Hello Bonnie,

First off I wanted to say how much I enjoy The Actors Voice; I have found it incredibly informative and also reassuring as well. I was perusing through your old articles and read the one where you spoke about the opportune time to join SAG and I thought perhaps I could pick your brain for a second as I had a couple of concerns about that very topic. First off, a little history on myself, my name is Zack, I am Chinese-American and 25 years old, and have been pursuing a career in TV and film for about a year now, and currently have commercial representation.

When I came across the article regarding the proper time to join union, I found myself going through a very similar circumstance and needed some kind of guidance. I have always found the things you were saying to be true, especially in regards to properly waiting the time until you feel are ready to join SAG, and I tried my hardest to keep my nonunion status as active as possible. I have strayed away from many union auditions to avoid this type of mistake. But with my agency, they of course sent me out to numerous of union and nonunion jobs, and I was lucky to be able to book two. I was recently Taft-Hartleyed last year, and my newest booking of a union commercial has now placed me in the area of needing to join union.

My question, or more than likely my need for guidance, is what I could have done to avoid this move which I feel I may have made a little too quickly. Should I have spoken to my agents personally and asked them to not to submit out for union roles until I was ready to make the leap?

I think I mainly feel this concern after reading your article again and being reminded of how I felt in the first place with this career and how I wanted to feel prepared before I joined SAG. I just want to make sure from here on out, for my career, I’m able to learn from these past mistakes so I will not lose sight of my long term goal.

I apologize for this overtly long email and probably convoluted and unclear questions. LOL

Thank you again for your time, and please continue to do what you do; you are truly an inspiration and wonderful help to struggling actors. 🙂


Hiya Zack, and thanks for the email. Thanks for the backstory. And thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you’ve found your way to my writing and I’m glad it’s been helpful to you.

First, I’m going to ask you to stop referring to yourself as a “struggling actor,” if you do. 😉 You used the phrase, so just in case you ever use that to describe yourself, I’m gonna ask you to stop. We HEAR ourselves, when we say things like that about ourselves. And we never wanna be liars. So we’ll live a life that makes those statements true. Try “actor starting out” or “beginning actor” or “actor at the beginning of his game.” There’s nothing but potential for growth in those statements, and they’re TRUE. That’s lovely.

Next, let me ask you why it really *matters* what you could’ve done differently to avoid joining SAG-AFTRA too soon. I know you said it’s because you want to — in the future — avoid similar missteps, and I totally get that. It’s a great plan. But in case you’re gonna use any of this to beat yourself up about having made a premature move, I’m just going to ask that you don’t. We all make moves that we’ll never repeat (thank goodness), and “going union” is a lot like losing your virginity. It’s not like you’ll ever be in that “moment before” again. You’ve been there. You went there. You’re on the other side.

That said, sure. Having conversations with your team to be sure they understand what you value and what your goals are about your career (remember, they’re working for you, and they’re earning a commission on your work — but it’s gotta be work you’re down with taking) is always a good thing, at all stages of your career. Your team should always be submitting you in alignment with your overarching goals.

And, off that, there’s the importance of your ability to say NO when you’re offered the “opportunity” to audition for union projects before you’re ready. This actually came up in our class recently. If you have an agent who’s not hearing you; who submits you on union projects while you *know* you’re not ready to join and you’d really rather keep hustling at the top of the nonunion tier to build relationships, credits, and footage; and who submits you anyway, there has to come a time when you get okay with declining (or you have to have a sterner conversation with your rep about how you’re being sent out). The same thing goes for union actors whose reps love to send ’em out for “juicy nonunion gigs,” encouraging them to go FiCore or to work off the card. It’s YOUR career, so you have to make sure your team aligns with what your goals are, rather than feeling steamrolled into a zone you’re not ready to hit. It should be a collaborative experience, your rep relationship.

