Acting : SAG or to NOT SAG? by Erick Freitas

Erick Freitas

SAG or to NOT SAG?

So, long story short, I started acting this year and got some well paying non-union gigs, callbacks, auditions, etc. So I'm fairly new at this, but not new to production (15+ years in all kinds of positions) but I realized due to some appearances in a low budget movie I was in a while ago, I'm actually STILL SAG ELIGIBLE.

I was wondering should I pay the 3k and join SAG? Does that help with getting more work? Do you think living in NYC there's a solid chance of making that investment back?

One working actor I'm close with told me to wait until you find a production to pay that 3k for you and just keep building my resume until then.

But I wanted to ask Stage32.

Would joining SAG increase my probability of getting work?

(Note: I already get very good health insurance through my other positions in film, so that wouldn't be part of it.)

Nick Assunto - Stage32 Script Services

When I was acting my agent would tell me to wait to join the union for as long as possible because you might close yourself off to non-union work. But this was in LA. I did live in NYC for a time but I'm not entirely sure what the work is like there for actors.

Erick Freitas

Interesting. I appreciate that, Nick. From what I understand LA and NYC are both strong markets for actors. I'd give LA the slight edge, but NYC is a close second.

Karen E Ross

I can tell you that after standing in line with other background actors, both Union and Non-Union that the advantage of Union is not the frequency of gigs, but rather the quality of gigs - Union extras are given screentime preference (they are more likely to have face time, maybe even a named part), and the longer you are on-screen and on set, the more likely you will have a line or even a re-occurring background role. The first background gig I did was Superstore and there were a few regular SAG background actors. If there is a single line of dialogue available, you are more likely to get that part than non-union. You also get better perks - food, breaks, credits, DAY RATES.

I imagine the advice was given to you so you could have more acting samples before you restrict your options. Just know that the restriction of electing for union status will also come with better roles, even if less frequent.

Erick Freitas

Also very helpful. Yes, I've done non-union background work years ago, just to make ends meet. That's a good point that SAG provided QUALITY over quantity. Interesting point.

John Ellis

Corollary question: as a non-actor (writer-indie producer), I've heard from actors that being a SAG member actually limits them from getting gigs. Once they've become SAG, getting non-union gigs become problematic concerning their standing in the union.

Is this accurate?

If it is, I'd go with Nick Assunto - Stage32 Script Services and his agent's advice.

Sorry, Erick Freitas, if I hijacked your thread. :)

Tasha Lewis

Create a marketing plan with both scenarios. Weigh the pros and cons. Do research.

Nick Assunto - Stage32 Script Services

You don’t have to be union to be paid well as an extra. I was upgraded on my first gig ever to featured extra, shot for three days. Though that may have been a rare instance. Many studio features pay union wages to extras, though which is I think 200/12. Extra work isn’t the same machine as going to auditions all the time. For example, there are thousands of non-union commercials that shoot a year that may only pay $500-$1500 but you can book them a lot easier because of the frequency, especially if the casting agencies start to remember and like you. On the other hand, union commercials you can still book as non-union, but there are much fewer though they can pay $15,000. Just not everyone has the big budgets so it’s really about waiting to go union when you book the thing that requires it from what I’ve heard many a time. On the flipside I had a friend who went union as quickly as possible and now she’s locked in stand-in work (which is a great gig) but harder to routinely get and you have to hope to become someone’s regular.

Tasha Lewis

Thank you for the update on industry norms.

Debbie Croysdale

I did not realise artists had to pay 3K to join SAG. Its a similar closed shop cronyism to Equity where rules are you can’t join union unless you already have job in the industry. In every other job industry outside acting, they pay staff to operate whatever skill necessary and employees join union AFTER working there. Art is a birthright yet it is policed and regimented by organisations seeking to gain. I am NOT anti union or business just angry at the bizarre trappings that shoot many budding genius actors in the foot.

Erick Freitas

Yeah, Nick Assunto - Stage32 Script Services that's how it was explained to me as well. Just do non-union, until you HAVE to join SAG, then go FiCore if need be. That'll be my plan, for now, I guess.

Erick Freitas

And hijack away John Ellis ! :-)

Zach Tirone

SAG increases your chance of getting union work, but that depends on your market/location. If you become SAG, you won't be able to do non-union work, which can also be profitable. Plus, there's dues. As a SAG-AFTRA member, I'd say wait until you have to join the union. Right now you're flexible for both sets of work.

Erick Freitas

Thanks, Zach Tirone , now as a non-union person, I can still apply for union rolls, that does not change anything? Correct? Meaning, that won't make union jobs not want to use me? I guess I'm a little confused as to what you can and can't do as nonunion/union members...

Carl Crosby

If you are a non-union member you have more flexibility to find work. With the time that you have in, and there is a union job that you want, join then. but remember to get the job first.

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