The SAG-AFTRA strike has studios questioning release schedules, film festivals wondering who will show up, and independent filmmakers interrogating their own projects to figure out what’s possible and what’s out of reach. For some, it means opportunities while others have to make tough choices.
Actor and producer Victoria Vertuga’s independent horror film, “Cold Blows the Wind,” has been accepted at the Days of the Dead Film Festival, held in Los Angeles August 25-27. When SAG called the strike, he asked for clarity on what he could and could not do for his film.
Just as other indie filmmakers can sign interim deals to continue producing independent films without ties to AMPTP members, it got its own interim deal that allows actors to continue promoting work that doesn’t involve any strike companies. Vertuga’s Blame the Dog Prods. produced “Cold Blows the Wind,” which she made under the guild’s ultra-low budget deal.
“I felt relieved. Obviously, these are truly unprecedented times,” said Vertuga. “Understandably there’s a lot of confusion that people have.”
However, Vertuga knows the rules of the larger strike will leave her watching her words. She must be very careful to avoid promoting past projects released through AMPTP-affiliated companies or platforms, which is most of her career. And if you want to continue promoting your independent film at the festival, you have to stay that way: if you accept a distribution offer from an AMPTP company, you should immediately stop promoting it. Embarrassing, since the sale of a film is a major reason for a festival premiere in the first place. Vertuga is pausing all efforts to push the distribution forward.
A SAG-AFTRA representative did not respond to IndieWire’s repeated requests for comment on this article.
Questions like Vertuga’s are still being answered on a larger scale, especially with festivals like Toronto, Venice and Telluride having AMPTP tie-ins and studio films. SAG-AFTRA Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland he said at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend that “there may be some form of interim arrangement that we can make available for that purpose”, allowing promotion to proceed into those big autumn festivals. But they would only happen if those actors also agreed to future contract terms under the interim agreement, just as they did for film production.
This may force stars and the industry to look at more independent work, but independent creators are also feeling the blow from the strike. Actor-director Kevin Interdonato has made the tough decision to delay the July 28 release of his upcoming micro-indie crime drama ‘The Bastard Sons’ until the strike is over.
Interdonato, who has had supporting roles in shows like “The Sopranos” and “City on a Hill,” is the writer, producer and star of his directorial debut, which he also produced and financed under the ultra-low-budget deal. It will be released through a very small distributor, Ohio-based Cranked Up Films. He has modest VOD release plans for purchase or rental on a service like Amazon’s Prime Video Direct, Apple’s iTunes or Vudu, but those platforms are operated by affected AMPTP companies.
As Interdonato explains, his film can still be promoted by its distributor, but not by himself or other SAG-AFTRA members involved in the project. Small movies like “The Bastard Sons” that are released via TVOD or AVOD streaming platforms need all the help they can get. They depend on grassroots marketing and word-of-mouth from their stars for audiences to find it and have any hope of recouping their investment. Interdonato said a release at even 50 percent of its maximum range would not be worth the effort.
“It’s a confusing ride,” he said. “Everyone is trying to find a loophole somewhere, but ultimately we are SAG actors and the last thing I want to do is cause a stir for the union. I just want to play it safe and make sure no one gets in trouble for anything, including me.
Other filmmakers have less autonomy in making decisions about how to run their films. Actor-director Tom DeNucci’s independent film “The Collective” will be released by Quiver Distribution on August 4 in limited theatrical release and VOD. The film’s stars include Tyrese Gibson and Ruby Rose, people with massive social media followings, and DeNucci wants to wait until they can promote it. However, he said the release plans are too far ahead to cancel.
“You can’t be selfish in these situations. There is a greater good,” DeNucci said. “I think it’s best to let it go and see what happens. Of course, it doesn’t have the severe effects of the pandemic, and I’m not trying to take the pandemic lightly, but it feels like pandemic time again for filmmakers whose hands are a bit tied.”
Student films, commercials, and films made under the lowest level, the Micro Budget Agreement (less than $20,000), are not considered closed contracts and can continue promotion. But understandable concerns for any actor, even if you’re allowed to promote or shoot, are the optics of doing so.
“I know people who have gotten this clarification and maybe they’ve already had short film screenings, and they’ve gotten a lot of flak on social media,” Vertuga said. “Even if this is allowed, if I’m doing nothing wrong, how will it be received? How will the promotion be perceived by people during this period? Is it a bad look? Is he taking the limelight off the strike efforts?
Best advice when in doubt? Refer to Strike Portal FAQwhich is continuously updated, or call your SAG-AFTRA representative for clarity and I hope you had more luck than we did in getting a response.
“I am with the union. They’re doing everything they can to protect us, and the argument on behalf of SAG makes perfect sense, and hopefully they’ll come to a conclusion sooner or later,” said Interdonato. “Instead of holding on to the negative side of that, I’m pushing myself to stay positive and find ways to capitalize on the downtime and think of ways to promote my film when the time comes.”
Additional reporting by Tony Maglio.