Purpose of Screen Actors Guild
The main goal of SAG is to provide competitive wages and safe, excellent working conditions for our members. It's vital to note that SAG does not function as some other labor unions in the sense that we do not have a hiring hall and do not directly provide employment for our members. Our members, like all principal and background performers, must take their own steps towards developing their professional skills, and then getting agents, auditions, and roles. Through a variety of programs and activities and industry outreach, we do everything possible to create an environment in which our members will be hired and look after their welfare once they are hired. The best thing we can do for you at the beginning of your career is to point you towards other sources of information.
Teens, Children, and Babies
There are two very important sources of information about young people in the acting profession. One is our Child Actor Hotline at (323) 549-6030. The other is our "Young Performers Handbook" which is available on our website at http://youngperformers.sag.org/. It isn’t easy to succeed in the entertainment business and, unfortunately, if you aren't careful, there are scam artists who will take your money and promise you acting jobs -- but deliver nothing. Use the same common sense you would use in making other major purchases: i.e., network, check with the Better Business Bureau, don't pre-pay full amounts, compare prices.
Getting Started in Hollywood, New York, or Any City
We are unable to help non-members with housing, employment, or financial assistance. We are unable to help non-members with health and safety issues, except on SAG-covered projects. We are not able to help anyone with connections or recommendations to acting schools, teachers, agents, managers, or casting directors.
Many advisors recommend that you have enough savings to live for two years without any income if you try to break into the acting business. Also, because it can be so difficult until you are really established, it is very important to have what is often called a "day job", which you do to keep your bills paid while you audition for jobs. There are many kinds of "day jobs", from telemarketing and food service to the more career-oriented ones like teaching and production services. We recommend the latter, because even the most talented performers do everything right and still don't end up with acting jobs for a season or more. Success in this business is an unpredictable combination of talent, training, residence, "look", energy, attitude, and the completely uncontrollable factor — luck! In 1998, a little more than 1/4 of our membership did not receive any earnings under SAG contracts. You must not take rejection personally!
The Professional Actor
To most people in the entertainment world, "professional" actor means "Union" actor. The basic minimum standards in wages and working conditions that Union actors today take for granted, are the results of hard-won battles fought by earlier generations of performers, bringing the profession from the first minimum wage of the 1930's to today's digital age. Because of the struggles and commitment of these pioneers, as well as the ongoing vigilance of today's performers' unions, professional, union actors can expect fair and equitable treatment in auditions, wages, working conditions and benefits.
Although the particulars of wages and working conditions vary, producers in all arenas who seek to hire professional, union talent, must agree to the terms spelled out in the contracts negotiated by these unions on behalf of their members. Producers who sign a contract or letter of agreement with the union in their jurisdiction are called signatories. Although membership in a union cannot guarantee an actor work, through careful monitoring of signatory productions, the entertainment unions can guarantee fair pay, treatment and protections for their members.
Most people who attempt to pursue a performing career full-time are usually not only members of SAG, but also members of other unions, depending on the medium and venue. Film and television performers are represented by the Screen Actors Guild or SAG and/or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists or AFTRA. Theatre performers, as well as stage managers, are represented by Actors Equity Association or AEA. Live music and variety performers find their representation in the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), and the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). All these unions, under the umbrella of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (sometimes referred to as the Four A's), are all affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Earning a Living as an Actor
Performers generally need several potential income streams to earn enough money to sustain performing as a full-time career. For example, one year they might have SAG earnings of $7,000, AFTRA earnings of $12,000, Equity earnings of $6,000 and AGMA/AGVA earnings of $8,000. The following year they might have SAG earnings of $25,000 (because they appeared in a national commercial), AFTRA earnings of $9,000, Equity earnings of $5,000 and no AGMA/AGVA earnings at all.
Joining the Screen Actors Guild
Generally, new members earn entrance into the Screen Actors Guild by meeting one of the following eligibility requirements: 1) cast and hired to work in a principal or speaking role for a SAG signatory producer, 2) a minimum of one-years' membership and principal work in an affiliated performers' union, or 3) cast and hired to work in an extra role for a SAG signatory producer at full SAG rates and conditions for a minimum of three work days. In addition, at the time of joining, a performer must pay an initiation fee plus the first half of his/her annual dues for that year.
That First Union Job
According to the federal Taft-Hartley law which applies to California, New York, and most other states, a non-SAG actor may be cast and permitted to work for a SAG signatory, under a union contract, for thirty days. After that time he/she needs to join the appropriate union in order to accept any additional union work. It is at this point that many would-be professional actors find themselves facing a hard decision. Why? Because when a new member signs an application to join the Screen Actors Guild, he/she is agreeing from that point forward to abide by all the rules and regulations of the Screen Actors Guild, as spelled out in the Constitution and By-Lays, which establish the members' rights as a professional, union actor, but also specify the member's responsibilities and obligations. Members who are found in violation of these rules are subject to serious fines and discipline by a panel of union peers. And the first and foremost of all the SAG rules is Rule One.
RULE ONE is the foundation of SAG's strength in protecting and representing its members. RULE ONE states that: "No SAG member shall work as an actor or make an agreement to work as an actor for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the Guild which is in full force and effect." This means that SAG members will not accept an acting role in any studio, independent, low-budget, pilot, experimental , non-profit, interactive, educational, student, or ANY production, unless that producer has signed a Contract or Letter of Agreement with the Screen Actors Guild. In addition, by joining the Screen Actors Guild, members also agree to abide by Rule 9, which states that members of one of the Four A performers' unions (SAG, AFTRA, Equity, AGVA, AGMA) will not accept non-union work in another union's jurisdiction.
In other words, once you become a SAG member, you may not accept ANY non-Union work.
