SAG snags union deal for Oz shoots

Unanimity shown on Global Rule One push

Highlighting efforts to beef up contract enforcement overseas, SAG has hammered out an agreement with the Australian actors union to cover projects shot in Oz.

Key provision of the pact with the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance represents a formal endorsement of the major goal of its Global Rule One campaign — that SAG members work under SAG terms and provisions on projects aimed principally for release in the U.S. market. SAG’s Rule One bars members from working for nonsignatories, but the provision had only been enforced since May 1.

The SAG-MEAA agreement also formalizes the Rule One exemption of low-budget Australian productions aimed at the local market — specifically features with budgets under $15 million and telepics with budgets less than $5 million. When SAG announced plans for Global Rule One, the Aussies had been worried that if SAG conditions were applied to local projects, much of Oz’s production would dry up.

Susan Lyons, MEAA’s federal equity section president, said the deal protects U.S. performers without hurting work and conditions for Australians. “The agreement is a testament to what is achievable by performers’ representatives through friendly negotiation and a desire to achieve a working solution that will benefit all members,” she added.

SAG shows unanimity

The often-fractious SAG’s leadership has been able to show unanimity thus far on the Global Rule One push, with well over 200 high-profile members pledging support. Rule One co-chair Karen Austin called the deal a breakthrough.

“The Australians have been terrific,” Austin said. “The cooperation SAG has received from MEAA is absolute evidence that performer unions working together can achieve enhanced protections for all artists.”

Other key deal points include:

  • The deal covers productions shot in Australia but with creative control outside that country.

  • SAG and MEAA will work with Screen Producers Assn. of Australian to persuade the Australian government that direct contributions shall be made to the pension plan “which will be of greatest benefit to the performer.”

  • U.S. citizens and residents will be allowed to perform in lower budget productions provided that pension and health payments are made in accordance with SAG agreements.

  • SAG and MEAA will require verification of budget and citizenship, where relevant, by a means to be agreed with SPAA.

  • SAG and MEAA will meet on a regular basis to ascertain the effectiveness and progress in achieving the goals of both organizations.

Similar deals expected

SAG spokeswoman Ilyanne Kichaven said she expects other similar deals to be formalized on Global Rule One with other English-speaking performers unions.

Producer orgs have threatened to sue SAG on grounds that Global Rule One represents an illegal expansion of SAG’s jurisdiction and will boost the cost of shooting due to higher rates for SAG performers. SAG has stuck by its guns, insisting it will not back down and arguing that the producers have no right to intrude on the U.S. union’s handling of its internal affairs.

SAG’s national board voted unanimously last October to set a May 1 enforcement date for the initiative, under which members will face disciplinary action if they work for non-signatory producers on foreign projects aimed at the U.S. market. SAG has estimated that such a step adds an average of 3% to overall budgets.

SAG has argued that enforcement of Rule One is critical to provide funds to the SAG-industry health plan, claiming that potential contributions to the plan have fallen $23 million short in the last five years due to SAG members’ work on non-union contracts overseas.

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