For a very select number of very independent productions, Tuesday July 18 will be a day to celebrate: That’s when SAG-AFTRA will give its blessing to a small but undetermined number of film shoots via interim agreements, or “waivers.” Indie producers who spoke to IndieWire are grateful for the support.
Eric B. Fleischman (“Sleight”), a producer with The Wonder Company, praised the guild’s swiftness in addressing the issue. “They don’t want all of their members not working,” he said. “They’re obviously fighting for the cause, but at the same time, people need to work, so I think it’s brilliant for them to find a way to have a sector of the industry… on a project-by-project basis to move forward.”
However, the only movies that will get approval are the ones the guild determine to be “truly independent.” That means they can’t be affiliated with any of the struck studios, or have a distribution deal, or financing from a major or mini-major. Movies connected to a studio as a “negative pickup” are unlikely to qualify; those financed through equity and loans, which are generally at a much lower budgets, have a shot.
SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told Deadline from the picket lines on Monday that the guild launched the waiver application process on Friday, the first day of the strike, and the guild has received hundreds of applications for interim agreements that the staff will need to sort through, making sure each does not have “any AMPTP fingerprints on them.”
“We will be responding to all of them,” he said. “We’re working through that as fast as we can.”
Thus far, the Rebel Wilson comedy “Bride Hard” is among those that will receive a waiver to continue production, as did the fourth season of “The Chosen,” the Biblical series from “Sound of Freedom” producers Angel Studios.
One source shared a confirmation letter with IndieWire that’s sent to qualifying productions. It states that if producers are willing to agree to execute an interim agreement when it becomes available, specifically agreeing to an 11 percent wage increase compared to the 2020 theatrical deal, “we will not interfere” in the production. And while the letter does not spell it out, it assumes that producers will have to agree to the new agreement when the strike ends.
That will be good enough for film insurance bond companies looking to insure such productions, something that threatened to derail indie films, but only if the film is truly independent.
Fleischman said many of these films may be financed through international presales — including his own, which he hopes to start production in September. All of his buyers are independents; a film that has been picked up by a studio’s international distribution arm wouldn’t qualify.
There’s no surge of tiny movies suddenly going into production. The WGA strike has already wiped out most production in the U.S. and Fleischman said SAG-AFTRA is prioritizing movies that are currently filming, imminently filming, and/or have already been cast, not to mention those that have already filed paperwork with the guild to get a SAG-AFTRA rep on the project.
“A lot of independent producers are in this limbo state where if you had something that was about to go or close to going like us, and if you didn’t, you’re now in this awkward stage of scrambling to find something, get something, because you don’t know how long this will go, and it’s not like you can start casting a movie right now,” Fleischman said.
Despite hundreds of applications, it’s unclear how many movies will receive waivers (a rep for SAG-AFTRA did not respond to IndieWire’s request for comment). The guild also reserves the right to change strike rules.
Independent producer Vincent Grashaw (“What Josiah Saw”) has a project he’s prepping for October and he hustled to ensure the film was in SAG-AFTRA’s system prior to the contract’s June 30 deadline (the contract was eventually extended to July 12). He is working with a SAG-AFTRA rep on the film, but wonders whether other projects submitted after the strike can still obtain a waiver if the strike is prolonged.
“Is it business as usual as long as there are no studio connections, or is this just the projects that had applied pre-strike?” he said. “That’s why we rushed to get it in the system, to prevent any opportunity of not being able to go this fall.”
Even if a movie obtains a waiver, will every actor be willing to go to work while their peers are on strike? A SAG waiver doesn’t necessarily prevent a WGA picket line; the WGA granted a waiver to the Tony Awards, but to no independent productions.
Another producer who spoke to IndieWire said he’s planning to wait and see before submitting a waiver application because he’d hate to be in a situation where a movie completed under a waiver is sold to a streamer.
“We’ve got to see a few cases go and make sure it works for everyone,” the producer said. “Even micro-budget movies aren’t struck, so the fight here is not on the ground level, it’s with the machine of the business. It’s finding equity across the board and being paid a living wage. People work their asses off when you make a movie, and we have to figure this out.”