What Is SAG Scale?

By Dennis Hartman
What Is SAG Scale?

Founded in 1933, the Screen Actors Guild has promoted the interests of film performers since Hollywood's Golden Age. Among the rights supported by SAG is the idea of "scale" pay, which refers to a minimum rate for actors' salaries. Scale rates have varied over the years, and are different for each type of production.

Global Rule One

SAG scale rates are enforced through what is known as Global Rule One. This is a policy by which all SAG members must abide. Global Rule One states that SAG members will not work on productions that don't use SAG contracts or don't have approval from SAG. Thus, Global Rule One encourages producers to pay the scale rates specified by SAG, rather than engage in reverse bidding by forcing actors in need of work to lower their rates. By implementing Global Rule One in productions around the world, SAG seeks a standardized payment system in which member actors always receive a minimum salary. The SAG contract also contains additional provisions for residuals which must be adhered to by the producers along with the scale rate. In a sense, scale pay is the most basic demand made in SAG contracts.

Types of Productions

Scale rates vary from several hundred to several thousand dollars for a daily rate. The biggest determining factor in what scale will be set at in the contract is the type of production for which the scale rate will apply. Film and television scale rates are among the highest, since the exposure is great and the producers have ample opportunity to recoup their costs. While theatrical film and television contracts are not the same, they both use higher scale rates because of the nature of the media. Lower scale rates are specified for commercials. Commercial scale rates are dependent on the medium over which the commercial will be broadcast, among other factors, with national television commercials garnering the highest scale rates. Industrial and educational production has its own contract with even lower scale rates.

Other Factors

There are a number of other factors that determine SAG's contracted minimum pay scale. Actors are paid differently if they are in a principal role or a supporting role. SAG refers to these different types of performers as "principal performers" and "background performers." In the case of commercials, the scope of the audience also comes into play, with national cable commercials being far more lucrative than local broadcast advertising. SAG scale also changes based on the length of production. Longer productions that offer actors more steady work are subject to a lower scale rate, while shorter productions are forced to compensate the actors with a higher scale for the shorter duration. SAG members may also fall into special scale categories for performing voice-over work or appearing on-screen as part of a large group.

Beyond Scale

Scale is an important part of SAG's contracts, but it is by no means the only concern of the union. Besides setting scale rates for different levels of work, SAG's contracts with the different production sectors specify terms such as the length of a work day. Contracts also mandate the frequency and duration of breaks. As an addition to scale rates, overtime pay is also specified as a percentage increase over and above scale rates. Appropriate payment and accommodations for travel are also spelled out in the SAG contracts. One of the most important elements of SAG contracts besides scale rates involve health benefits. A series of Producers Pension and Health Plans are offered by SAG to members who earn enough in SAG wages or work a certain number of days in a given year.

New Media

SAG does not currently specify scale for productions intended for new media, such as Internet-only advertising or programming. The exploitation of new media has been at the center of recently contested negotiations between SAG and major production companies. Besides determining how royalties will be paid to SAG members for work that is done in another medium (theatrical film or television) and later rebroadcast online, these negotiations have dealt with initial payments for acting in new media productions. Since SAG does not specify a minimum scale for this type of work, it provides guidelines to its members for negotiating a rate with producers. New media policy continues to dominate SAG's agenda as more and more producers (and the actors they employ) are subject to web-based revenue streams.