Should I Join SAG-AFTRA?

So, you landed a gig in a movie or television show and you got the letter from SAG-AFTRA stating you are eligible. Congratulations, it’s a milestone for sure. Now you are asking yourself, “Should I join SAG-AFTRA?”  To join, or not to join?  That is the question.

The choice to join is very personal and should not be taken lightly as it will change the dynamic of your acting career. Joining is expensive (the fee in Los Angeles is $3,000), you will no longer be able to work on non-union projects (nope, don’t even think about violating Global Rule One). So, you’re going to shell out some cash to join and you may actually take an income hit because you can’t earn money by acting in non-union projects. So, why join? Again, it’s personal, but here’s why I joined the union.

Should I Join SAG-AFTRAWhy I Joined?

I believe in acting, there comes a point where you have to  commit  to acting as a career and I think joining the union sends the message that you are a professional and not a hobbyist. Honestly, I wasn’t booking much before I joined, but when the SAG-AFTRA status appeared on my resume I started booking on a pretty regular basis. Becoming union sent the message that I am professional, committed, and ready to compete. Sure, I have turned down a lot of non-union gigs and there are things I’d love to audition for that I just cannot, but I’m also being presented with bigger opportunities. When I lived in Atlanta, becoming union completely stopped my auditions for commercial projects (few commercials in Georgia are union), but that’s not much of a concern now that I’m in Los Angeles. While my commercial auditions declined, I started auditioning more for theatrical projects, so the tradeoff was acceptable (desirable) for me. I’m not sure if I would have booked some of the gigs I have if I were non-union. Again, it sent the message that I’m serious about my acting career.

Of course, being in SAG-AFTRA is more than just a chance for you to declare, ‘I AM A PROFESSIONAL!”  Being union also offers tons of benefits which included contracts and collective bargaining (to maintain wages and workplace conditions), pension and retirement, free workshops  and classes, casting workshops, members only discounts, and more.  When you are SAG-AFTRA, you have the collective power of the union behind you, so you are far less likely to be screwed.

Should I Join SAG-AFTRA?

So, if you are just starting out and don’t have a lot of credits or footage for your reel, you probably should wait. Yes, you got a nice break by booking that gig that made you union eligible, but that doesn’t mean the time is right. The main source of auditions for beginning actors is non-union stuff, so eliminating those opportunities limits your ability to work on your craft and build your resume and reel. If you rely on acting as your sole source of income and most of that income is derived from non-union projects, then you should also wait to join unless you are prepared to supplement your income with a “real job” until the balance shifts. I have a great career in addition to acting, so I don’t have to depend on that next gig to pay rent, so losing income from indie projects was not an issue for me.

I’m Union But Should I Go Financial Core?

Some actors will join the union and become “financial core” (commonly known as “Fi-core”) which basically transforms them into a dues paying non-member and allowing them to work on non-union projects and union projects alike. It sounds like a good situation, but keep in mind that going Fi-core means that are quitting SAG-AFTRA. If you go Fi-core you are, in fact, non-union and give up your right to represent yourself as a union actor as well as giving up your voting rights and other union benefits and protections.  If you are not ready to join the union and work on union projects exclusively, then joining is something you should hold off on until you are ready.  You will also lose the respect of many union performers and may be viewed as a scabs. My opinion is that if an agent or manager ever encourages you to go Fi-core, you should run like hell!

SAG-AFTRA Must Pay

Also, one caveat to consider before accepting a gig on a union project, in some cases if you work a union gig and become SAG-AFTRA eligible, 30 days later you automatically become “SAG-AFTRA Must-Pay.” That means that before you work a second union job, you’ll have to join. That rule applies to California, New York and a few other states, but not to “right to work states” such as Georgia and Louisiana — when in doubt, call SAG-AFTRA.

Putting “SAG-AFTRA Eligible” on a Resume

Finally, while receiving that coveted SAG-AFTRA eligible letter is awesome, it does not belong on your resume. You are either union or non-union and listing SAG-AFTRA eligible does nothing to enhance your credibility as you are still non-union until you actually join. Being eligible is great as it means you have worked on a project that was covered by a union contract, but joining SAG-AFTRA is a big commitment, so you shouldn’t represent yourself as union until you actually make that commitment.

I’m Proud to be a Union Actor

Congratulations if you are in the position to ask yourself, “Should I join SAG-AFTRA?”  Like I said at the beginning of this article, deciding to join is a very personal decision and not one to take lightly. You should also not join until you are completely ready. For me, joining was not an easy decision, but it was on of the best decisions I have made in my career — the timing was right so, at the advice of my agent, I joined and I haven’t had a single regret. I am happy to call myself a professional actor and that SAG-AFTRA card is something I am extremely proud of.

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