How Guild Rates Work

Posted on: Jul 18, 2023

production setPhoto Credit: Creative Flow // Shutterstock

By Josh Deitch

The Hollywood guilds are some of the most well-known labor unions in the world and they represent the writers, directors and actors that make up the film and television industry. You’ve probably heard of the WGA, DGA and SAG-AFTRA, but how do these guilds work and what do they offer their members? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the major entertainment industry guilds, their role in the business and how their members’ compensation and benefits are determined. 


Guilds and Their Role in the Industry

Much like other professional unions, the Hollywood guilds were formed largely to offer increased negotiating power and improved working conditions for their members. With substantial memberships and powerful industry players in their ranks, the guilds have become a significant force in shaping the entertainment landscape. 

The WGA, DGA and SAG-AFTRA have accomplished this in large part through their collective bargaining agreements with the major film and TV producers, known as the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The contracts between these organizations cover most major film and scripted television projects. They specify who is eligible for employment, how and when they are to be paid and what conditions they work under. The terms vary widely depending on factors such as the type of project, the run time of the film or series, the budget and how it will be distributed. Determining the contract that a particular project is covered by is the first step in understanding the rate paid to each guild member. 


Understanding Guild Rates

The minimum rates contained in the various contracts are also known as “scale rates.” These are the minimum amounts to be paid to a cast or crew member for a given role, under a given contract. The rates can be hourly, daily, weekly or assignment based. Different project types and distribution channels have different rates, so be sure to review the agreement carefully. In general, projects with higher budgets and longer run times tend to enjoy higher rates. 

In addition to the scale rate, the agreements also stipulate what kinds of compensation may be owed on top of basic wages. This may include meal penalties for missing scheduled mealtimes, residual payments for re-broadcasting or re-distributing a project, or per diem payments. Overtime rates and 6th and 7th day payments may be owed in instances where working hours go beyond the agreed upon standard work week. To ensure safe working conditions, there are also many health and safety stipulations in the guild agreements. One of the major safety considerations is requiring adequate rest between workdays. Since many productions often work from early in the morning to late at night, it’s important to make sure the cast and crew have enough time to rest before their call time the following day. Generally, the guilds require 10–12 hour rest periods or “turnaround” times.

The agreements also cover the health and pension plan contributions that employers make on behalf of the guild members. Since the agreements are often complex and contain significant changes from prior iterations, it’s important to review them carefully and ensure you are referencing the correct project type and role.


Navigating Guild Negotiations

Given the complexities of the agreements, many guild members opt to hire representation in the form of a manager or agent. A reputable representative can ensure the guild member has all the relevant information ahead of time and even help negotiate the terms of employment. The scale rates mentioned above are minimums, but higher pay and additional perks can always be negotiated. An agent or manager can be extremely helpful in negotiating on your behalf, but there are strategies that you can employ on your own as well. 

One of the most important ways to increase your rate is to highlight previous credits under your belt. Demonstrating that you’ve had previous relevant experience is one of the most sure-fire ways to secure rates above scale. If your prior work experience involved specific challenges due to the filming location, time or budget constraints or unique technical demands, be sure to explain how that makes you even more prepared for the current opportunity. You can also provide references who can vouch for your talents or mention any additional training or certifications you may have. 


Maximizing Earning Potential

Not only do the guilds provide their members safe working conditions and fair rates for their skilled labor, they also provide excellent opportunities to continue developing professional skills. The guilds offer various workshops and classes to members to enhance their abilities and learn from other members. The networking opportunities that the guilds offer can help members progress in their career and socially as well. Because the guilds cover major Hollywood productions, in addition to their increasing involvement in new media and evolving markets, the educational and networking opportunities they provide can help members maximize their earning potential in multiple facets. 

By ensuring fair minimum rates, safe working conditions, and opportunities for additional education and training, it’s no wonder that Hollywood guilds have been a mainstay of the entertainment business for decades. The scale rates and other terms of the guild agreements are updated yearly, so be sure to check the contracts often to stay up to date. Each guild’s website can also be a great resource for frequently asked questions, quick-view rate sheets and contact information to assist with any other questions you may have. Now that you know a little bit more about how the guilds offer great benefits to their members, go explore the opportunities that may be open to you!

Josh Deitch started his career in post-production and distribution. He currently works as an assistant production accountant on scripted series for various streaming platforms.

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