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 for 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-AFTRA Payroll - Wrapbook - Cheat Sheet

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 must pay an additional percentage that goes directly to the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, SAG-Producers Pension Plan, or the AFTRA Retirement Fund to cover your talent’s pension and health fund. Along with other fees (that we’ll get into), this type of fee 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 - Wrapbook - Woman
Wrapbook handles the math so you can focus on the magic. SOURCE

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.

How to Budget SAG-AFTRA Payroll - Wrapbook - Calculations
Wrapbook calculates SAG fringes so you don't have to.

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

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

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 New Media Category A, which means you’ll have to pay a SAG day rate of $232 per day. Please note that as of July 1, 2024, that rate will increase to $241 per day.

If your shoot will last two days, your total wages will be $463.20, 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.

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-AFTRA Payroll - Wrapbook - Add Document
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 extended monthly 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 six out of every seven days spent on any overnight locations. A seventh day “off” needn’t be paid – unless for background actors who require a daily allowance for a seventh day off – but of course lodging and per diem are still provided.

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-AFTRA Payroll - Wrapbook - Approval of Expenses
Wrapbook allows for quick review and approval of expenses.

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.

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.

This set weekly fee is called a “wardrobe cleaning allowance,” which starts at $12 per outfit per week or $27 per week if formal attire (as of November 2023). 

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 non-formal 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. However, some exceptions may be possible for work on nearby or overnight locations.

How to Budget SAG-AFTRA Payroll - Wrapbook - 12 Hours Off
Don't forget to plan and budget for those hours off!

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.

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 21% of your gross wages to the Screen Actors Guild for health and pension.

And by “gross compensation,” SAG means “all salaries and other compensation or remuneration… excluding meal penalties, payments for rest period violations, traveling, lodging, or living expenses… reimbursement for special hair-dress or wardrobe damage” per SAG’s employment contract. 

All to say, no health and pension is paid on penalties.

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.

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.

Wrapbook is the most affordable SAG-AFTRA payroll company.

Only charging 1.49% 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, this production is classified as Ultra Low Budget, meaning actors make a minimum of $232 a day, based on eight hours. (Again, that rate increases to $241 as of July 2024.) As is industry standard, our shoot days are going to be 12 hours long. SAG OT is one-and-a-half time for hours nine through 12. Should a shoot day go beyond 12 hours, it will go into double-time. 
  • Assuming an actor works an 11-hour day – subtract one hour for lunch – each actor would actually make $362.50 a day under this contract. That number includes $232 for the first eight hours and $130.50 for the additional three time-and-a-half hours. For this shoot, Actor A will work all 20 days, while Actor B and Actor C will only work 10 each. That makes our initial payroll $14,500 (Actor A = $7,250; Actor B = $3,625; Actor C = $3,625).
  • Agency fees: SAG considers commission part of an actor’s negotiated salary. Our lead actor has an agent, and we’re picking up the 10% commission, which means that in fact this actor’s base salary is $255.20 per day for the first eight hours. Their additional three hours at time-and-a-half is $143.55 per day. Actor A is now expected to make $7,975, so our new payroll total is $15,225.
  • 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. $27 per formal attire per week times three actors equals $81 for the entire shoot.
  • Health and pension: The current SAG health and pension contribution is 21%. Because our actors are making $15,225 in total, we must budget an additional $3,197.25.
  • 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 $663.81; Social security tax to be $943.95; Medicare to be $220.76; Federal unemployment to be $91.35; Federal unemployment supplemental to be $137.02; and State unemployment to be $943.95. The total for the above fees comes to $3,000.84.
  • SAG payroll company: Adding the above together, our growing total currently stands at $21,504.09. However, we have to pay a SAG-approved film payroll company to cut the checks. Wrapbook has the lowest payroll fee at only 1.49% of gross wages. That means we must add $226.85.
  • New total: Adding all these factors together, we should expect to pay $21,730.94 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. That brings us to a final grand total of $21,755.94.

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. Also, don’t forget to check out our handy and updated The Essential Guide to SAG-AFTRA Rates 2024.

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

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Last Updated 
May 28, 2019


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.

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