Equity/PACT Cinema Films Agreement: More Money, More Benefits, and Recognition of Capture Performers

My last blog post was about taxes; this one also has to do with money, but in a happier way. Equity, our union – which of course, we all belong to! – has been extremely busy on our behalf, making sure we all get the money we’ve earned for our hard work. Recently, payments have started coming in for audiobook artists eligible for PLR, and Equity has clawed back money owing to artists who had worked on titles for the now-bankrupt Hallmark TV. However, the headline news is the newly renegotiated Equity/PACT Cinema Films Agreement, covering all UK feature films.

After almost a year and half of tough negotiations, Equity has finally been able to agree a new Cinema Films Agreement, the first one since 2010, which came into force on January 4, 2016. Every feature film that has begun principle photography on or after that date will be using it, which is terrific news for all of us. The new agreement is a significant improvement on the previous one, including a 12% fee increase by 2018, but that’s not the only benefit. Film companies are now subject to a £10 per day Late Payment Penalty – so if you aren’t paid on time, they will be fined for every day they delay, up to £1000. There is even a provision for Late Payment of Royalties, where interest will accrue if payment is overdue. In addition, the escrow cap has increased, which means that companies are required to set aside £5000 per artist per week to protect against bankruptcy. There are also new provisions around rest periods, and an obligation that artists have access to shelter and facilities while filming, which, for anyone who has filmed in the UK’s notoriously turbulent weather, is no small thing. There is even a stipulation that the producer should disclose a shooting schedule to the artist and their agent ahead of an engagement. This might seem obvious, but hasn’t always happened before now, leaving artists in the dark as to when they were needed until the very last minute.

Some of the ground-breaking changes include the fact that, for the first time ever (and in the face of odd reluctance from the film industry) there are now definitions and provisions around performance and motion capture work. This is huge. As we all know by now, the games industry is worth more than the film industry worldwide, and it is becoming increasingly common for films and games to link up, as well as drawn on each other’s technology. This is the first time an agreement has defined this area of work; not even the American unions have it included in their agreements, so UK Equity is leading the way.

In a nutshell, performance capture is when your performance, including your face, facial expressions and likeness, is captured and used to portray a specific character; motion capture is when it is your body, not including your face, that is captured so that is not particularly identifiable as you, and is to be used in a way that is more generic and quite possibly meant for several different projects. So, for example, if you perform a short dance routine or combat sequence, that might be motion capture; if you do the same as a particular character and they capture your facial expressions and performance as well, that is performance capture. Obviously, a “Capture Performer” as it is now known, will receive more rights and remuneration than someone who is simply rendering motion capture, so it is important to understand the distinction, and what you may or may not be entitled to.

Another brand new provision is the introduction of a “New Use” and “New Right” Royalties which will take into account the possibility of new technologies changing the means by which a film is exploited. Many performers of yesteryear were caught out when films they had starred in were transferred to DVD, as there was no provision in their original agreements for royalty payments for non-traditional platforms. Given the way media is changing at such a rapid pace, this new clause will now take into account the “unknowable” and the “as-yet-to-be-invented,” ensuring that artists will be guaranteed a 3%  royalty for such uses until Equity and the producer can negotiate new terms.

The good news isn’t just about the blockbuster, big budget feature films – the rates for low budget, very low budget (under £1 million,) and student films are going up as well. Keep in mind, too, that the agreements don’t just cover actors, but also session singers, dancers, choreographers, stunt performers, voiceover artists... and of course, now, capture performers.

These are just some of the points from the new agreements that are of interest. All the film agreements are readily available on the Equity website www.equity.org.uk for you to have a closer look at.  It is definitely worth having a peruse to be familiar with the terms and conditions that you think might apply to you and the work you do – you might be in for some pleasant surprises.