Part two of our series on joining SAG-AFTRA, our experts talk about what it takes to actually join the union and share more of their experience.
Part I of this article is available here.
Editors note: The union is SAG-AFTRA which stands for Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, but our contributors often refer to the union by just SAG.
A PRO INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN DOLAN
RG: I want to let the readers know that on a union project, the producers have signed a contract with SAG stating that they will only hire union actors. So if you have to get a speaking part in a union movie to be able to join, but producers can only hire people in the union, how do you get around that huge Catch-22?
SD: There is a law out there called the Taft-Hartley Act. (Editor’s note: The Taft-Hartley Act is not specific to the film industry. To read about the actual act, visit here: Taft-Hartley Labor Act. As far as the film business is concerned, the Taft-Hartley Act allows actors access to joining SAG. A Taft-Hartley is filled out by the casting director or producer for any non-union actor working on a union film for the first time. The Taft-Hartley lists all of the actor’s personal info [address, social security number, DOB, etc…] and the conditions of the SAG contract. That Taft-Hartley is filed with SAG and that actor now has the option of joining SAG.) The idea is that they have looked at all the available union talent and can’t find exactly what they need for that given role, so they are able to ‘Taft-Hartley’ that person in order to do a union role. That doesn’t mean they’re making any commitments to that actor for anything in the future. You can be Taft-Hartleyed on a commercial—I think my Taft-Hartley was for a national Ford commercial—but it can also be a film, a TV show, or industrial…
RG: We need to make it clear that you can only become union eligible by getting a speaking role in a UNION project…
SD: Yes, through a SAG signatory–somebody who is already working through our contract (SAG’s). It can’t just be any non-union local commercial or film—it has to be through a SAG signatory. Once they have that (Taft-Hartley), they can go to our website—again, www.sagaftra.org–and look at the way you go about joining. If we talk about cost, in LA and New York, the cost is $2,277 for your initiation fee and then the $58 for the semi-annual dues fee. So your first initial fee to join in LA or New York is $2,335. By the way, the initial semi-annual dues are $58, and that is always the base amount, but the dues you pay are a pro-rated amount of how much you have made. There are benefits of getting your (SAG) card in a regional branch, and there are only 20 of us (you have to have enough film work and enough SAG actors to justify having a branch). Some of the regions have no idea how lucky they are to have a branch. It brings not just status but it brings in more SAG dollars as well, and it is quite a bit less expensive to join in the regional market. For example, in Utah, it is almost half of the costs of LA or New York—it’s $1,025. I’m not sure what the cost is in other branches. (Editor’s Note: Rates have changed since this article was written. To get the most accurate rates, please visit the SAG site at sagaftra.org.)
RG: Does that mean that you can join the union for $1,025 in Utah, then go work in LA?
SD: You can join in Utah, then go to LA and audition your heart out but if you do get cast, then you need to pay the balance of the initiation fee—that is, the difference between the fee in LA and the fee where you joined. You will need to make up the difference at the rate which it was when you joined.
RG: In a right-to-work-state, because of state laws being structured the way they are, people actually NEVER have to join SAG, which makes joining a bit more of an ethical issue than a mandatory one…
SD: Yes. For me, the concept of people using the benefits of the Screen Actors Guild is simply not right if they are not members.
CON INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR JEFF OLSON
RG: Tell us about some of your favorite movie parts.
JO: Well, most recently it was a movie called The Yankles, and they had some financial problems, so they got shut down but then finally got the money to finish it. It’s a movie about a Jewish yeshiva that has a baseball team, and I play the commissioner of the league, and my character is kind of anti-Semitic. You play baseball on the weekends and we all know that in the Jewish religion there are Fridays and Saturdays and Passover when they shouldn’t play. I play a Southern, kind of anti-Semitic bigot. It’s one of my better parts.
RG: What other role have you liked?
JO: I did a local movie here (in Utah) that wasn’t SAG called The Singles Second Ward. I liked it because of the character. I play a multi-millionaire non-member (of the LDS church) with a 25-year-old girlfriend. It was a fun part…
RG: And wishful thinking?
JO: Yes, yes, absolutely. And I had everything – I had the tan – basically, I had everything but the money (laughs). It was realistic to a certain point. I had the look and I could act, but there have been a lot of movies that I’ve loved.
RG: Do you think that SAG brings anything to the regional actor?
JO: Not that I can think of. I’ve had all the benefits without joining. If you make enough money, you get health insurance and you build a pension. If I had the money, I probably would be a member of SAG. I’d maintain my membership.
RG: Now you may be going to LA, and if you go to LA, you will revive your membership. Is this correct?
JO: Absolutely. I’ll do it when I get a project.
RG: Let’s make it clear to people, not that familiar with SAG why you would revive your membership upon moving to LA.
Jo: Well, you have to if you want to work in a SAG film because it’s a union state, and you’re not supposed to do non-union. What they do in LA is (if you’re not a full member of SAG) if you have an agent, they send you out – especially if you’re SAG eligible – that’s what they ask you: “Are you SAG or SAG eligible?” (Editor’s note: “SAG eligible” refers to having done one union film and having been “Taft-Hartleyed” – the ball is now in your court to join or not to join SAG). I am certainly SAG eligible. Many people agree with me that you wouldn’t want to be a SAG member unless you’re in LA or New York. So, my plan is when I get a SAG project, I will pay what I owe to get reinstated.
RG: You said that you don’t feel that you’ve ever lost a job because you weren’t SAG, but have you ever felt pressure from regional SAG members to join?
JO: No. Maybe years ago, but not now. I’ve had actors ask me why I don’t just pay my dues, and I tell them, “I’ll tell you what – you give me the money and I will.” I don’t have the money. You know as well as I do that it’s the stars and name actors making all the money. Working all the time in this town does not make you a lot of money.
RG: How about Fi-Core (Financial Core)?
JO: I’ve never done that. That’s where you still pay dues to keep your membership active but have withdrawn your rights to vote or run for office. However, then you can do non-union projects. I wouldn’t want to run for office anyway!
The views and opinions in this article are solely those of the interviewee.
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Last modified: October 24, 2018