Indie producers voice fears amid SAG-AFTRA interim agreement backlog

"There’s going to be such a bottleneck of talent and crews"

By Jeremy Kay 13 Sep 2023

Indie producers voice fears amid SAG-AFTRA interim agreement backlog
Toronto; Cr: Zia Syed/Unsplash

Producers at TIFF have expressed concern that a backlog in the approvals process for SAG-AFTRA interim agreements could put them at a serious disadvantage once the dual Hollywood strikes end and the industry rushes back into production.

Filmmakers have been scrambling to package feature projects in a rare window of opportunity for independents while SAG-AFTRA strike rules prohibit its members from working for struck companies like studios and streamers on jobs that fall under the union’s TV and theatrical contracts.

Yet frustration is mounting among independent producers over their inability to capitalise on the moment amid the approvals logjam. Most Hollywood talent agencies have not been sending scripts to their clients until a producer has got an interim agreement in place.

SAG-AFTRA leadership told a TIFF audience last week that they have received more than 1,200 applications for interim agreements in less than two months since they went on strike on July 14 and have approved around 400. The union typically receives several thousand applications in a year.

The backlog is threatening to preclude or unravel packages – either in part or entirely – and is a growing source of frustration for sales agents too. TIFF is not a pre-sales market, yet even so packages were scarce, with the standout being WME Independent’s The Beast with Samuel Jackson in talks to star.

Producers agree SAG-AFTRA’s intentions are honourable and fully support the normal signatory process independents must go through to satisfy the union’s requirements, on top of filling out the questionnaire when applying for an interim agreement.

Yet a number who spoke to Screen said they applied for interim agreements back in July and, seven or eight weeks later, are still waiting to hear back. 

Cast attachments

Without cast attachments producers cannot secure financing and other creative elements on projects. Once the strikes end, they worry that first choice cast and crews will be enticed by higher-paying studio and streamer projects unless they have already committed to an independent project that has moved into pre-production.

“It’s a cart before the horse document,” said Rumble Films’ David Lancaster of the 70-page interim agreement. “It’s asking who is financing your movie, where’s the money and who’s in it and I can’t answer those questions if I haven’t been able to negotiate with the agents for talent.”

Lancaster, who produced 2023 release Sanctuary as well as films like Nightcrawler and Whiplash, has applied for interim agreements on two projects he wants to push into pre-production and added: “There’s going to be such a bottleneck of talent and crews because everybody’s going to want to get a slot and that includes studios and streamers.”

Rob Paris of Rivulet Films said, “The intention [behind interim agreements] is fantastic but the execution not so much. This should be an opportunity for the independents, a much needed lifeline as Jessica Chastain just said so eloquently in Venice. [SAG-AFTRA] has an amazing opportunity to empower and support non-AMPTP companies but for a great many their process is doing the exact opposite.”

As previously reported elsewhere, Paris has written to SAG-AFTRA in a bid to speed up the approvals process.

He has proposed that in order to get scripts in front of talent, producers sign a short document attesting that they are not affiliated to an AMPTP company (Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers, which represents the studios and streamers in contract talks with the unions); they will not to sell to any company affiliated to AMPTP until the strike is over; and they will attain signatory status and sign the interim agreement.

“If we can’t get them to streamline the process, what’s going to happen?” said Paris. “They will eventually resolve the strike, they will get the writers back first so we can get as many scripts out there as possible, then you solve the SAG-AFTRA strike by the end of the year. Then they start pre-production and get the engine up and running for the first quarter.”

Paris, whose credits include I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House, and Taurus, said: “If independents have a movie that is planned to greenlight for a spring shoot, it’s going to be very frustrating. I don’t think most will be able to cast at the level needed for financing a spring start.

“When the strikes end the studios and streamers are going to be very hungry and will inevitably greenlight an enormous amount and again the independent projects will suffer as they simply can’t offer what AMPTP offers. It’s going to be a sad time for indies in the second and third quarters of next year. The struggles we’ve faced over the last five years will become even more acute.”

’This isn’t just an American strike; it’s a global strike’

Principals Simon Swart and Wayne Fitzjohn of Los Angeles and South Africa-based Nthibah Pictures produced TIFF selection Boy Kills World starring Bill Skarsgard.

They have applied for an interim agreement on an upcoming project and are still waiting to hear back from SAG-AFTRA.

“This isn’t just an American strike; it’s a global strike which affects production in places like South Africa and Eastern Europe [where SAG-AFTRA actors are involved],” said Swart.

Fitzjohn also noted that producers will additionally need to lure below the line talent like set designers back into the business after many – in desperate need of work – have taken traditional non-Hollywood jobs utilising their skills during the production slowdown.

SAG-AFTRA has previously said that in some cases the signatory process may come after securing an interim agreement to speed up the casting process.

For independent producers, that eventuality cannot come fast enough.

Screen has reached out to the union for an update. 

This article originally appeared on our sister site Screen

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