In addition, as a Union actor, you are expected to behave on the job in a professional manner. You are expected to arrive on time and without fail to the appointed rehearsal or job site, to be prepared to work, to perform to the best of your ability, to understand the terminology, techniques and procedures of your medium, to behave professionally and intelligently at all times on the set, and to possess the knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill the requirements of each role. In short, while SAG membership secures from signatory producers the wages and working conditions that professional actors have the right to expect, signatory producers, in turn, rightfully expect the SAG actors they hire TO BE PROFESSIONALS.
As Mari Lyn Henry & Lynne Rogers summarize in their extremely informative book, How To Be A Working Actor*:
"We cannot overemphasize that being a member of Equity, AFTRA, or SAG will not automatically bring you a job. Your only guarantee is that as union member you will enjoy the same benefits and protections as all other union members when you work.
A discerning casting person will be able to tell from your resume whether you have merely purcharsed that union card or have earned it. If you are really new to The Business, have not had a great deal of experience in any area, and have few contacts among professional people, you should question whether it is essential or even advisable for you to attempt to join any of the unions at this time. As a union member you will be prohibited from working with nonprofessionals, just when amateur groups, community theaters, or school groups may be the very places you should be looking to for the experience you need."
If, on the other hand, you have already gained significant acting training and/or theatre or film experience, possess an understanding of the art and craft of acting, have met the requirements for entrance into the Screen Actors Guild, and are committed to the life of a professional actor , then you are precisely that person who should consider joining the ranks of the 90,000 performers across the country who have accepted the privileges and responsibilities of being a professional, Screen Actors Guild actor. As Tom Hanks declared jubilantly, upon receipt in 1995 of the first annual Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Performance for his work in Forrest Gump:
"This statuette is holding the masks of comedy and tragedy ... Both of them will make you lose sleep, question your motives, wonder why you're there, wonder why you're doing this in the first place. But if you're crazy enough to want to do this --- then you can get one of these: a Screen Actors Guild card."
If You Are Not a US Citizen or Resident Alien (holding a "green card")
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), as directed by Congress, sets the visa requirements for alien performers who want to work in the United States. The INS allows performers who are not US citizens or permanent residents to audition on any visa, but they must then get a very specific visa to actually work on a film, television, or electronic media project like a video game, whether it is SAG signatory or not, in the United States. Production companies, and sometimes talent agents and managers, apply for these visas on behalf of the performers. Due to the INS criteria and cost of transportation, living expenses, and legal fees, these visas are typically granted only to major-role principal players. You do not have to be a member of Screen Actors Guild to qualify for these visas. However, the criteria for the most common of these particular visas (the O-1), require that the performer has been recognized for his/her accomplishment of outstanding achievement (as closely defined by the INS) in a media similar to the one for which the visa is sought. Visas are issued by project, not by time period. Visas cannot be applied for until an employment offer is extended to the performer. O-1 visas are not available to performers who seem promising, but are not yet fully "proven". For further information about visas, you will need to seek out and make contact with an immigration attorney. We are not able to provide references.
Except in very limited circumstances, acting work performed outside the United States will not qualify a person for membership in Screen Actors Guild. To be eligible based on foreign work, the performer would have to have been hired in the United States and transported to the foreign location by the SAG signatory production. Membership in the performers unions in England and Australia does not qualify a person for membership in Screen Actors Guild.
Getting an Agent Agents tend to be are more receptive when someone they know introduces you to them. Network with your friends who are in the business and with casting personnel you meet. Ask about agents; ask for referrals to agents. Here’s a marketing tip from one of our franchised agents about your picture: "It's best if the picture looks like you on a good day, rather than a bad day, but be sure the picture represents you."
When the time comes to sign with an agent, we recommend signing with an agent who is franchised by the Screen Actors Guild. The SAG Franchised Talent Agents list is located on the SAG website. The direct URL is http://www.sag.com/department.html. Another way to get to the Agent List is from the Main Menu on the website. In the Main Menu, click "Guild Member Area". From there, click "Agency Department", then "SAG Franchised Talent Agents List". At that point you can start using the "Hollywood" list, or select lists for other locations. We are not able to recommend one franchised agent over another. However, there are some important guidelines you should follow when deciding whether to sign with a particular agent:
Legitimate talent agencies do not charge a fee payable in advance for registering you, for resumes, for public relations services, for screen tests, for photographs, for acting lessons, or for many other services used to separate you from your money. If you are signed as a client by a legitimate talent agency, you will pay such agency nothing until you work and then 10 percent of your earnings as a performer -- but nothing in advance. Legitimate talent agencies normally do not advertise for clients in newspaper classified columns nor do they solicit through the mail. If a purported talent agent seeks to send you to a particular photographer for pictures, hold your wallet tight and run for the nearest exit. Chances are he's a phony and he makes his money by splitting the photographer's fee. If you need photographs, choose your own photographer. Better still, try another agent.
Incidentally, we do not have a formal relationship with "personal" or "business" managers. That doesn't mean they are bad or unnecessary; it just means that the Guild does not have an institutional relationship with them. There are well established firms in the business of personal management and business management, but such firms in the main handle established artists and they do not advertise for newcomers, nor promise employment. The telephone number for the Conference of Personal Managers is 310-275-2456.
Learning More about the Acting Profession
Exploring our website, is a good way to learn more about this business. Take a look at "Publication Archives" in "Hot Off the Press" in the "Guild Member Area", which you can get to from the "Main Menu". Check out "Links" from the Main Menu, http://www.sag.com/saglinks.html. Another helpful area on our website is "Resources", which is found in the "Guild Member Area." At the bottom of the resources page, there is a short list of books. You will find other helpful books at libraries and bookstores. For information about qualifying for membership in the Guild, and taking the steps to join, look at http://www.sag.com/newmembers.html.