I remember when I arrived in LA and an agent told me “If you’ve been here for more than a year and you don’t have your SAG card you’re not doing your job.” Ouch. And yet… yeah. It’s not that hard, you just have to know what to do, and then do it.
There are several routes which I’ll outline below
The route that works best for you will depend on the resources you already have in place. That said, choose one and make it happen.
Before you can audition for any network TV (for the most part) you will need to at least be eligible. That is because the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union will fine a television production for hiring a non union actor if the union feels that the production could just as well have hired someone already in the union.
So, unless you are a Vietnamese little person with trapeze skills who can speak Spanish with a German accent (an extreme example but you get my point ) or someone equally as rare, you are unlikely to be called in to audition for or Taft-Hartleyed by Prime Time Network Television. Taft-Hartley is the name of the law by which an actor is drafted into SAG-AFTRA. This is due to budget constraints. A production such as this does not have it in their budget to pay such fines.
However, a commercial production may. If a commercial is going to hire 1 or 2 actors for a 1 million dollar shoot that lasts 3 days and they can get all the ad executives and all the producers and the director to agree on one actor, who cares if they spend $2,000 on a Taft-Hartley? As compared to say, a 1 hr. drama that hires 20-25 co-stars and 6-8 guest stars PER EPISODE and has a budget of, say $35,000 per episode. Make sense?
For this reason many actors are Taft-Hartleyed on commercials or even films, which likewise have fewer budget constraints than TV. Occasionally on a network or cable TV show if the actor does have a special skill or an unusual attribute which makes them hard to find, (or if they just REALLY REALLY want a certain actor) a production will risk the fine and Taft-Hartley that actor.
Once you are ELIGIBLE for the union you may work several jobs without having to pay the full dues and join.
It’s wise to ride that fence for a while so that you can build credits and make money on both union and non-union jobs until the union tells you its time, you’re then called a “must join,” which is self-explanatory, no? You then must FOLLOW THE STEPS to join on the next union job you book.
You can find out more about all of this online at www.sagaftra.org or at the Los Angeles office:
5757 Wilshire Blvd., 7th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90036-3600
Switchboard: (323) 954-1600
Toll free: (855) SAG-AFTRA / (855) 724-2387
HERE ARE THE TOP 4 WAYS AN ACTOR CAN BECOME ELIGIBLE:
1. Book a union commercial, film, or (rarely) a part in a TV show and get Taft-Hartleyed. If you’re not sure if a production is union or not you can ask or check with SAG. Usually it will be in the breakdown.
2. Work 3 days as a background actor on a union production. You will be expected to provide proof of employment (such as a pay stub), so keep good records!
3. “Sister in” through an affiliated performers’ union (ACTRA, AEA, AGMA or AGVA). You must be a paid-up member in good standing for a period of one year and must have worked and been paid at least once as a principal performer in that union’s jurisdiction.
4. Produce and perform in your own New Media production and Taft-Hartley yourself. You must have existing union members in your production. You can find out more information at the SAG Website on how to become a signatory.
HINT: I strongly advocate for route #4 because it puts YOU in control and you end up with a piece of material for your reel, a new credit, and the satisfaction of knowing YOU made it happen for YOURSELF! For more on this read my FOLLOW UP POST ON EXACTLY HOW TO DO THAT!