Can some one explain to me how the screen actors guild works and the benefits of being a part of it?

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  • 6 years ago
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    The Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) is a union for professional screen (TV/movie) actors. Last year it merged with another union, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), so now it's SAG-AFTRA. It works like most other unions like those for teachers or steel workers.

    The union has various agreements with production companies (of all sizes from major motion picture companies to independent films to even student films). The production company (or producer) agrees to certain things like a minimum wage, work conditions, residuals, etc. In exchange, the union allows it's members to work on the production. It's called "collective bargaining". Any company/producer that has an agreement with the union is a SAG "signatory". So a job is either "union" (meaning the contract is under the SAG-AFTRA requirements) or it's "non-union" (it's not under SAG-AFTRA requirements). So non-union jobs don't have a minimum pay (often they're for no pay), they may not have guaranteed work conditions or residuals or anything like that.

    There are so many actors that want to work - that it would be easy for production companies to take advantage of actors. Forming a union helps ensure that the rights of the actor are protected and that they're paid a fair wage. In addition to job listings for union work, the union also provides things like health insurance, pensions, classes on the business end of acting and other things for it's members. SAG-AFTRA is for PROFESSIONAL actors, not those just starting out. You need to have a certain type of experience in order to be eligible to join SAG-AFTRA. There are 3 ways to be eligible to join SAG-AFTRA:

    * The first way (and probably the best way) is to convince a SAG signatory to cast you, a non-union actor, in a union production as a principal actor. It has to be a principal role, you have to work a minimum of one day and you have to be paid the SAG-AFTRA wage. But it can be any SAG-AFTRA production - movie, TV show, student/independent film, new media production, commercial, etc. So non-union actors can submit and audition for union jobs - but it can be hard to convince them to give you that opportunity. Remember the purpose of the union (and the agreements) is to get jobs for union actors, so preference is often given to union actors.

    * The second way to be eligible is if you are a member of a sister union (like Actors Equity Association - the union of theater actors) and have been a member of that union for at least 1 year and within that past year worked as a principal actor you are eligible to join SAG-AFTRA. So experienced stage actors are often eligible for SAG-AFTRA

    * The third way is to get 3 union vouchers by being a non-union actor working on a union production (usually as an extra/background actor), but being paid the union wage and getting a union voucher. As I said, SAG-AFTRA has agreements with different production companies. One of these agreements is that a minimum number of extras on a production HAVE to be members of the union. Once that quota is filled, the company can cast non-union extras (who are paid less and have less benefits than the union actors). Now if the production company is not able to meet that minimum number of union extras for whatever reason (late cancellation, a union extra didn't show up, they preferred the look of a non-union extra) then they can fill that union spot with a non-union actor. The non-union actor is then paid the union wage and given a voucher. So if you're an extra on a show and they're short union extras, all you have to do is convince the assistant director to give you the union voucher. You need to get 3 vouchers to be eligible to join SAG-AFTRA.

    Once you're eligible you have to pay an initiation fee (currently about $3,000) and the first semiannual dues (currently about $198) and you're a member. Then you'll get a SAG-AFTRA card and be able to use the union resources.

    Once you're a member, you are not allowed to work on non-union productions. Since many beginning actors get most of their work on non-union productions, joining too soon can be limiting for some actors.

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