Budgeting your SAG-AFTRA payroll – Short Film, Ultra Low Budget, Modified Low Budget

Tips and info for avoiding common SAG payroll budgeting mistakes

Common Questions—And Their Answers

Budgeting your SAG-AFTRA payroll

Because of the many different rules and regulations under the SAG-AFTRA agreements, it can be a little challenging or daunting to budget your SAG-AFTRA payroll costs, particularly for those who are dealing with union payroll for the first time. But whether you’re a first-time production team member or an experienced industry vet, it never hurts to brush up on some of the common pay items that can put you over budget. Below is a list of frequently encountered payroll items for SAG-AFTRA projects that can cause conflicts with your budget. It is always recommended to check in with your SAG-AFTRA representative if you have additional questions on these payroll items and their applicability to your specific project: https://www.sagaftra.org/contact-us.


As you budget for SAG-AFTRA payroll, keep in mind that the minimum daily rate only applies to standard 8-hour days. If your schedule calls for longer shooting days, you will need to account for wages paid at the overtime rate and double overtime if you will be working for more than 12 hours.


The overtime rate for your SAG-AFTRA cast members will be 1.5 times their straight time rate. Straight time rate is whatever the minimum rate is ($125.00 current minimum under Ultra Low Budget) divided by 8 hours: $15.625. Multiply that by 1.5 to determine the overtime hourly rate of $23.44 rounded up. Example: your project falls under the Ultra Low Budget agreement and all your cast members will be working 11-hour days. The minimum you will be paying out is $195.32 (per cast member, per day).


Double overtime for your SAG-AFTRA members is 2.0 times the straight time rate—however, under the Short Film and Ultra Low Budget agreements the straight time rate used to compute double overtime wages is actually set under the Modified Low Budget minimum rate. This means you cannot use the $125.00 minimum, but must use the Modified Low Budget minimum of $335.00 instead. So for each hour worked past the 12th hour, the minimum you will be paying is $83.75. Keep in mind also that if you are deferring pay under the Short Film agreement, you cannot defer double overtime wages. Any double overtime wages must be paid out on time. All overtime and double overtime wages are pensionable.



Forced calls are a commonly missed item when budgeting for SAG payroll—and it is completely avoidable through proper scheduling. Each SAG-AFTRA performer must be given a full 12 hours of rest between the time they leave set for the day and the time they report on set the following day. If this time period is not given in its entirety, the performer must now be paid an additional day’s pay. The extra wages and payroll fringes can add up quick on a smaller budget, so make sure you are allowing enough time between shoot days to avoid this expense—or else have accounted for this in the payroll budget. Forced calls are a non-pensionable pay item.



If your SAG-AFTRA performers are to remain away from their residences overnight to work on a project, this is considered an “overnight location”. They must be paid for the time spent traveling as wages—this is in addition to any transportation expense reimbursements or per diems.


Example: your day-player cast members will be traveling out of their State of residency to work on your Ultra Low Budget feature.  Your cast members must be paid the minimum rate for each day of travel, even if the flight is only a few hours.  This means that even with just two days of shooting, you will actually need to budget for at least four days’ worth of minimum pay for each cast member in this example.  Travel days are pensionable pay items.



This is particularly important to include in your budget if your SAG-AFTRA project is shooting in a remote location.  If your shooting location is not within “reasonable driving distance” from where your cast members live, you may be subject to paying out Hold Days for the days that they are away from their residence but not working. 

SAG-AFTRA requires Hold Days to be paid out (full day rate) because your performer cannot work on another project during the time they are on “hold” for your project.  So even if they are not working every day, if they are required to stay in the area for future work days this must be paid out. 


Example: your cast members live in Los Angeles but you’re shooting in Nevada. Your shooting schedule is Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with a day off of shooting on Wednesday. You will still need to pay your cast members for Wednesday as a Hold Day since they must still be “held” for work later in the week. Hold days are pensionable pay items.



If your SAG-AFTRA performers have an extra percentage as part of their negotiated rate to be paid through payroll for agency fees, this will be paid out as part of their taxable, pensionable wages.  This means that you will need to budget payroll fringes on those agency fees.


Example: your day player’s negotiated rate is $125.00 minimum + 10% agency fee. The minimum in wages you will be paying for an 8-hour day for this performer is $137.50—and you will need to pay out Pension and Health based on that higher amount, as well as any other applicable payroll fringes.



This is a smaller cost item, but is still something to keep in mind as you plan and budget for your SAG-AFTRA payroll. Performers must be provided a meal period within six hours of reporting for work. If the performer is not given this break—at least 30 minutes long (maximum one hour), during which time they cannot be required to work—you will incur a meal penalty. The performer must now be paid liquidated damages of $25.00 for the first half-hour of delay, with an additional penalty for each quarter hour past that.


If you’re working long hours, keep in mind that an additional meal period must be provided no later than six hours after the end of the first meal period as well. Under the Modified Low Budget agreement, consecutive meal penalties incurred in the same day will have increasing costs with a cap of $50.00 ($25.00 1st, $35.00 2nd, $50.00 3rd+). Meal penalties are non-pensionable pay items.



When you do not supply your performers with wardrobe for their performances, they are entitled to compensation for the “wardrobe” they are themselves supplying—basically whatever they are wearing when they show up on set. The wardrobe allowance will cost $12.00 per day per performer. This is a non-pensionable pay item.


For more information on working with SAG-AFTRA, try these articles on the following topics:




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