Should I Join SAG? (For What It's Worth)
I have a couple of friends and a young man that I'm mentoring who are SAG eligible and wondering if they should fork over the moola to join the union. What a wonderful position to ponder! I don't claim to know everything, but for all you crazy kids out there who want a little perspective on this particular dilemma here are my two cents of advice.
First off, sometimes SAG-Eligible is also referred to as a "Taft-Hartley" and here is what that means in simple legal terms regarding your employment as a performer:
Any performer who works as a principal performer for a minimum of one day on a project (film, commercial, TV show, etc.) where the producer has signed a producer's agreement with SAG, and the performer has been paid at the appropriate SAG daily, three-day, or weekly rate is then considered "SAG-Eligible." A SAG-Eligible performer may continue performing in any number of both SAG or non-SAG productions for a period of 30 days, during which that SAG-Eligible performer is classified as a "Taft-Hartley." After the 30-day Taft-Hartley period has expired, the performer may not work on any further SAG productions until the performer joins the Guild by: paying the initiation fee, paying the first half-year minimum membership dues, and agreeing to abide by the Guild's rules and bylaws. The SAG-Eligible performer does not lose their eligibility to join the Guild should they choose not to join the Guild immediately at the expiration of their Taft-Hartley period. However if not part of a union it is difficult to get a speaking role that would comprise the Taft-Hartley law because the producer can be fined for allowing a non union actor to deliver a line.
Now, there are a lot of reasons not to join immediately outside of the hefty fee. Say you're a newcomer, or new to the city, and you don't have much on your resume and/or you don't have a reel. You may want to wait until you absolutely have to join SAG so that you can work on as many non-union projects as possible in order to build your marketing materials. Once you join SAG, you can't work non-union (or if you do, you'd better make darn sure you don't get caught) and the competition will be much more fierce. Don't join until you're ready to compete or until you absolutely have to! Once you're eligible, you're eligible and you can pay up immediately if you need to for a job and be good to go.
One SAG-Eligible actor I know was concerned that he wouldn't be able to do student films if he joined. Never fear, my dear, you can always do student films if you fancy them. Students get a special SAG waiver so that they can practice working with professionals (if they can rope them in). So if you have to join, but you need tape, get on over to your local film school and plaster your picture on their bulletin boards.
But don't agents want you to be in the union? Yes, they do. It's dumb. There are plenty of awesome non-union actors and joining the union doesn't make you a good actor, but it's one of those easy ways for agents to throw your submission inquiry to the side. In some ways, joining the union is a professional rite of passage. Here's what I would do: make two resumes. On one resume--the resume you use to submit to agents and for union jobs--you put SAG under your name. There's no harm in it. It's true. You just haven't paid your dues yet. But dude, you'd better have the cash to join if you score an agent and they get you a union job, cuz that will make your representation want to pull out their hair and yours if it costs them a job. On the other resume, you leave off union affiliation and use it for non-union work.
I've heard some SAG-Eligible actors say that they are waiting to join because of the pending SAG strike. They want to be able to keep working. Technically, you can continue to work during a strike if you aren't SAG, but I wouldn't if you value your reputation among your peers. It undermines the entire process if you're willing to walk on the values and codes you aspire to for the sake of your own goodness. We all have to eat, but I'd think about it long and hard if push comes to shove.
Finally, don't shoot yourself in the foot by waiting too long. You will know when you are ready to join. A friend of mine is eligible and has had lots of success with non-union commercials. At this point, the actor is associated with so many products for such drippy, awful pay that it's ridiculous--not to mention all the product conflicts this actor has. If this actor took that commercial success, joined the union and booked just one job that ran, it would out-pay 10 non-union jobs at a $200, $400 or $500 product "buy-out"--and some of those for ten years.
And don't stress if you aren't in the union yet. Just don't. You will join. You will become eligible if you keep truckin' forward. It will absolutely happen.
And since this is such a dorky post, I've posted one of my new dorky commercial shots. So, yeah, it's okay to say I look dorky. But please, don't comment on my nose. ;)