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SAG-AFTRA Explained: 6 Steps to Become a Signatory

Original publish date: November 9, 2022

With performers committed to your film, it’s time to make things official with their union. SAG-AFTRA provides six agreements to choose from, based on your film’s budget. Once you do consider all the expenses involved in employing SAG-AFTRA talent, choose the appropriate agreement, and complete the SAG-AFTRA signatory process, you become a SAG-AFTRA signatory. 

Before applying for signatory status, you should have your funding and talent firmly in place. Always begin the application process at least 6 weeks before any rehearsals, fittings, or filming are set to begin. You cannot begin working with or paying talent until you or your business entity (usually an LLC) is a signatory. 

The following steps will help you prepare to become a SAG-AFTRA signatory so you can confidently employ the star propping up your independent film. 

1. Write a Budget and Schedule 

A thorough and accurate budget will be your north star when it’s time to choose which SAG agreement is best for your film. 

If you still don’t have a full-scale budget in place, hire a line producer or assistant director a little early to write a schedule and create a budget for your film. Creating a script breakdown and schedule is an important step to understanding who and what you’ll need, where and when. This is also the time to experiment with scheduling to cut costs. 

Once you have a budget that considers all the expenses involved in employing SAG-AFTRA talent, you’re well on your way to understanding the best SAG-AFTRA agreement for your film.   

2. Finalize Script and Cast List 

Stop the presses! SAG-AFTRA will need to get a full understanding of your film’s cast, how often they appear on screen, and whether they have lines and how many.  

To communicate these things, you will need to finalize your shooting script and create a cast list which SAG-AFTRA will analyze for member participation and non-member participation alike. If you plan on becoming signatory to any agreement other than the Student Film Agreement or Ultra Low Budget Agreement, non-union performers will also be covered by your chosen SAG-AFTRA agreement.    

3. Choose an Agreement  

With your budget and script in hand, you will now decide on the best agreement for your film. There are 6 SAG-AFTRA agreements to choose from based on how much you will spend. 

If your film budget aligns with either the Low Budget Theatrical Agreement or Moderate Low Budget Theatrical Agreement and you plan on taking advantage of “diversity in casting” production tax incentives, the budget limit on these agreements may increase.  

4. Complete Signatory Application 

Once you complete a signatory application, a SAG-AFTRA business representative will be assigned to your film and should be in touch in 3-5 days. If you don’t receive a communication, confirm your application was received by contacting SAG-AFTRA’s Theatrical Contracts Department.   

5. Prepare and Gather Documents 

After SAG-AFTRA approves your application, you will receive a packet of documents via email you must complete and return with additional requested documents in a timely manner. Those documents include: 

SAG-AFTRA needs to know how the performers will be employed and by who. If you are operating via an LLC, as most films do, you will need to provide SAG-AFTRA with your Articles of Organization and an executed Operating Agreement.  

6. Understand Financial Assurances 

SAG-AFTRA will evaluate your film’s financial situation and decide which financial assurances they require before allowing you to become a signatory. Common financial assurances SAG-AFTRA may require include:  

After each step is successfully completed, your film will receive clearance from SAG-AFTRA to proceed under one of their agreements, making you an official signatory.  

If you need additional assistance in becoming a SAG-AFTRA signatory, SAGindie is a free resource funded by a grant from the SAG-AFTRA Producers Industry Advancement & Cooperative Fund and built to help independent producers successfully work with union performers. 

Become a SAG-AFTRA Signatory to Work with Union Talent 

When you’re ready to take your film to the next level and hire a SAG-AFTRA represented performer, you will need to become a signatory. By following these steps, you are well on your way to building a lasting relationship with SAG-AFTRA and making a good impression on your performers.  

Once you become a signatory and production is ready to commence, it’s time to put your chosen SAG-AFTRA agreement into action. To hold your production accountable, SAG-AFTRA requires productions to submit a specialized timecard, known as Exhibit G, on a weekly basis. We will discuss that process in our next piece SAG-AFTRA Explained: How to Track Performers’ Time with Exhibit G. 

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