “Ultra Low Budget,” meaning actors must make $206 a day, based on eight hours. As is industry standard, our shoot days are going to be 12 hours long. SAG overtime is 1/10th hourly units for the first two hours after eight hours. After that, it’s double. Assuming an actor works a 12-hour day, each actor would actually make $360.51 a day under this contract. For this shoot, one actor will work all 20 days, while the other two will only work 10 each. That makes our expected payroll $14,420.40.
  • Travel Days: Since the production is being shot within drive-able distance from the actors’ homes in L.A., this production no longer has to pay those fees.
  • Hold Days: Because the actors don’t have to travel to a location, hold days don’t apply to this production, as our actors can work on the days they’re not on set.
  • Wardrobe Allowance: The costumer wants the actors to bring their own formal attire. The outfits are needed for one day of shooting, but SAG makes you pay by the week. $18 per formal attire per week times three actors equals $54.
  • Agency Fees: Our lead actor has an agent, and we’re picking up the 10% commission. The main actor is expected to make $6,000, so we have to tack onto our SAG budget $600.
  • Health and Pension: The current SAG health and pension contribution is 18.5%. Our actors look to make $12,000, so we must budget $2,220.
  • Tax and Workers' Comp: This rate depends on your state. Using Wrapbook’s calculator, we see that in California, we should expect workers' comp to be $483.60, social security tax to be $744, Medicare to be $174, Federal Unemployment to be $72, and State Unemployment to be $744. Our grand total? $2,217.60.
  • SAG Payroll Company: Adding all of these together, we find that our total is $14,882. However, we have to pay a SAG-approved film payroll company to cut the checks. Wrapbook has the lowest payroll fee at only .5% of gross wages. That means we must add $744.10.
  • Grand Total: Adding all these factors together, we should expect to pay $15,626.10 going into the shoot. However… One Missed Meal: On day five of the shoot, the camera setup took longer than expected, and one actor missed his meal. Per SAG rules, we must pay this actor an additional $25. However, it will be far more expensive than that. Since the tax and workers’ comp, the agency fee, the health and pension rate, and the payroll company’s cut are based on the gross wages, our initial base has changed from $12,000 to $12,025. Holding those constant, we find that we actually pay $44.22 more for that one missed meal.

Have a migraine yet?

Once production begins budgets quickly change. It’s why many 1st ADs or UPMS create many versions of the budget, and why so many productions use film payroll companies to stay compliant.

Wrapping up

As with any budget estimate, it’s important to note that things will always change once you get into shooting. Sometimes schedules run smoothly; other times, things catch on fire. But if you follow the steps on how to budget SAG-AFTRA film payroll, the difference between your actual and estimated budget shouldn’t be too great. Ensure you have a solid entertainment payroll company that can act as your employer of record and take care of all of your SAG budget concerns.

Reach out to one of Wrapbook's payroll specialists if you have any questions.


At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the Author

The Wrapbook Team

The Wrapbook Team consists of individuals who are thrilled about building modern software tools for creators. We’re a team of compassionate and curious people dedicated to solving complex problems with sophisticated solutions. You can find us across the U.S. and Canada.