For a very select number of very independent productions, Tuesday July 18 will be a day to celebrate as SAG-AFTRA will give its blessing to a small but undetermined number of film shoots through interim agreements or “waivers”. The independent producers who spoke to IndieWire are grateful for the support.
Eric B. Fleischman (“Sleight”), a producer at The Wonder Company, praised the guild’s swiftness in addressing the problem. “They don’t want all of their members to be out of work,” he said. “They’re obviously fighting for the cause, but at the same time people need work, so I think it’s brilliant for them to find a way to have a sector of the industry…project by project to move forward.”
However, the only films that will get approval are what the guild calls “truly independent”. This means they cannot be affiliated with any of the affected studios, or have a distribution deal or financing from a major or mini-major. Films connected to a studio such as “bad take” are unlikely to qualify; those financed through equity and loans, which generally have much smaller budgets, have a chance.
SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said so Expiration since pickets on Monday that the guild has started the waiver request process on Friday, the first day of the strike, and the guild has received hundreds of requests for interim arrangements for staff to screen, making sure each one does not have “any AMPTP fingerprints on them.”
“We will respond to all of them,” he said. “We’re working on it as fast as we can.”
So far, the Rebel Wilson comedy “Bride Hard” is among those who will receive a waiver to continue production, as did the fourth season of “The Chosen”, the Bible series from “Sound of Freedom” producers Angel Studios.
A source shared a confirmation letter with IndieWire that is sent to eligible productions. He says that if the producers are willing to agree to perform an interim deal when it becomes available, specifically agreeing to an 11% pay raise over the 2020 theatrical deal, we will “not interfere” in the production. And while the letter doesn’t specify, it assumes producers will have to accept the new deal when the strike ends.
This will be good enough for film insurance bond companies looking to insure such productions, something that has threatened to derail independent films, but only if the film is truly independent.
Fleischman said many of these films could be financed through international pre-sales, including his own, which he hopes to begin production in September. All buyers of him are independent; a film that was picked up by a studio’s international distribution arm would not qualify.
There is no wave of small films suddenly going into production. The WGA strike has already wiped out the majority of production in the US, and Fleischman said SAG-AFTRA is prioritizing films that are currently shooting, upcoming shoots, and/or are already cast, lest they talk about those who have already submitted documents to the guild to get a SAG-AFTRA representative on the project.
“A lot of independent producers are in this state of limbo where if you had something that was running out or was running out like us, and if you didn’t, you’re now in this awkward stage of scrambling to find something, get something , because you don’t know how long it’s going to be, and it’s not like you can start casting a movie right now,” Fleischman said.
Despite hundreds of inquiries, it’s unclear how many films will receive waivers (a representative from SAG-AFTRA did not respond to IndieWire’s request for comment). The guild also reserves the right to change the rules of the strike.
Indie producer Vincent Grashaw (“What Josiah Saw”) has a project gearing up for October and was quick to ensure the film was in SAG-AFTRA’s system before the June 30 contract deadline (the contract was eventually extended to July 12). He is working with a SAG-AFTRA representative on the film, but wonders if other projects submitted after the strike could still get a waiver if the strike is extended.
“Is it business as usual as long as there’s no connection to the studio, or is it just the projects they had applied before the strike?” he said. “That’s why we rushed it into the system, to avoid any possibility of not being able to go this fall.”
Even if a film gets a waiver, will every actor be willing to go to work while their peers are on strike? A SAG waiver does not necessarily prevent a WGA picket; the WGA granted an exemption to the Tony Awards, but to no independent productions.
Another producer who spoke to IndieWire said he plans to wait and see before filing a waiver application because he would hate to be in a situation where a completed film with a waiver is sold to a streamer.
“We need to see some cases go and make sure it works for everyone,” the producer said. “Even micro-budget films don’t get hit, so the fight here isn’t at the grassroots level, it’s with the business machine. He’s finding equity across the board and getting a living wage. People kick their ass when you make a movie, and we have to understand that.