How to Become a Union Actor

I am a nonunion actor who aspires to pursue my goal of becoming a television actor. How does a nonunion actor become a union actor? Is it true that casting directors will not even see an actor if they are not in the union? Or do not have agency representation?

I know the simple answer to my question is through joining SAG and I am aware of the parameters that go along with that, but how does this happen? Is there anything I can do to help this along? I have been down the background work road, and I have found that background work only begets more background work, and nothing else.

I am finding it very hard to find an answer to these questions. I thank you for all of your words of wisdom. You have no idea how much it helps to read your articles. They help shed light on an industry that almost always feels dark and way too confusing. I thank you for your help and your consideration.

My first recommendation would be for you to join up with a group like The Actors’ Network or some other networking organization. Regular, ongoing meetings with other actors in your situation (or who have been in your situation and who have found ways to make the system work for them) can really boost your confidence in how to reach your goals. The Actors’ Network has a free orientation meeting for actors considering joining the organization. Check it out.

Now, let’s look at your questions, specifically. How to become a union actor? Definitely one road in is through background work. Another is Taft-Hartley. Actors who are members of a sister union to SAG for at least one year who work a principal role in that sister union also qualify to join SAG. And the biggie is booking a union commercial. Each of these roads in is difficult (depending on who you ask, of course) and each requires a lot of work. But if your goal is to be a working TV actor, you need to build a foundation for that by taking on-camera classes, knowing the ins and outs of TV acting, and cultivate relationships with those who are in a position to help you get seen for TV work. And every one of those things is harder to do than you might imagine.

A casting director friend of mine says, “The two easiest things to do in this town are: get an agent and join SAG. It only gets harder from there.” So, yes, it’s difficult to get your union eligibility, but it’s also one of the easiest things to do (simply because there are legitimate steps you can take in order to become SAG-eligible). Choosing to follow one course of action (background work, commercial bookings, Taft-Hartley, or sister union work) is your best bet, as you will find yourself frustrated and exhausted if you attempt all four of those ways “in” concurrently.

As for your question about whether people will look at nonunion actors, I have to say that it always baffles me when I hear actors say they’ve been told that. Casting directors, producers, directors, anyone who is on the lookout for talent for specific projects is going to look for the talent first. The union membership, the fact that an actor has no agency representation, even the actor’s ability to work legally in this country all comes in BELOW the importance of the actor’s match to the role. And, if an agent sees an actor he or she really believes in, there will be a logo on that actor’s resumé soon. Many actors find that they can work more before they join SAG than they do after. Read my column on Premature Moves for more information on that issue.

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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/000333.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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