There’s a “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry gets hundreds of checks—each for 12 cents—as residuals for appearing on the “Super Terrific Happy Hour,” and winds up with writer’s cramp from endorsing them. The good news now is that whenever that episode—or any other “Seinfeld” episode—plays on TV, the real Jerry can collect his residuals by Direct Deposit.
In fact, a whole lot of actors are now eligible for Direct Deposit of residuals, which are payments made to performers whenever a movie or TV show in which they appeared is replayed. It’s thanks to an initiative by SAG-AFTRA, the union representing some of the biggest names in TV and movies, as well numerous other media professionals.
In May 2019, SAG-AFTRA launched its program to get members to sign up for Direct Deposit of residuals. In October 2020, the union announced it had made its one millionth payment by Direct Deposit, transferring a total of nearly $200 million.
“This is a huge success. Ensuring members get paid is at the very core of our union, and Direct Deposit gets members their money efficiently and securely, no matter where they are,” Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA president, said in a video on the union’s website. (Watch video below)
It’s a huge step forward, because as David White, SAG-AFTRA national director, explained, residuals are a complicated process. Under collective bargaining agreements, studios or their payroll companies send the money to SAG-AFTRA, which then distributes the funds among its 160,000 members. For decades this meant the union received a lot of paper checks.
“We’re talking about well over four million checks a year,” said White.
“We have boxes and boxes of checks. It’s like going into a Kafkaesque environment. The boxes are just piled up. We have to take the checks out, we have to put them through a process, and then we have to manually enter that data.”
Switching to Direct Deposit made sense, though there were hurdles.
“There are reasons why it is complicated when you have all of these companies that are also competitors and don’t want each other to see their own information,” said White.
But through a partnership with payments processing firm Exactuals, now part of City National Bank, the union was able to overcome those concerns and develop a Direct Deposit system. Studios and their payroll firms can send residuals to SAG-AFTRA by Direct Deposit, and the union is then able to Direct Deposit the money into its members’ financial institutions.
White said it’s been challenging to get studios to adopt the Exactuals system for reasons including the setup costs involved. “It is a slow process. It’s going to be a true medium-term and for some long-term adoption process,” he said.
As for SAG-AFTRA members, some were quick to sign up for Direct Deposit of residuals, while others, especially older members, “are accustomed to receiving a check. Just getting it in the bank account is a very different experience,” said White.
“For years, members would wait for checks to hit their door. It’s a great surprise. They open up, they then look at all information themselves.”
Pamela Greenwalt, SAG-AFTRA’s chief communications and marketing officer, said the union is continually getting the word out to members.
“We run frequent campaigns and social media informing the membership about the availability of Direct Deposit and urging them to sign up. We’ve also released a couple of short explainer videos and we see a bump every time, small but noticeable,” said Greenwalt. There are also house ads and stories in the union’s quarterly magazine.
White believes the holdouts will come around. For one thing, checks waste a lot of paper and have an environmental impact. And then there’s COVID-19.
“The fact that during a pandemic people are able to continue to receive their money and can now do it without touching a piece of paper is absolutely an added benefit,” said White.