By Zeke Zelker, December 14th, 2010

As an indie filmmaker, to SAG or not to SAG has always been an issue when casting films. The paperwork, the fees, the obstacles that they place in front of you can be daunting. Having to work with them, not they trying to work with you. In the new world of cinema where creators are attempting to engage their audiences over a myriad of portals/devices in many innovative ways, the old actors guard have not embraced this new way of entertaining, in fact it is even more challenging to work with them. I have experienced a new dilemma with the professional actors union, how to explain my upcoming project in their “contract” terms and attempting to not break their rules.

My latest project Billboard an Uncommon Contest for Common People! has many moving parts, we are engaging and entertaining audiences in a plethora of ways. In the first phase of the project we have an opportunity for everyday people to get involved with the project as well as SAG actors. In fact some of the movie cast I need for this phases, happens to be based on around a website. RED FLAG, RED FLAG! What do you mean you want to use SAG actors for a website along with unprofessional actors? In an attempt to work with SAG I need to break the project into two different projects, one for the New Media side of the project and the other for the movie.

Okay, I understand. Got it. I will break the film up into two different projects under a bigger umbrella. Now I want to cast name talent who we will need to be in both projects. RED FLAG! RED FLAG! Try to have your casting director explain this to agents. WTF! I am trying to play by SAG’s rules, now agents think I’m trying to pull a fast one, confusing the process. No I really am trying to work with the old actors guard. Agents aren’t having it. I even offered to present my project to the agencies so they get what I’m trying to do, my casting director doesn’t feel they will be receptive, “do you really think a group of agents, at an agency will take the time to listen to you explain your project so you can hire their actors”. I’m willing to do anything for people to understand what I’m trying to do. CAA, WME, ICM, UTA call me, 610.597.7189, I would love to work with you! Maybe we can package the project with your talent?

This is only half of my challenge. The other half is working within SAG’s rules when it comes to narrowing down what budget contract we fall under. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about; what you pay SAG actors is based on your budget. Each budget limit has a contract with a different set of rules. After reading SAG contract after contract and trying to figure which one worked best for my project I determined the Ultra Low budget would work best for us, it’s the most flexible. You can work with SAG and nonSAG actors, you don’t have to use SAG extras, you only have to pay the actors $100/day (although I have budgeted more than that for my name talent) and the budget cap is $200k, although we will have more money than that. The real reason is the ability to work with anyone I would like to. My daughter is not SAG, do I really need to Taft-Hartley her?

I made this business decision and I am willing to work within SAG’s rules. Now I would really, really like to work with Actor/Actress X. My casting director pitches the project to their agent. Agent’s response, “no way in hell will I let my Actor/Actress work on an ultra low budget project.” They won’t let her explain further. We have our reasons, we have a ground breaking project, we have money to pay more than $100/day, we are only trying to play by the old actors guard’s rules. I cut my hair short so I can’t pull it out.

I have thought about scrapping SAG all together but I really want to work with some particular actors. Working with these actors will also make the project more marketable when we distribute the movie. Thus I need to and am willing to work with SAG, but will they work with me? Will agents take the time to understand what we are doing? We have a way that our key actors will be compensated handsomely for taking the risk with us. Risk reward right?

I can’t wait until we unleash Weiler’s transmedia project at Sundance, maybe the industry will understand what we are trying to do more easily. Sundance has embraced us and this new form of entertainment, Academy Award nominee Guillermo del Toro just announced his new transmedia studio in Marina del Rey, CA and the marketing execs of brands get it. When will SAG? Agents? I guess time will tell, but I’m on a schedule.
Maybe I should reach out and partner with a Hollywood established production company who have embraced technology to help tell their stories. Maybe that will make this casting situation easier. Anyone have any suggestions?

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Posted in INDIE FILM CAPITALSIM biz casting transmedia

Zeke Zelker – an award winning filmmaker, blends art and commerce in all that he does. His latest film InSearchOf is not only creating buzz about the content of the story line but also for his business techniques. Always creating new revenue streams by blending traditional distribution outlets, adapting others to suit his film’s needs, and pioneering some of his own Zeke has been forging a pathway to profitability. He is currently developing on a transmedia project that will begin unraveling 2010.


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