SAG-AFTRA Implements New Self-Taping Audition Guidelines For Low-Budget Projects

SAG-AFTRA has implemented new protections for the self-taping of auditions for low-budget productions.  The move was made, the guild said, “to address members’ concerns about this common yet frequently challenging practice.” The new guidelines limit all low-budget projects to the reading of five script pages for a first self-taped audition, although additional pages can be requested for a callback or on zoom.

A newly seated Self-Tape Committee will coordinate the ongoing work of various union committees around self-taping “with an eye toward added safety enhancements for other entertainment contracts,” the guild said.

SAG-AFTRA’s National Board green-lit the new low-budget self-taping guidelines, which had been approved at the guild’s 2021 convention and reviewed by its internal committees. 

“These improvements come in the wake of a union-distributed member survey to assess the state of self-taping in the industry,” the guild said in a statement. “The results of that survey and extended research done after the conclusion of the original study were considered by leadership and shared with members in several online streaming productions.”

The 9,300 members who responded to the survey (about 5% of the guild’s members), said that 92% of the roles they auditioned for required them to self-record and upload their auditions; that 15% of the roles they were up for required them to audition virtually through Zoom or some other live platform, and that less than 4% of prospective jobs required them to audition in person.

According to the survey, 91% of respondents said they had to provide their own recording equipment for self-taped auditions; 82% said they’d been asked to audition on a weekend; 60% said they had been asked to read an excessive number of script pages, and 34% said they’d experienced long and overly burdensome auditions without pay. Another 22% said they’d been asked to perform physical action or a stunt during a self-taped audition; 8% said they’d been asked to perform a sexually charged act like kissing or explicitly intimate action, while 6% said they’d been asked to appear in suggestive clothing or in no clothes at all.

Nearly half of the respondents said they’d declined an opportunity to audition because of these burdensome requirements, and 5% of respondents said they experienced difficulty or challenges in submitting a self-taped audition because of a disability.

Another 62% of respondents said they’d had incurred out-of-pocket expenses in order to self-tape audition; 41% had incurred “onerous” expenses to pay for a reader or a professional taping session. Of those, 20% said they’d spent more than $100 of their own money for a single self-taping session. Another 3.5% of respondents said they’d received a self-taping request that made them feel unsafe.

Here’s a video SAG-AFTRA made about the survey:

According to the guild, “This data, along with meaningful self-tape improvements secured in the 2022 Commercials Contract will inform continued improvements across the union’s other contract areas. Provisions achieved in the 2022 commercials contracts include prohibiting requests for unsafe activities, multiple makeup or styling changes, angle changes in a take, and the use of multiple locations. Additionally, no special equipment or paid services may be required to audition, and sides must be provided 24 hours in advance.”

Film and TV actors might be contractually entitled to collect half-a-day’s pay when they audition but aren’t hired, though very few ever collect. The payments have been codified in every Screen Actors Guild and SAG-AFTRA contract since 1937, but the payments are not automatic – actors have to file a claim to receive them, though few ever do.

In September, however, SAG-AFTRA said that it will pursue claims for audition pay under specific circumstances.

“Until further notice,” the guild said in a posting on its website, “members should expect the union to pursue audition pay claims in the following circumstances, provided that the performer is not offered employment in the picture and that the requirements of the audition pay language within the schedule applicable to the role being cast are otherwise met:
1. When the producer or casting director expressly require the performer to memorize their lines in advance.
2. When the performer participates in a network or studio ‘test’ as that term is commonly understood in the entertainment industry. For context, ‘tests’ are typically used to cast series regular or feature lead roles, typically involve multiple performers who are expected to be ‘off book,’ may involve make-up, hairdress and wardrobe, and will have network or studio executives in attendance.
3. When a performer is owed pay for waiting time in excess of one hour as provided in the applicable schedule.”

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