When is the right time to join SAG-AFTRA?
This is a golden question for all actors!
Before I moved to LA I was given all sorts of mixed opinions on when I should join the union.
The nuanced titles were also a bit confusing from being Non-Union vs SAG-Eligible vs SAG-AFTRA member.
This blog will explore each category and explain the pros and cons so you can feel confident about your union status.
In other words you have no affiliation or association with SAG-AFTRA. You can seamlessly be hired for any projects that are not associated with SAG-AFTRA and technically union projects as well but not as easily.
PRO: There are a lot more non-union opportunities, projects casting at any given time.
PRO: Most commercial reps are very pro working with non-union actors as there are a ton of opportunities and they receive a large commission check of 20% as opposed to 10% for union commercials.
There is no official vetting or protection in place for actors on most non-union projects such as overtime pay, insurance, and residuals to name a few.
CON: While you might be able to still audition for episodic productions and union commercials the chances of you getting a callback/booking are slimmer due to the fast turnaround most projects have and the extra hoops production must jump through in order to approve you for the job.
CON: Some agents and managers may pressure actors to stay non-union “as long as possible” since their commission on non-union work is 20%. This makes it important to ask yourself if the advice you’re being given is putting your career goals first versus a bigger commission for your reps. If this is resonating with you, and you’re more focused on booking episodic work it might be time to assess if your reps have the interest and incentive to help you reach your goal.
Industry Take One
When speaking to a decision maker for a very well known network procedural I asked them how often they “Taft-Harley” actors. Their answer? “Very rarely because I have to prove you’re the only person outside of all the union actors to do this union job, which can be cumbersome.” I’m not saying that no one Taft-Harleys actors ever but with the super fast landscape of TV it does make sense to help move the decision making process easier by need less paperwork for production.
This gets a little complicated because in order for an episodic production to hire you they have to fill out paperwork, including a form known as Taft-Hartley. In theory it sounds very easy but often times production, especially in TV has a very quick turnaround and if they need you on set tomorrow or next week they might not have time to fill out the paperwork completed and approved by SAG.
If you get hired for a SAG-AFTRA job as a non-union talent you don’t have to join unless you’ve worked 3 union jobs or been hired to be on set for over 30 days as of August 2019.
SAG-AFTRA Eligible is a sweet spot according to many (especially reps) because if you want, you can still do non-union work and at the same time be hired seamlessly (sans the initial paperwork) for union jobs.
PRO: If you don’t have a ton of credits and footage many reps prefer that you be SAG-E so that you can get some more experience on set via non union productions but still go out episodically with a fair chance of booking.
THE CON: Some offices won’t bring in actors who are SAG-AFTRA eligible
Industry Take Two
I recently auditioned for a major cable drama. I’d sent the casting office a postcard that mentioned I’d just joined SAG. At the audition, I had a chance to chat with the associate. I said I loved the show and I knew my reps had been submitting me for their show so I was happy to finally be seen. The associate mentioned to me that she had wanted to bring me in previously but my union status was “SAG-E” and they only saw actors that are SAG. This was very enlightening to me- that something as nuanced as being SAG-E vs SAG can affect your chances of getting into certain offices.
You can be hired for any union production without casting/production having to worry about paperwork
PRO: You gain access to a ton of amazing opportunities via SAG-AFTRA such as free industry workshops, networking events to name a fewPRO: You can still AUDITION for non-union productions, and you can encourage that production to complete the union paperwork if they want to hire you.
Some reps might be discouraged to work with actors that are SAG and don’t have a lot of footage.
CON: You can’t do non-union commercials, film and episodic work
Food for thought
To join SAG-AFTRA is a rite of passage for any actor and there is the common argument that if you join SAG-AFTRA you are limited to union work. As someone who hasn’t been acting for very long I knew I needed more footage- so did it make sense to join SAG-AFTRA after just a year into being in LA? It did. I received great advice from one of my pro-union reps (I promise they exist!) who pointed out that non-union productions often don’t cover insurance, overtime or have any guidelines to follow. With the plethora of SAG projects today from New Media to even Student Films there has never been a shortage of SAG productions.
P.S. Looking to find representation that will support you whether you’re union or non-union? Check out our upcoming FREE class, GET SIGNED: 3 Insider Strategies To Get An Agent Who Fights For You!