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Indie Filmmaker Michael Alden On SAG-AFTRA Interim Agreements: “Sometimes The Producer is The Inadvertent Victim” – Guest Column

Editor’s note: As SAG-AFTRA continues to encourage its members to both respect and support the guild’s Interim Agreements, Deadline has learned that the number of producers currently requesting permission to begin, complete and/or promote their films during the strike hovers around 1,400. Here, independent producer Michael Alden (Death Metal, Come From Away, Just Cause) reflects on the process and questions why he’s still waiting for a thumbs up from SAG-AFTRA to spread the word about his latest film, a supernatural thriller starring Bruce Davison, Selena Anduze and Keith David.

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As an independent feature film producer whose production company is SAG signatory, I produced and completed a feature film entitled The Last Call (aka From the Shadows) under the union’s Ultra Low Budget Contract.

My film is slated to be released on September 19. I was told by SAG that, with the strike, I would need an interim agreement for SAG members to promote the film. My company ticks all the boxes to be approved so I applied six weeks ago. And I wait… And I wait… And I wait.

I am an avid supporter of the Screen Actors Guild and what that union is striking for. I admire and respect the fierce advocacy SAG provides for its members. My question to SAG: is that respect reciprocal?

I am not a member of the union or an affiliate of the organizations that they are striking against. I have little power other than to quietly support the movement by canceling my AMPTP-affiliated cable and streaming subscriptions in solidarity. Which I have done.

As I get closer to the planned and paid for red-carpet premiere, which is a requirement of my Transactional Video-on-Demand agreement, I see myself, my private equity investors, my company and possibly my future ability to produce in the independent feature world plummeting toward becoming collateral damage.

I see an opportunity for my young supporting cast to boast about their work and promote themselves toward new jobs dwindling, along with the possibility of a diminished gross revenue stream that all my actors contractually participate in.

As I have no access to information or counsel from SAG, I ponder as to how to explain to my investors why the cast of The West Wing can openly promote their historic show and repost same on social media, thus supporting the AMPTP-affiliated platform that airs their show, when my actors cannot sign a production still at a film convention without fear of losing membership.

I am left clueless as to why dozens upon dozens of interim agreements have been granted, many of which I have been told were processed in a much shorter amount of time, with some applied for long after ours was submitted.

My film was completed before the strike and is being distributed by a non-AMPTP-affiliated distributor. If the answers to the questions on the interim agreement application qualifies my production for the waiver, why can’t I simply sign the application confirming that under “penalty of my never being SAG signatory again” I state the information on the application is accurate and true and move forward?

As an example, the IRS does not evaluate my tax return before I submit it. I sign in a place that states that the facts included in my return are accurate and true under penalty of law. Less calls. Less paperwork. Swifter forward action.

As I stated, I am not a member of SAG or an affiliate of the organizations they are striking against. I am an independent filmmaker.

I am also a professional businessperson. I have a fiduciary responsibility to my investors to do everything I can to recoup their investment. What are my options? Do I hold the premiere and if my actors don’t show up, cite the talent for breach? Sue them for damages?

My actors signed and were compensated for a SAG-sanctioned agreement that includes publicity. Their union is saying that without the interim agreement they cannot show up to promote their film. So, what do I do? As a businessperson the answer is straightforward. As a creative, the choice is much more complicated.

In SAG’s continuing evaluation of the interim agreements, I am in hopes they will streamline the process for films that have been completed and are not in conflict with the strike as well as, bring on associates who understand the world of independent filmmakers.

Sometimes, the producer is not the bad guy. Sometimes the producer is the inadvertent victim who, like a member of SAG, is in need of an advocate and mutual respect.

I simply want to open my film, promote it as best I can and celebrate those that made it possible during the worst pandemic in a century.

Waiting…

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