×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Actors Play Waiting Game for Residuals

SAG-AFTRA focuses on fixes

Winning an Emmy confirms that an actor’s performance will stand for time immemorial. It doesn’t take quite as long to recoup any residuals for the winning performance — it only seems that way.

For the 165,000 SAG-AFTRA members, the check is really staying in the mail — for nearly two months.

The average wait for residual checks is now 56 days, an increase of eight days from late 2010. National executive director David White says that has to change sooner rather than later.

“We’ve had an incredible increase in the number of incoming checks, but we all recognize that 56 days is not acceptable,” White says.

The number of checks that the performers union processes are staggering, growing from 2 million in 2010 for SAG to 2.2 million in 2011 and 2.4 million last year — plus 500,000 checks for AFTRA members — for a total of approximately 2.9 million for the merged union. The staff believes that the total could reach 4 million checks for 2013 based on current rates.

The increase in new media and cable programming has contributed to the rise in the number of checks, White says.

“There has been a noticeable improvement in the processing time per check,” he says. “But the volume of incoming checks has increased dramatically over the past several years. We are laser-focused on decreasing the number of days to deliver checks.”

White says the key impediment to improving delivery time stems from the system in which studios, networks and payroll companies use separate proprietary systems to process residuals, requiring SAG-AFTRA to manually input a significant amount of data.

“Before we can send checks to members, we have to sort through each company’s reporting differences and verify their information,” he adds.

SAG’s first residuals had come without a strike in 1952, when it worked out a deal for TV reruns. It then expanded the payments in 1960 when it obtained the first residuals on feature films sold to TV, following a seven-week strike that halted eight major productions, including Elizabeth Taylor’s Butterfield 8, Jack Lemmon’s The Wackiest Ship in the Army and Marilyn Monroe’s Let’s Make Love.

Studios agreed to pay residuals for movies produced after the date of the agreement, and paid $2.25 million to start the pension and health fund as compensation for movies produced before 1960.

By the 21st century, growth in programming and reruns began to overwhelm SAG. In 2001, SAG took the extraordinary step of apologizing for delays; by 2010, it had installed automated equipment to speed processing. The new machines have been nicknamed after the Rocky and Bullwinkle characters Boris and Natasha.

Actors’ total income from residuals in 2012 was approximately $639 million.

White says that one of the three steps to improving delivery time is getting the right staffing in place post-merger. He notes that the recent restructuring of SAG-AFTRA did not lead to any reductions in the residuals department, where there are 28 staffers.

The other areas that can be improved, White says, include efficiencies through expanded automation and a “shared best practices” approach with the companies to adopt innovative solutions that reduce delivery and processing times.

White admits that the challenges of combining the SAG and AFTRA operations, which include recently downsizing to 15 offices from more than 25, had been formidable. He said that speeding up delivery times has been a major concern for members and staff.

“I’m impatient like everyone else,” he concludes. “The best-case scenario is for our members to receive their checks in one to two weeks through a fully automated, industrywide process. Under the industry’s current paper-based system, the target is for our members to receive their checks within 30 days. The worst-case scenario is seeing any increased delays in the current delivery time.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Ad Astra Box Office

    Box Office Battle: 'Ad Astra' Takes on 'Rambo: Last Blood' and 'Downton Abbey'

    “Hustlers” and “Good Boys” proved that even in the age of Marvel dominance and remake mania, movies that don’t exist within an established franchise can still be box office draws. Can “Ad Astra” continue that trend? The space drama — starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray — arrives on the big screen this [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein Accuser Lucia Evans Breaks

    Harvey Weinstein Accuser Lucia Evans Breaks Silence After D.A. Dropped Charge

    Lucia Evans gave a wrenching account on Tuesday of her efforts to hold Harvey Weinstein responsible for sexual assault, saying she felt betrayed after the Manhattan D.A.’s office dropped her allegations last year. Evans spoke to Variety after giving a speech at a conference on influencer fraud in Manhattan, making her first public comments on [...]

  • Ad Astra

    How 'Ad Astra' Production Crew Created Authentic Look for Brad Pitt Space Drama

    In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt’s astronaut Roy McBride crosses the solar system to find and confront his long-lost father, requiring the movie crew to create an authentic-looking future that conveys the theme of traveling long distances to learn the lesson that it’s where you started from that has the most value. “Visually, the aim was [...]

  • Nahnatchka Khan'Always Be My Maybe' film

    'Fresh Off the Boat' Creator Nahnatchka Khan Signs First-Look Deal With Netflix

    Netflix has signed “Fresh Off the Boat” creator and executive producer Nahnatchka Khan to an exclusive multi-year first look deal for feature films. Khan made her feature film directorial debut with “Always Be My Maybe” starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. The romantic comedy premiered on Netflix in May and was seen by 32 million [...]

  • The Mover

    Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Costa Rica Announce Oscar Contenders

    Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro and Costa Rica are the latest countries to announce their entries for the newly rebranded International Feature Film award at the 92nd Academy Awards. All four countries are seeking their first Oscar nomination in what was formerly known as the foreign-language film category. Latvia has selected Holocaust drama “The Mover” (pictured) as [...]

  • The Sky Is Pink

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Sky is Pink'

    Shonali Bose’s much-laureled 2014 “Margarita with a Straw” was a film whose presentation of a cerebral palsy-afflicted heroine sidestepped all the usual hand-wringing inspirational clichés of disability portrayal, making her story all the more enlightening and affecting. It is particularly disappointing, then, that the director’s followup should approach another tale of genetic infirmity with all [...]

  • Jodie Turner-SmithVariety Studio Comic-Con, Day 1,

    'Queen and Slim' Star Jodie Turner-Smith Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' (EXCLUSIVE)

    After she plays the Bonnie to Daniel Kaluuya’s Clyde in Universal’s romantic thriller “Queen and Slim,” actress Jodie Turner-Smith will join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Turner-Smith will play Karen Greer in the movie. As recently announced, Jamie Bell will also co-star as Robert Ritter, the deputy director of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content