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SAG conspiracy to promote digital shooting


SAG Pulls Ad Stating Digital Shows Need Smaller Crews
By Jack Egan
A flap over a recent trade ad run by SAGIndie, an affiliate of the Screen Actors Guild, which was aimed at actors on low-budget productions, has elicited a formal apology from SAG president Melissa Gilbert to the craft guilds, Below the Line has learned.
Headlined “Actors Love Digital” the ad, which appeared recently in Res and Film&Video magazines, features a photo of a naked couple in a shower with a camerman in a slicker shooting them through the parted curtains. The picture turned out to be less provocative than the ad’s copy: “Smaller crews and unobtrustive equipment give actors the creativity and freedom to do what they do naturally… act.”
The idea that a SAG unit would promote the idea that digitally filmed movies require smaller crews and are therefore a boon to actors didn’t sit well with International Cinematographers Guild national president George Spiro Dibie. “I saw the ad and I did not like it,” said Dibie. “It shows you a one-person crew doing all of the work.” Dibie asked ICG executive director Bruce Doering “to ask SAG for a clarification.”
Doering in turn contacted Pam Fair, national director of policy for SAG. “It caused quite a crisis over here,” she said. “Our brothers and sisters at IATSE felt it seemed to be advocating fewer crew members. We’re bargaining partners with the IA, and we’re trying to fight for more jobs, not less. Melissa has personally apologized to the craft unions for any misunderstanding.”
One upshot was a policy change. After reviewing the ad, “we thought it had implications we did not want,” asserted Fair. Though SAGIndie is a separate organization, it is backed and funded by SAG. “So we put into effect a process for them to run future ads past us for any potentially offending language before they’re published.” The brouhaha came at a touchy time since SAG was negotiating a new contract with the producers. In mid-February SAG reached a deal for a one-year extension.
Paul Bales, head of SAGIndie, was attending Sundance when “SAG made me aware of the complaint and we agreed to pass our ads along to Pam prior to publishing them.” So far “no one has asked me to change anything,” he says. The next ad the organization plans to run does not have to do with digital moviemaking “but is about misconceptions about working with SAG.”
SAGIndie was founded in 1997 with a grant from SAG and its purpose is to promote SAG contracts on productions with budgets of $2 million or less. “SAG had determined that actors on a lot of digital productions were not signing actors guild agreements and we wanted to advertise to that group” added Bales. “A lot of people are already making films digitally and we are trying to reach them.”
One example he cited was Primer, this year’s winner for best dramatic feature at Sundance, which cost $7,000 to make. “Of all the Sundance finalists, it was the only one not done under a SAG contract and we would have liked it to have been, even at that super-low budget level,” Bales asserted.
The cinematographers, he feels, “were perhaps oversensitive—I can’t speak for SAG, but SAGIndie doesn’t have a horse in the digital-film race.”

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