To SAG or Not to SAG?
According to their website, SAG-AFTRA offers deals and discounts on “entertainment, car rentals, insurance, medical visits, prescriptions, real estate, legal services and more
On first glance, anyone informed about the film industry might say “well obviously, SAG”! However, there is a time and a place for everything, and this is also true of actors getting their SAG card. Being a SAG member is obviously a goal for actors for many reasons: bearing the mark of a professional, guarantee of adequate working conditions and pay, etc. Nonetheless, for those getting started in acting for film, the SAG card can sometimes get in the way. Here at CallBoard we’ve broken down the question to hopefully give you some guidelines regarding when it is the right time for you.
SAG-AFTRA’s website states the following: “Beginning actors often work in the non-union background and principal roles in the early stages of their careers, as they get experience and build up a resume. SAG-AFTRA’s interaction with performers begins after they have achieved professional status and are ready to join the Union.” Jumping right into union membership at the very beginning of your professional career might not be the answer. It’s jumping in at the correct time that will be, and this is the case for most everyone. Keep that in mind as we explore the points that will be following.
To begin with, let’s take a look at the benefits of having a SAG card. Here we go:
- Contracts/Collective Bargaining- Through these tools, SAG-AFTRA ensures that you are paid appropriately and that your working conditions are safe. BIG DEAL FRIENDS, BIG DEAL.
- Training- The SAG-AFTRA Conservatory hosts workshops locally that give you the opportunity to continue your training as an actor, learning from successful professionals
- Connections- Resources like iActor (SAG-AFTRA’s online casting database) and the casting workshops held by SAG-AFTRA for union members are great bits of help.
- Life Stuff- SAG-AFTRA gives or points actors to help when it comes to supplemental work, pension, and health, housing, actors taxes, etc.
- Discounts- According to their website, SAG-AFTRA offers deals and discounts on “entertainment, car rentals, insurance, medical visits, prescriptions, real estate, legal services and more.” You can also get discounted tickets through the SAG-AFTRA Film Society.
Yeah. Obviously, this is sounding pretty good. Now for the flip side of things, that will help you think about when joining is right for you:
- Money- Membership application and annual membership fees can be pricey. The one-time initiation fee for SAG is $3,000. Semi-annual dues are paid at the time of joining as well. There is an option to take out a loan on this, but obviously, you end up paying more that way. If you’re just barely scraping by financially, holding out till you have a little more saved might be the right move.
- Project Limitation- When you join SAG, you agree to refrain from working on any projects that are non-SAG, or that haven’t at least made a minimum agreement with SAG. In addition, you also agree to refrain from working on projects that are non-union but covered in a different union’s jurisdiction. For example, if you were SAG and were offered non-union work at a theatre, you would be unable to accept it because it falls under the jurisdiction of AEA. This applies to all of the Four A performers’ unions (SAG-AFTRA, Equity, AGVA, AGMA).
- Experience- What is on your resume and in your skill set is important. One of the most significant things when it comes to getting work as an actor is your ability to act (shocking, I know). There is a TON of opportunities to gain experience in student, independent, and low budget films. As such, if you don’t have a lot of quality experience yet, joining SAG tomorrow may not be the best option for you.
- Competition- Union jobs are going to be competitive. That’s not to say that non-union jobs won’t be, but typically those in the union are more experienced. If you’re not yet, you may want to wait until you are.
All things considered, there is no magic answer as to when it’s the right time for you to grab ahold of that magical little card. Rather, you’ll want to assess the experience on your resume, your financial situation, and your goals for the future. If you feel you’ve plateaued in your endeavors as a non-union actor, then it might be time to step things up and become a member. If you still feel you have room to grow, keep working hard with the goal of obtaining a SAG card in mind. Just remember that the quality of your work is what matters most, as well as your demeanor and professionalism, and if those things are in line getting your SAG card will happen when it needs to.
Thoughts? Questions? Poorly created dad jokes? Advice from SAG members? Please comment below!