Saturday, February 22, 2014

Understanding SAG residuals (part 1) -- SAG Final Cast List, Time and Salary Units

Residuals are income due to SAG performers (or other union members such as the DGA or WGA) as your film makes money in its various ancillary markets. I will now attempt to explain the residual process over a series of blogs.

I'll breakdown from what you pay residuals on in another blog. We'll start now with how SAG calculates what percentage of the total residual payment each actor gets. We'll do this because it's the first thing you have to deal with because it's calculated on the SAG Final Cast List that you turn in at the end of production. Your payroll company may fill this out. A recent company told me they'd charge an additional $100 to fill it out, so to save a few bucks I took the opportunity to learn how it works and do it myself.

In calculating who gets what we work with what's called "SALARY UNITS" and "TIME UNITS." These units measure the distribution of residuals based on the amount of money they made and time they spent on your project.

They are calculated differently for performers on a weekly or daily contract. SAG sets a different rate for weekly or daily performer, with a weekly performer rate being slightly less than the total of five days worked on a daily contract. Unless a performer is only working a few consecutive days they should always be scheduled as weekly performer. Unless, you're shooting with the SAG Ultra Low Budget contract, in which case there is no option for weekly performers.

Weekly Contracts (See the chart below for examples).

Weekly Salary Units: For each week worked a performer working for the weekly scale rate receives one Salary Unit. Weeks are calculated by five days, so if they worked six days, it's one week plus one day. Each day is equal to .2 units, so a person on a weekly contract who works six days will receive 1.2 salary units, and so on.

If, however, the person makes any more than scale, due to a higher rate, or even over time, then the weekly scale is divided into their total salary to determine units.

To find out what their total Salary Units would be you'd divide the performer's gross salary received by SAG's designated scale for whatever particular contract you are working with.

For instance, if someone in a low budget modified project (which has a $933.00 scale for weekly performers) received a flat guarantee of $5,000 the equation would be:

5,000 ÷ 933 = 5.36

Or, in other words: salary units = total gross ÷  weekly scale

So the performer would receive 5.35 Salary Units. However, to prevent uneven payment among performers, Salary Units max out at ten (10). So, in the example below (see the chart), the top performer received a flat guarantee of $20,000 for twelve days worked. Applying the formula results in this:

20,000 ÷ 933 = 21.44 

But, since Salary Units max at ten, this performer receives 10 Salary Units.

Weekly Time Units: Each week worked is equal to one Time Unit. Because each day is worth .2 units, the performer working six days would receive 1.2 Time units. This will stay the same whether they're working scale or being paid a million dollars a day. For instance, in the chart below, the person on the first line is working for a high flat rate, but their time units still reflect the amount of days they actually worked.

Daily Contracts

Daily Time Units: Daily time units were laid out above: .2 units for each day. So an actor who works four days receives .8 units and an actor who works fifteen days receives 3 units.

Daily Salary Units: Daily Salary Units are, like their weekly counterparts, a bit more complicated. You take the performer's TOTAL GROSS SALARY divide that by scale, then multiply that by .2. The equation looks like this:

salary unit=total gross ÷ daily scale x .2

Consequently, a player who works one day at scale without overtime will always have a total salary unit of .2, because (using the SAG Low Budget Modified contract) $268 (total gross) ÷ $268 (scale) = 1 x .2 = .2.

If a player is making more than scale, then this formula will remain the same and work fine. As in: $1000 ÷ $268 = 3.73 x .2 = .75.

Once you've calculated the Time and Salary Units you simply add them up to get the Total Units. You then add up the Total Units for the Total Cast Units and then calculate what total percentage each performer has of the total, which will show you how to divvy up those residuals when it's time to pay them out.

For an example look at this copy of a Final Cast List from a Low Budget Modified film that I produced. The Weekly players are above the middle black line, and the daily players are below the middle black line.

An screenshot from an actual Final Cast List for a Low Budget Modified project (scale = $268)

We'll get to how to calculate what needs to be paid from what income in a later post. So, stay tuned for that and happy shooting.

In the meantime: 

I've worked with several payroll companies in Hollywood and elsewhere, but not many of them will also handle Residuals. Entertainment Partners are one of the largest that does, and my experience with them has been great. They have my recommendation.


  1. It is a nice information. Money is everything. People have to be paid what they desire for their services. Being timely and accurate at the salary is the key to the satisfaction and 100% throughput from the workers.

    guelph payroll providers.

  2. What would you do if payment is deferred?

    1. Hi Madison, it's been almost a year since you asked this question, and I am just returning to my blog after a long hiatus. I am sure you've figured out an answer to your question by now, but I'd like to post an answer for other readers.

      SAG doesn't really allow deferred payments, so it's not really an issue. The only SAG level that allows for deferred payments is on their short and student contracts, which allows SAG actors to work for free on films that only play at festivals, free awards consideration, or on public access stations (including I surmise) the internet. If a film is screened in another type of venue, however, like a theatrical screening, or on television, then all actors must be paid $125, and all the above rules and forms apply. To go over the SAG short film contract you can find it here:

  3. This is an amazing post! Thank you for sharing!

    Just one quick question. What constitutes as "WORK?" Are we talking days in front of the camera, or all days?

    For example. If we have a weekly performer who is on hold for 3 days and works 2 days, do we count it as 2 days (.4) or do we count it as a week (1)?

    Same question for rehearsal, fittings, test days, travel? If you know, where would I find this information in the SAG Agreement?


    1. All these count as work days, yes. An actor is an employee, not an independent contractor.

    2. Thanks for the answer, Eugenia. Obviously, Amelia, I need to check my messages more often. A weekly contract is a working contract. If they are employed for a week, then you only count weeks. Not days.

    3. Thank you so much for the answer Duane! I really appreciate it.

      Do you know which days constitute as work? Rehearsal? Fittings? Travel? Test Days? Do we include these days in the calculations?

      Thanks again for this AMAZING post! It really helped to clear a lot up!


  4. Be generous and courteous. Your talent, and their management, will generally give you a few days off the clock for a fitting around their free schedule and for rehearsals. If you're going to rehearse for a full day and expect people to be there, you should pay and count that as a day worked. An evening read-through is generally willingly done off the clock. Travel days are generally counted as work days. If you offer a day for certain things like fitting and rehearsals, people will be happy. If you have just an hour here or there, they should be cool just to meet if it fits their schedule.

  5. You are a life saver! This is so much more informative than the SAG website. Thank you!