Politics, even at the local union level, can be brutal. And that’s certainly the case in the ongoing election at the SAG-AFTRA local in Atlanta, which is embroiled in one of the bitterest local elections in decades.
One side has accused the other of being “carpetbaggers” who are plotting secretly to undermine Georgia’s booming film and TV industry in order to drive the work back home to Los Angeles, while the other claims that incumbent SAG-AFTRA Atlanta President Ric Reitz has so many conflicts of interest he shouldn’t even have been allowed to seek re-election.
Amidst the accusations and name-calling, a podcast from 2014, sent anonymously to Deadline, has surfaced in which Reitz can be heard criticizing his fellow actors and advising producers how to use a “magic formula” to hire stars on the cheap – surprising advice coming from the president of a major SAG-AFTRA local covering all of Georgia and South Carolina.
Reitz, seeking a third two-year term at the top of the Union Strong Atlanta (USA) slate, is not only a busy actor but a Georgia film tax credits broker, connecting buyers with sellers of tax credits and helping companies obtain them. His business partner and running mate, actor and attorney Wilbur Fitzgerald, is vying for a seat on the local’s board.
Scott Hunter, a veteran stuntman and actor who’s running on the Voice of Atlanta slate, is seeking to unseat Reitz. “Our incumbent president, Ric Reitz, owns a company that sells tax credits to productions,” he said on a recent YouTube video (watch it below). “This is a disqualifying conflict of interest. How can he guarantee that he’s working in the interest of the membership when he’s financially tied to the very management that our guild was set up to protect us from? I have no problem with Mr. Reitz making money selling those tax credits. In fact, it’s a great thing and a needed thing. However, it should excuse him from any position of leadership within the guild.”
The Atlanta election, like those taking place all around the country, is being conducted against the backdrop of a ratification vote for a new nationwide film and TV contract, which has made the election even more heated. Reitz strongly supports ratification of the contract, but many backers of Hunter’s Voice of Atlanta slate are opposed, arguing that it gives away long established “portal to portal” travel pay, in which performers on location are paid from the time they are picked up at their hotels each morning until the time they are returned.
One of Reitz’s running mates, local board candidate Debra Nelson, has accused Hunter’s supporters of secretly trying to undermine film production in Georgia. “The folks driving the ‘vote no’ campaign are backing the folks running against us for the Atlanta local board mainly because they would love to drive the work back to LA,” she wrote in a Facebook posting.
“It’s laughable,” Hunter said on his video. “We have faced name-calling and unfounded lies by some of the members of our opposition. We’ve been accused of wanting to drive work away from our very homes and business. These attacks are blatantly false and lack any factual evidence.”
The deeply divided Atlanta local mirrors the schism in SAG-AFTRA nationally, with the union’s president, Gabrielle Carteris, supporting ratification of the contract and her two main rivals, Esai Morales and Peter Antico, opposing it. And Carteris supports Reitz and his slate. “The USA team has built something very special in Georgia, something that benefits members in Atlanta and across our union. Their proven leadership deserves your vote,” she said in her endorsement.
Three years ago, during an hourlong podcast with producer Jason Sirotin, Reitz, who then was serving his first term as the local’s president, revealed that there’s a “magic formula” that producers can use to low-ball actors to get them to work well below their usual pay.
“Here’s the magic formula,” said Reitz, who did not return numerous calls for comment. “You want to know what the magic formula at the end of today is for stars?”
“Please, yes,” the host replied.
“For them to qualify annually for insurance,” Reitz said. “Individually, they’re trying to make $15,000 a year. That’s all it takes for an actor to qualify for insurance, $15,000 a year. To qualify for your family, $30,000 a year. And there are people, if you want a star, and you know that you’re near the end of their year and they haven’t done a film this year, offer them 30,000 bucks. They’ll do it. Even if their rate is 100,000 or 50,000, you go, ‘I need you here for a week for 30,000 bucks.’ I will do that. Because they have to make insurance.”