Most importantly, let’s look at how you can build upon where you are now. If you’re still not feeling READY to compete on union projects at the next tier, please keep in mind that there are student films, low-budget indies, webseries, and all sorts of self-produced content you can create to build up your reel, your experience, and your relationships as a union actor. You should also take advantage of all the union perks at your disposal, from SAG Foundation events to the Liferaft series, and any of the Casting Access Project offerings out there. Learn from everyone you can. Build on where you are right now. And trust you’re on the right path (because otherwise it wouldn’t be your path, right?).

Keep me posted on how it goes for you!

Wanna be sure your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!

Woo HOO!

Bonnie G

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001770.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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  1. Avatar Lux April 1, 2015 at 8:37 pm


    I have a similar problem, except I DID join the union too early. All I heard was to get your sag vouchers, and I had an opportunity to do so. I was still learning about the business and thought I caught a lucky break. I joined the union with only four non-union credits (2 short films and 2 webisodes) under my belt. And now I’m stuck! I have only gotten one SAG audition in the last few months and didn’t book it. I had a meeting with a legit acting agent who was very interested in signing me until he heard I was SAG and had so few credits. He didn’t sign me after that. I’ve been taking acting classes, but little else has happened. I’m considering Fi-Core, but am hoping not to go down that road.

    If you have any advice I would greatly appreciate it. I have no idea how to move forward.

  2. Avatar Bon April 9, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Ooh, definitely not a fan of FiCore here, Lux. I know it’s tempting, but as a performer who hopes someday to be a regularly-working UNION actor, the choice to go FiCore really weakens the organization that you not only worked hard to become a member of but that you hope to protect you at the highest tiers you reach in your creative career. So, for me, I’d consider that a last resort.

    There’s a lot to do before that! 🙂 Create your own content, collaborate with others who are working on contracts that are union (yay) but don’t necessarily pay the talent (short film agreement, student film agreement, new media agreement — any that offer deferred pay as an option) so that you’re able to build up your credits and reel and relationships while staying within the union guidelines. Eventually, you’ll move up a tier to paid work within these union contracts and the contracts above them. And after that, on to the next tier and so on. Hooray!

    Don’t stress about the agent who said NO after learning you were in the union and had “so few credits.” Agents are often looking for what I call “stoppers” — these are reasons to say no that you can’t argue your way out of. Just know you got a NO and don’t worry about how to fix that no. It was a no. If he had seen dollar signs while looking at you, he would’ve signed you NO MATTER WHAT. Agents are entirely motivated by commission potential (that’s not a fault; it’s how their fees are structured and they’re working for free ’til someone they sign books paid work) and if he saw money when he looked at you, he would’ve signed you. Period.

    Keep doing the research to find the the HELL YES agent who will align with exactly where you are and where you’re headed. There are a lot of ’em out there. 🙂 You can do it!

  3. Avatar Kellie August 12, 2020 at 9:23 am

    Hi. I am a performer and have recently been scouted by a talent agency. This is very exciting. I will have representation for a variety of performance types. With on screen work, I am prompted to sign a contract that makes me a SAG AFTRA member. I am not sure if this is a bad thing and would love your input on it. I want to be able to get all kinds of performance work and it seems this is necessary with the agency to do so.

    1. TBG_Erin TBG_Erin August 12, 2020 at 11:11 am

      Hiya Kellie!

      I’m Erin, one of Bonnie’s assistants. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      I’m sure Bonnie will have some thoughts to add, but first I’ll encourage you to ask yourself, “Is this a Hell-Yes rep?” (If you’re unfamiliar with that question, there’s some more reading, here: https://bonniegillespie.com/ho-hum-vs-hell-yes/)

      Additionally, you may want to check out this article that talks about — among other things — when it’s a good idea to join the union: https://bonniegillespie.com/premature-moves/

      Congratulations on being scouted! If signing with this agent isn’t the right move for you at this time, definitely celebrate this for the WIN that it is and trust that your Hell-Yes rep is out there!


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