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Laurieby Casting Director, Laurie Records without a plan to join SAG.

To join SAG or not to join SAG. That is the question… that I am most certainly NOT going to answer. That isn’t the question at all, actually. If you have your sights on being a professional actor in Los Angeles, you will be joining SAG. The question is when to join the union. I think the days of actors moving to LA and joining SAG as soon as humanly possible, in whatever way possible, are over. The conversations about joining SAG are varied and decisions have to be made on a per actor basis. There is no recipe. The acting career path now splits into a million different directions.

Just because there is no one right answer to the when and how to join SAG question, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan…

Commercial actors should never be without a plan to join SAG.

Once upon a time, I heard a lot about extra work, vouchers and joining SAG. Now, I hear more and more about actors joining SAG through commercial work and certainly many other ways… but I write about the commercial world, so I’ll keep the conversation to commercials or more specifically, to some things to think about concerning joining SAG and commercial contracts.

Why do I, as a commercial casting director, care that you have this information?

When I am casting, let’s say, an internet only commercial, and you are SAG Eligible and your agent has submitted you for a role (or you have submitted yourself), I need to know that if/when I give you an appointment time (of which there are precious few) that you will come in, return for the callback, accept the booking and join SAG, if that’s where you are in the process. I have to know this before I call you in (How? Leave a note saying, “Ready to join SAG”). When a job comes up that doesn’t have one of the bigger paydays, you will have wanted to have the conversation with your agent as to whether or not to submit you. You will want to know for yourself, when submitting yourself, that you are ready to join SAG if you book the job, even if the pay is less than the fee to join. You can imagine how the production/ad agency team will feel to lose you because you aren’t ready to join SAG, after they’ve fallen in love with you. Or maybe you don’t… heads ROLL when a talent has been approved to book and, for whatever reason, are unable accept the booking. People freak out. Don’t put anyone through this. Make informed decisions when submitting and celebrate when the time comes to join SAG.

So let’s go back…

You have your Taft Hartley and are SAG eligible. You can join SAG at anytime, but at some point after booking another SAG job or two, you will be a MUST JOIN. If you don’t understand the details of the process and when exactly you will come up as a “must join” (that was the term used once upon a time, it’s possible the term has changed), I would suggest going to the SAG website or talking to your friendly SAG rep. You wouldn’t want to be surprised that you are required to join SAG after you book a job. You want to be excited, ready and able to join… but not surprised.

Important questions to ask:
Do you have the money to join SAG? And by that I mean, do you have the cash sitting in a savings account or room on a credit card to do it right now? This instant? You usually don’t have much time to join, which means you don’t have the time to beg, borrow or steal. Part of your plan should be to have the money on hand to join. The cost has recently gone up after the SAG-AFTRA merger. Have you added the extra amount to your savings account?

Will you join SAG for a job that will likely NOT cover the joining fee? There are SAG jobs that fall under the commercial umbrella, cast by commercial casting directors, that don’t have a fantastic payday. Your criteria can be whatever you want it to be to join SAG, as long as you are making an informed decision and not a mistake. You can join SAG without a job requiring you to join; you can join SAG with a job that won’t cover the initiation fee, or you can join to shoot a national network commercial which could cover the cost many times over. All legitimate choices.

Do you know what the “lesser” paid commercial jobs are and what they actually pay? (My term, not anyone else’s) The co/ed industrial contract won’t cover your joining fees. An Internet only run on a commercial won’t cover your joining fees, either. How about a test spot? I don’t know, actually. But you should. You can’t submit on any SAG job and assume it will cover the fee to join. This isn’t true with every contract. Do your homework and make an informed decision. The answers are a google search away… which will inevitably lead you to the SAG website. The answers are there.

Something else to think about… even when you do book a commercial with a “decent” run, there are no guarantees you will make the final cut, or that it will actually air at all. It’s possible you will be paid the session fee for the shoot, and for nothing else. It happens.

Joining SAG is a huge step forward in your acting career, a decision to be informed and deliberate about… and something to be celebrated. Make sure that your personal plan leads to hoopla and high fives.

(Note: I’m not a SAG expert. I can never keep the details straight, which is why I direct you to their website. SAG is the only end-all be-all of SAG information.)


Laurie Records, Casting Director