Contracting with a temp agency has allowed JPCatholic to hire actors under SAG legally and efficiently. As a result, Matthew Middendorf’s project has been discontinued due to a large increase in price.
Matthew Middendorf had been deep in the pre-production process for his Production Execution class when he came to the school asking for proof of insurance in order to hire the SAG actors he was looking for through SAG Indie. Middendorf shared, “They told me in order to release the insurance, the school has now adopted a policy in which a temp agency has to be used in order to hire a SAG actor.” This meant a large price jump from what he had originally negotiated.
This was a cause for concern as the ability to cast SAG actors can raise production value significantly. Professor Dunn commented, “To hire an actor, the entity that is hiring them must provide workers comp in order to cover the individual. If you are hiring somebody that is going to work on your project you have to provide workers comp.” This means that the price for students to hire through SAG will increase heavily as this new temp agency charges an administrative fee to pay for the labor involved in the paperwork and a 500 dollar deposit for any film project.
The school will cover the administrative fee and the deposit for projects that are of the appropriate level. Professor Dunn said, “We have decided that we will limit this to just senior projects and to Directing 2, the top echelon, because if we have seven senior projects then that’s 3,500 dollars that the school would have to put down. It’s a deposit so we would get it back as long as they all got paid. So, the school is willing to assume a certain amount of risk.”
Middendorf expressed concern after learning of the change in policy. “In the past the school has always given proof of insurance, so this should have been no problem.” When asked why this change occurred, Professor Dunn explained, “Well it’s never changed, it’s just we are now more aware of it. There were some instances in the past where we realized that students had been doing it the wrong way, so they may have had some incorrectly done projects.”
Students in the past got away with this by exploiting what they thought was a loophole by trying to hire actors as independent contractors. Professor Dunn explained why this does not work, “If you look at the labor laws, what qualifies an independent contractor, working on a film doesn’t qualify. If you tell someone you need them to show up at this location on this date, this no longer qualifies as an independent contractor because you are telling them how to work. We realized that students may have messed this up in the past and we want to make sure that we do it correctly even with the restrictions that come with that.”
In the past, students have hired SAG actors had contracts that the school was unaware of. When asked why this was not realized, Prof. Dunn said, “Initially there were very few projects that were hiring actors and usually basic senior project level stuff and a lot of the time the faculty didn’t know that people were hiring actors until after the fact.”
This has been implemented this year in hopes of decreasing any possible liability that could fall upon the students’ shoulders. Prof. Dunn commented, “It’s similar to the equipment issues, where the first few years we would just give out equipment because the more stuff you do the more you’ll learn. Then the insurance told us that they wouldn’t cover that because you are incurring too much risk.”
The school will still allow for projects to work with SAG actors if they can cover the additional costs. Prof. Dunn explained, “When I talked to the CFO last week I said that we don’t have a problem with students still doing that, but they would have to cover all the expenses. He said I don’t think that would be a problem. So, I think that option is still available for other students but they are going to have to cover all those additional expenses. It would significantly raise the price on the projects.”
Matthew’s project has been cancelled and he has moved in a different direction. “As a student, there is no way I can come up with 780 plus dollars overnight for a student film.” While this may halt future productions from using professional actors, the faculty hopes that this will remove issues with insurance and legalities.