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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taft-Hartley Yourself

So now you know that I think it's a good idea to join SAG right away once you become eligible, but HOW DO YOU BECOME ELIGIBLE?

If you're reading this, you're probably aware of the infamous "catch-22" of union membership. To join SAG you need to book union work, but you need to book union work in order to join SAG.

More specifically, there are three ways to join SAG.

From the SAG website:

A performer becomes eligible for Screen Actors Guild membership under one of the following two conditions: (1) proof of SAG employment or (2) employment under an affiliated performers’ union.

  1. Proof of Employment
    • Principal Performer Employment
      Performers may join SAG upon proof of employment. Employment must be in a principal or speaking role in a SAG film, videotape, television program or commercial. Proof of such employment may be in the form of a signed contract, or original pay stubs. The document proving employment must provide the following information:
      • applicant’s name
      • applicant’s Social Security number
      • name of the production or name of the commercial (product name)
      • the salary paid (in dollar amount)
      • the specific date(s) worked.
    • Background Actors may join SAG upon proof of employment as a SAG–covered background player at full SAG rates and conditions for a MINIMUM of three work days subsequent to March 25, 1990. Employment must be by a company signed to a SAG Agreement under which the Producer is required to cover background actors. Proof of employment must be in the form of original paystubs or a payroll printout faxed from the payroll house. Such documents must provide the same information (name, Social Security number, etc.) as listed above.
  2. Employment Under an Affiliated Performers' Union
    Performers may join SAG if the applicant is a paid-up member of an affiliated performers' union (ACTRA, AEA, AFTRA, AGMA or AGVA) for a period of one year and has worked and been paid for at least once as a principal performer in that union’s jurisdiction.
My quick summary:
1. Book a union job and get "Taft-Hartleyed."
2. Procure three SAG vouchers working background work.
3. Be a member of a sister union for a year and book principal work sometime within that year.

I quit my full time corporate job in June 2009 and decided that I was ready to be a professional actor. I set my sights hardcore on joining the union. I was serious. I built a strategy around the three methods of gaining entry:

  1. Taft-Hartley - Who doesn’t want to be Taft-Hartleyed? As wonderful as it would be, I didn’t want to count on this. It could happen next week or never. I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for someone to Taft-Hartley me. So I continued to audition (especially commercially) with the hopes that the magic wand would be waved, but I continued to work on points 2 and 3 of my strategy in the meantime.
  2. Vouchers - Since I did not have a “day job,” point 2 of my strategy was to do background work on days I didn’t have auditions, collect 3 SAG vouchers, and join the union that way. Easy peasy, right? I registered with Central Casting. They called a few times and offered me work, and I called in to their work line on days I was available. I found it very difficult to listen to the long-winded recordings by casting directors looking for specific types of actors. Furthermore, sometimes I would get all the way to end of the recording and then the mailbox would be full, so I couldn’t submit anyway. I submitted a few times on days when the stars were in alignment (I had time to call in, a role matched my description, the mailbox wasn’t full), but I was never called in to work as a result. I decided that it was worth it to employ a calling service to get me background work, and avoid the frustration of submitting myself. Once I employed the service, I began to get work whenever I made myself available. But once I got to set, it seemed impossible to get a SAG voucher as a non-union actor. I did my best to be the most attentive extra on the set and then asked the assistant director (AD) in charge of the extras if she could get me a SAG voucher if one became available. This request process was extremely unpleasant for me (and probably the AD too) and also mildly depressing. I felt like a failure every time I left the set with a non-union voucher. Again. But I resolved to try next time. After one year of working background on days I had no classes, no auditions, and nothing else to do, I had one SAG voucher. One. And I didn’t get that because I asked for it. A casting director from Central just randomly called and asked me if I was available to work on a SAG voucher one day. Um, let me think... YES!
  3. Membership in sister union - I joined AFTRA in November 2009, which (as of the time I write this) is an open union, meaning you can join if you pay the membership fee. I targeted AFTRA television shows aggressively. I attended casting director workshops and followed up consistently (more on this in later posts). Sure enough, I booked a principal role last April, which meant I would be SAG eligible in November 2010.

But, as you know, I’ve already joined SAG. How? In June, I began to work with my wonderful career coach Dallas Travers (www.dallastravers.com), and learned about a way that actors can kind of technically Taft-Hartley themselves under the SAG new media contract. You can read more details in Danielle Cloutier's blog, but the gist is this:
  • Produce your own webseries
  • Borrow equipment from your friends to keep costs down
  • Work with like-minded fellow actors
I had already booked a role on a SAG new media series. It was scheduled to shoot the next month. I asked the producer whether they could Taft-Hartley me. “Sure!” was the response. After all that drama, I ended up getting Taft-Hartleyed in the end and becoming eligible even before my sister union eligibility date rolled around.

So do it. You’re in control here.

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