On the same podcast, he also told Sirotin that he’s occasionally told producers that it’s OK to ignore the union’s rules on meal penalties – fines producers have to pay actors when meal breaks, taken every six hours, are late.
“Projecting cost for you and meal penalties, there are people who are going to try to screw you to the wall,” he said. “I hate those people. I don’t even want them in the union. You know what? I will tell you very frankly, and I don’t care if the union is listening: If I’m into a situation and I know we’re about to wrap the shot and if we break it down, we know the energy is gone and matching and everything starts to go away and we happen to float 10, 15 minutes, don’t even put it down. You know, lunch started at 2, it didn’t start at 2:15, as far as I’m concerned, as long as everybody is fine with that, we’re good.”
Sirotin told Reitz how the lead actress on one of his projects tried to force him into a meal penalty. “I had 15 minutes and then my lead actress, who I know is trying to force me into a meal penalty, because she’d been doing that. She was like, ‘I have to go to the bathroom. I need makeup. I need that.’”
“Yeah,” Reitz replied. “Well, there are actors like that. Those are people I don’t like. To be honest with you, even in the union, I don’t like those people. They’re people who are going to try to nickel-and-dime you to death because they haven’t worked this year.”
On another podcast from 2014, he told Sirotin that as the co-founder of a film tax credit brokerage firm, he often advises low-budget producers to “goose” their budgets to qualify for Georgia tax incentives.
The Georgia film office, a division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, prefers producers to apply for the tax credits within 90 days of principal photography. The website for Reitz’ company – Georgia Entertainment Credits – notes that “production companies must spend a minimum of $500,000 in qualified Georgia expenses for single or aggregated production in either a calendar or fiscal year,” and that “once you are within the 90-day window and have contacted our state film office, you must fill out a short application form and submit it with a budget top sheet and script, if available.”
But on the podcast, Reitz said: “Just because your budget is 550 [thousand dollars] doesn’t mean you would qualify all 550,000 or 500, by the way. I always recommend to people, goose it a little bit in a budget. You’re in a budget. You’re doing a low-budget indie. I would always say try to target $600,000 – between 500 and 600 because 10% of that budget may, or may not, come back to you in the form of tax credits. You don’t want to be slightly below the threshold.”
A past president of the Georgia Production Partnership, Reitz is also a former member of the Governor’s Film, Video & Music Commission and helped develop the 2005, 2008 and 2012 Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Acts, which established and expanded the state’s film incentives program.
As such, he says, he was often asked to advise producers on how best to navigate the complex system of obtaining, buying and selling tax credits. Tired of not being paid for his advice, he decided to form his own company – Georgia Entertainment Credits – which led to questions about conflicts of interest, and his forced resignation from various state committees.
“Then one day,” he said on the podcast, “I had an epiphany and I went, ‘What the hell am I doing? Why don’t I start a consulting company, if nothing else?’ We started as consultants. People, it turned out, never wanted to pay the consulting fee. I had the backend load, the consulting fee, and become a broker so I’d get some money, but we don’t take anything in advance.”
Then, he said, “At some of the levels, I was asked to terminate out of some of the major committees on the state because I suddenly had a conflict of interest. I went, ‘Everyone in the room has a conflict of interest. That’s why we call it government. Come on, guys. Let’s get real.’”
On their company’s website, Reitz and Fitzgerald bill themselves as “two of the principal architects” of the Georgia’s film incentives program. And many of their supporters feel that without their political savvy, the state’s incentives program – and thousands of jobs – could be in jeopardy.
On its website, their slate says that one of its top priorities is to protect Georgia’s tax incentives. “We must maintain our incentive program to continue working and growing. With a new governor being seated next year, it’s imperative that we use our existing experience and deep political relationships to keep our incentives in place long into the future. This is no time for beginners.”
The slate’s motto is: “The work is here because we did the work. Now we need your vote to keep doing the work.”
On his campaign video, however, Hunter says that Reitz’ slate “is suffering from huge delusions of grandeur. The claims that they are solely responsible for the market here in Atlanta are completely false and they’re dishonoring to the many people who put in years of work to build this industry.”